World In Conflict
|a game by||Massive Entertainment|
|User Rating:||9.0/10 - 2 votes|
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I Cant Lie; the notion of sitting in a room having a conference call with some men from Sweden to discuss their new military-themed RTS doesn't ignite the fires of enthusiasm deep inside my belly. Sure, it sparks a flicker of excitement - just look at these proud guns lined up, with little men running hither and thither and beautifully realistic trees around them - that's glorious attention to detail. Despite this though, my froth glands are distinctly inactive.
Of course, at this point all we know about World In Conflict is that it's a strategy title being developed by Massive Entertainment, the same guys who made Ground Control. We also know it's set in a fictional Cold War conflict based partly in US suburbia. Armed with these two flaccid pieces of knowledge, I approach a phone with Martin Walfisz, CEO and founder of Massive, on the other end and speak my questions into it. The answers I receive are set to change my life, forever.
Alright, so maybe that's a bit dramatic, but coming from something as far-out as the sci-fi strategy Ground Control to the semi-realistic setting of World In Conflict is quite a leap. Not only that, but I'd soon come to learn that the crux of World In Conflict comes not in its Cold War setting, nor in its highly-detailed graphics engine. No, the core of World In Conflict is a multiplayer concept never before attempted in an RTS. Imagine the multiplayer rules of say, Counter-Strike or Battlefield, apply them to a strategy game and you'll begin to understand where Massive is trying to go with this. If you're waiting for the proverbial twist or perhaps a metaphorical hook, or maybe a mixture of the two in the form of some intangible, twistable hook thing, you can relax now.
"The basic core mechanic of World In Conflict, keeping in mind that this is a realtime strategy game, borrows heavily from first-person shooter games like Counter-Strike and Battlefield," begins Walfisz.
"In multiplayer, each player starts on one of two teams, just like you do in Counter-Strike, and each team has a deployment zone at one end of the map. When you choose a team, you choose a role such as commanding heavy armour, leading infantry or perhaps focusing on air power. Once you've picked your role you then buy units, your weapons of warfare basically. And once they're deployed in your deployment zone, let's say five tank units and three infantry units, they're yours to command and move around the map."
That'll be the Counter-Strike aspect Just like in Valve's shooter, World In Conflict's multiplayer consists of connecting to a server, choosing a team, choosing a role and then buying your equipment before you actually play. What this means is that teamplay will be paramount to having an enjoyable game, as just like in real war, a divided army will fall.
Of course, for hermit types who'd rather wage their own wars and not have to depend on other players to co-operate effectively, Massive plans to include standard lvl and 2v2 games, but when it's possible to crank the player count up to frenetic 8v8 games, something no modern strategy game has offered before, we don't see why you'd want it any other way.
Massive is also promising multiplayer gameplay which allows people to drop in and out without being at a disadvantage, again mimicking the online shooter ethos, as well as foregoing the usual RTS grinds of resource gathering and base-building. "It's still a strategy game," states Walfisz firmly. "However, it's unlike all the traditional RTS games which have gone before, where first you must harvest your resources and construct your buildings, then construct your units, and after half an hour go out and have a battle. Here, the focus is on always being in the heat of the battle. It has the accessibility that a lot of first-person shooters have."
So without resources and bases, what are we left to play with? "The point of each map is to take over what we call command points," Walfisz continues. "These are strategically important positions on the map. Hie team who controls the most command points will have domination of the map, and will influence a domination bar which moves in favour of the team controlling the map currently. Once the domination bar is fully moved to the left or to the right, one of the teams will win.
"Each map also has a time limit, say 20-minutes, so if after 20-minutes there's no clear winner, then the team who has most domination on the domination bar wins the map." That's essentially Battlefield's ticket system wearing a wig and a dress if you hadn't noticed, and we're more than happy to see that method being adapted to a different genre.
World In Conflict's setting is also in stark contrast to the kind of themes Massive has worked with previously. "We've been working on sci-fi stuff since 1997 and so we decided to explore another type of setting," explains Walfisz. "We love sci-fi stuff as much as we love fantasy stuff, but one thing we realised during the years is that it's always great for gamers to recognise new settings."
Massive's previous title, Ground Control II, had a great sense of style, with its sci-fi setting and some highly atmospheric locations. It was also a great game to boot, landing a PC award and 84 per cent - another reason to look forward to World In Conflict.
"With this new game, one of the key things was to make it open to all," adds Walfisz. "To do that we realised that the setting should also be really accessible and understandable from the beginning - basically, World In Conflict is something that people can recognise right away. That's why we chose the contemporary suburban setting."
I nod at the speakerphone in a pointless gesture of agreement - the sprawling neighbourhoods and parklands of 1989 America really are an original location for an RTS game. But why the Cold War? And what's going on?
Walfisz continues: "We looked at all these other historic games and then looked at what our interests and the team's interests are. We felt the Cold War era really hadn't been explored in strategy games before. Also, we're dealing with modern-day units but not today's units, so we have some historical elements. The more we thought about it, the more we realised it's a very interesting, untapped era. Even though it's a fictional scenario, it's not an outrageous scenario, there's no humour or irony in the setting."
They Blew It Up
Besides its radical new approach to online strategy, Massive is also touting its entirely destructible environments. Lead designer Magnus 'Soundboy' Jansen explains: "Everything is dynamic and destructible - if you blow up building blocks, houses and forests, it actually updates the path-finding for the units.
So you can napalm a strip of forest and go through there with your tanks. You can blow up a bridge and cut the enemy off, it's very dynamic and everything's destructible. It's not just for show, it actually affects gameplay.
"We enhanced the destruction too, in fhat when all the massive bombardment takes place everything changes. When all the forests are burned down, it's charred and black, the clouds turn dark and everything's gloomy. So it can turn from happy suburbia to post-apocalyptic nightmare in just a few minutes."
Back To Bedlam?
Already, it's becoming apparent that World In Conflict will be a title to look out for, a guinea pig for a new mode of multiplayer strategy gaming. And while it certainly is original, it remains to be seen how well it works in practice. Sixteen players on a single RTS map? There's potential for mindless bedlam here if Massive doesn't get it right.
Jansen intervenes: "You can play a normal deathmatch and treat it like Counter-Strike where people don't really work as a team. But the game really shines when you start co-operating, communicating and working together. That's the main feature, we're aiming for bigger teamplay games and teamplay is at the core - it's been there from the very beginning. We have other features which are unique and amazing like the cool destruction, but the teamplay is definitely the most profound thing about World In Conflict."
Consider our belly-enthusiasm kindled, stoked and blazing then. It's a bit like that episode of the A-Team where BA Baracus promised Murdoch he wouldn't call him a fool any more, and then right at the end of the episode, BA Baracus called Murdoch a fool. Except we're Murdoch and BA Baracus is Massive and the word 'fool' is the concept of a strongly team-based and action-orientated multiplayer strategy game.
In short, it's a pleasant surprise to see World In Conflict put a spin on the tired multiplayer concepts of RTS games in general, and we look forward to seeing whether Massive can make it sink or swim.
Some help please
When in doubt, it's time to call in the heavies...
Just like in Massive's previous title Ground Control, you can call in off-screen support and reinforcements as long as you meet certain requirements. Lead designer Magnus Jansen tells us all about World In Conflict's Tactical Aid. "You can call in Tactical Aid, like an ace up your sleeve, by earning TA points. We have airstrikes, tankbusters and all sorts of minor and major weapons of mass destruction that you can call in at will. You can drop paratroopers behind enemy lines and other units too. Based on how good you are on the team, you're individually awarded these TA points, like in the Ground Control games. If you repair a lot, or support cr destroy a lot of enemies, you get TA points."
We like the sound of that, especially the weapons of mass destruction bit. Couple the fact that everything on a map can be destroyed with the possib lity of being able to drop a nuclear bomb and we start to get very excited indeed.
Single and looking
Are you lonesome tonight?
Massive Entertainment really didn't have a whole lot to say about the single-player aspect of World In Conflict right row. What we do know is that there will be some sort of campaign in there, featuring armies 'from around the globe' (read into that what you will), and weapons which were available at the end of the '80s, like the M1A1 Abraham tank and Apache helicopters. As lead designer Magnus Jansen put it: "We haven't taken any liberties with reality, it's the full arsenal of the existing superpowers at that time - no more, no less."
That's not to say that the single-player side of things is being neglected like some dirty orphan: Massive has an extremely high-profile writer working on its script and an alternative Cold War reality setting, rife with potential for political subterfuge and cunning plot twists. Well surely get more single-player details soon, but for now Massive is firmly backing its multiplayer content first and foremost.