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Act of War: Direct Action Review
developer: Eugen Systems
genre: Action Strategy
PIII 1500, 256MB RAM, 5.5GB HDD, 64MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Mar 15, 05
|» All About Act of War: Direct Action on ActionTrip|
I am not sure why, but I keep thinking how gaming is sometimes like eating at a restaurant you've never been to before. Ok, I'll try to explain it this way: You have a desire to sate your hunger pangs as quickly as you can (the desire for a fun, new game), mixed with the uneasiness of the unknown quality of the forthcoming meal (the chance the new game is going to disappoint you somehow). Now this odd comparison could come from the fact that I'm damn hungry and I can think of no less than six different types of food I'd love to eat right now, or it could be that I have been playing Act of War: Direct Action from Atari for the past few days and I have mixed feelings about it. Does this mean that Act of War is a fine steak dinner that is paid for by your company's credit card or is it that cup of chili with the inch and a half of human finger tip lurking at the bottom, that that woman in Santa Clara California bit into last week? (And for the record, no, I did NOT make that last part up.)
HA! Tien An Men Trafalgar Square style!
I'm just flying this low to show off the cool dynamic shadows.
Act of War (AoW) developed by Eugen Systems and published by Atari is described as a Real Time Strategy game that features "Ultra-realistic modern military warfare", and a "chilling storyline" that was "written by bestselling techno-thriller author, Dale Brown". The argument can be made that for the past few years the best modern warfare RTS game that has been served up was Command & Conquer: Generals. And while that game did raise the bar considerably for fans of the RTS genre with a superbly detailed 3D engine and 3 distinct factions with different strengths and weaknesses (thank you Starcraft), there were a number of shortcomings that came along with the C&C: Generals Happy Meal. (Happy Meal is right. -Ed) Namely, the engine while good, did not present quite the same scale or intensity of the original games and the units looked like their real world counterparts but did not really perform in the same way as the real things do. Granted, Command & Conquer was never a series that was about realism, but Generals was pitched as the game that moved the C&C series away from the fantasy setting of the earlier games and closer to the real world. There were a few mods produced by the gaming community that tried to address the perceived lack of realism, but for some, it still was not good enough.
AoW has realism in spades. All of the units in game either have real world counterparts or at the very least, are based on technology that the military is rumored to be pursuing. Because the units are modeled after the real world, this realism changes the tactics that a typical RTS gamer usually employs while trying to conquer & command the virtual world. For those of you who may never have played an RTS game, they typically follow this formula: The player starts with a base that produces a unit that can construct other structures that in turn can produce other units for defense, offense and of course, the gathering of resources that are used to progress along the tech tree and build more units. In other RTS games, things usually degraded to the point where people figured out which unit dominated the battlefield and once that discovery is made, they churned that unit out by the dozens and then swept over the enemies in a move that coined the phrase "tank rush" or in Starcraft terms, "zergling rush." ....Blood sugar low.....article rambling... I need a donut, STAT! Mmmm. Sprinkles!
Ah. Ok, that's better. I should be able to make it another 10 or 15 minutes. Where was I? Oh yeah! The realism in AoW and how it affects game play. Right. Well, let me make this brief (Too damn late, Tolstoy! - Ed), because AoW was designed to model realistic combat, players are forced to build units that fulfill specific roles and compliment each other. Sure, you can churn out dozens of tanks, but you are going to quickly find that you are not going to make a lot of headway. Also, it means that for once, infantry are actually useful all the way through the missions, and not just at the start of the mission as a stopgap until your bigger guns come online. Weapons also carry the same level of realism. That means that a single solider with a heavy machine gun can bring down a helicopter in short order or an RPG can take out a tank. Strategy takes the lead role and simply put, this means you'll have more fun producing and using all the units in your army. Much in the same way a crusty dinner roll with butter can satisfy and prepare you for the main course.
In the past, in other games when strategy ruled the day, this usually meant that other aspects of the game have been lacking, like say, graphics. (You've never played Rome: Total War, have you? -Ed) Rome: Total War was able to balance graphical glitz with advanced strategy, (Jackass! -Ed) and happily, AoW's engine features tons of eye candy. The maps feature huge realistic cityscapes, units are smoothly animated, everything gains the benefit of real-time shadows and lighting, and when things blow up, they blow up real good! Buildings shower the streets with glass and bits of concrete as shells slam into them and smoke clogs the air as fire slowly crawls up from lower floors. The engine is able to scale everything with amazing power and speed as you go from a bird's eye view of your entire army to close enough to smell the peanut butter on the breath of a single solider. I was truly surprised the first time I zoomed in on one of the protesters outside Buckingham palace and could see the (stupid) slogan on the placard he was carrying. The graphics can be compared to the boost a topping of caramelized gorgonzola adds to fine New York strip steak. (Enough with the food analogies, you goddamn maniac! -Ed)
Audio for the most part is very well done. The soundtrack is stirring, as you would expect in any war epic. Each weapon sounds representative of its real world counterpart. Tanks rumble and barriers squeal and crack as they are crushed under motorized armor treads. Rifles and grenade launchers of the infantry mix with radio chatter and cries as units take damage and cry for backup. Soldiers swear like well, soldiers do: often and creatively. Because of this fact, I would recommend that if you have young kids anywhere near your computer while playing, wear headphones. There is no way to disable the profanity and if you are not careful, by the end of your first gaming session, you could be setting yourself up for a world of hurt with your wife or child's school as little Billy learns a whole new vocabulary. It took us 3 days of constant Nick Jr. to get Smap's language back to a near acceptable-in-public level after our first gaming session. Other than the salty language, the audio does its job as a fine side dish (like a baked potato) in adding to the game (or meal) experience. (Here's the deal. The good news is that we didn't pay this writer. He has to do this as part of his community service, seeing how he was arrested two months ago for threatening to shank a 5-star restaurant chef at his home unless he "filled the tub with mash potatoes and poured gravy over him while he bathed naked like a tender turkey." -Ed)
To put the players further in the thick and creamy soup of war, the usual RTS of build lists and unit commands have been spiced up with video clips that give you updates on mission objectives. For me, these video clips were at first distracting, but later in the game, I unconsciously blotted them out. While the clips alternate their presentation from a satellite's far gaze to a ground level 'embedded reporter' style view, they are part of the main problem I have with the single player story. Full motion video clips used to tell the story in a game is not as popular as it once was (for good reason). When CD ROMs first hit the market place, many developers took advantage of the 'huge' amounts of space CDs offered by cramming in video of real actors, in many cases whether the game needed it or not. Today, most publishers opt for advancing the story with cut scenes generated with the game engine, perhaps because it's cheaper in the long run, or perhaps because most of the video sequences were just plain bad. Whatever the reason, most developers had decided that putting full motion video into games was like ordering fresh seafood in Nebraska, it's generally not a good idea.
Graphic engine is tasty: units complement and support each other on the battlefield like a baked potato and sour cream, huge maps, like 18-inch pizza huge;
Cut scene video is silly, like a tip jar on the counter at McDonalds, sheer size of maps makes it hard to locate your units on the mini-map: like the entrees at a snooty French restaurant; multiplayer, like white bread, is run of the mill.