Wednesday, 20 April 2005
Always calm in the face of adversity, Gary goes to war with the latest RTS to hit the PC.Thankfully, he comes out smiling.
What is it with RTS and war? In Black and White we have seen what the genre is capable of with a little thought, yet so many are based on military conflict. It appears that the narrow-mindedness of our current world leaders is mirrored in the ideas of most RTS developers. Still, who am I to challenge the direction of a genre so popular with gamers? You all seem to enjoy filling the shoes of a maniacal dictator, wide eyed with glee as a world is crumbled under your dictatorship!
Having said all that, I must admit that I am a big fan of RTS and I prefer military based affairs as a rule. The first RTS title I played was Command and Conquer, a glorious mixture of action and combat. We all know what a success the series became: Red Alert and Tiberium Sun both received rave reviews at their respective times of release. What was different and altogether charming about the C&C series was its ability to simplify their take on the genre without making the player feel like an idiot. It was as if the game was saying: "this is how you do it; it’s the only way you’re going to do it, but you are the only one who can accomplish this task". Within the building capabilities you were afforded, you had to rebuff attacks whilst constructing a force large enough to go on the offensive. The brainpower needed for most RTS games wasn't neccessary - which came as a relief to many. You didn’t need an acute understanding of complex military tactical warfare - you needed more tanks than the enemy.
If C&C was a mould, Act of War Direct Action would be the jelly inside it. If you can see past the obvious graphical enhancements, this could well be Command and Conquer. In fact, the two games are so alike that a claim of plagiarism on C&C’s behalf wouldn’t be totally out-of-hand. Act of War has, in its fundamentals, taken what was great about C&C and given it a new skin.
The idea of taking a large army, that the CPU deems appropriate, to do battle with opponents clearly located on the map is at the very heart of Act of War – tactics are a secondary afterthought after arcade style action. Missions can vary wildly in their requirements for completion, but are all essentially the same: take over and/or destroy key areas of the map while resisting casualties to your men. This might be a matter of taking a squad of snipers and marines to destroy an anti-aircraft battery, or constructing a number of tanks (cleverly the AI will take counter measures should you be building too many) to destroy an enemy stronghold. Essentially though, by simply taking the correct amount of troops and the right type of unit to battle will gain you success in Act of War. Furthermore, the order in which you do things also has great effect, more so than strategic positioning. So bombarding an enemy encampment with air-strikes might seem like a good idea, but unless you send in squad of commandos to covertly dismantle an anti-aircraft cannon covering the airspace, each jet will be casually shot from the sky. The balance between infantry and vehicles, and their importance in each mission, is one of Act of War’s many strengths.
If games were rated on their production value alone (though we all know they shouldn't be), Act of War would score handsomely. Graphically there is little to complain about - explosions, gunfire and units are all rendered excellently. The hub in particular needs to be given a special mention for its innovation - whilst most RTS games take you to a cut scene mid mission to update you on new objectives, Act of War’s hub treats you to a small FMV screen that appears on the left of the screen whilst the action is taking place. Not only is this very cool to witness, but also keeps the game well paced and uninterrupted.
The story is something of a contemporary one, somewhat bravely tackling issues such as the threat of terrorism, America hell bent on becoming the world’s police and the over-influence of oil on global peace.
The narrative is driven by a series of ‘real-life’ cut scenes in-between each mission, and it's obvious that no expense has been spared on making these scenes look stunning. The opening cut features limos, crowds, gunfights and explosions, all filmed with real actors. Unfortunately the acting is atrociously bad - almost laughable. Very few scenes were lip-synced correctly and I often found myself cringing under my desk at the cheese-on-toast script. The casting is equally poor, with one particularly 'memorable' actor being a geriatric general whose performance is as convincing as a Michael Jackson’s defence.
Act of War Direct Action is not original, but it is accomplished. Eugen Systems have created an experience that doesn’t fail to impress despite its shortfalls. The amount of time and effort invested by the developers deserves merit alone, but to pull it off at on such a grand scale is something to applaud entirely. You’ll be impressed by the Act of War’s destructible landscape, you’ll laugh at the ridiculous acting and you’ll yelp with a sick joy as your snipers pick off enemy commandos hidden in the undergrowth. Most of all though, you’ll enjoy this highly entertaining RTS title that delivers just as much entertainment as the finest examples of the genre.