After the terrorist acts of Sep 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States, the entertainment industry took a rare moment to re-evaluate the release of new products that could appear distasteful or disrespectful in light of the tragedies. Television studios, moviemakers, and even videogame companies took a step back, but publisher Simon & Schuster Interactive failed to recognize the inherent pitfalls of releasing Real War just two weeks after such a traumatic event without serious consideration of the story and gameplay.
Even without the faux pas, the game is severely hampered by flaws that should have, at the very least, delayed its release. Fighting terrorism on a PC isn't a new concept, as evidenced by excellent squad-based warfare titles like Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six. Real War, on the other hand, not only puts you in the role of an American commander struggling against the Independent Liberation Army, but also gives you a chance to work for the terrorists.
Indeed, the first mission is to execute a suicide run with an inflatable raft that's meant to blow up a ship to create a diversion away from the main attack force. Sound familiar? Perhaps the similarity of the suicide attack which cost American lives on the U.S.S. Cole a year before the game's release might be coincidence, but, if so, it's a highly suspicious one. Taking today's headlines to such extremes could become a disturbing trend if not treated with common sense.
For gamers with the stomach, a dozen such terrorist missions stand along side an equal number of American-based scenarios. Armchair generals will appreciate the lack of futuristic weapons, as each of the over 60 units available are drawn from real Army, Navy, and Air Force arsenals. The American storyline is narrated by the brazen drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket, R. Lee Emery, who barks out commands, jibes, and "hurrahs" with laughable conviction.
The box proudly proclaims the game is based on a training program utilized by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but it seems unlikely that such a program marred with terrible path finding and incompetent computer AI could adequately prepare any force for actual global conflict. Units wander aimlessly, often getting lost or blocked, and vehicles attack targets and then sit still rather than press the attack. Even more puzzling are the units that avoid returning fire when under attack, or simply allow the enemy to run past onto your base. Finally, a lack of difficulty level settings and the absence of a speed adjustment option makes the unrealistically fast movement of all units, particularly aircraft and helicopters, uncontrollable.
Real War features real weapons, though few are recognizable to the non-military eye, due in part to the mostly dated graphics which are only slightly better than those in 1995's Command & Conquer. Aircraft look the best, especially in flight, but infantry units are miniscule and nearly worthless in action. Buildings are not very distinguishable, but the terrain is suitable, though not memorable, as a strategic challenge in defending bridges, choking the jungle clearing, and so forth.
Beyond Emery's contribution, sound effects are weak, with tanks popping shots and helicopters quietly bursting into flame. Where are the ground-shaking explosions and bloodcurdling battle cries? Vehicles leap absurdly high into the air when hit and land without any appropriate cacophonic crash.
Trying to bridge the gap between training simulation and RTS entertainment title, some interesting tools are used for unit control. A HUD allows you to sort through air, land, or sea units with only a few clicks, while accessing build tables away from the base. Though the HUD is innovative, selecting the key unit is frustrating due to the small pictures used. Grouping units is possible, but the lack of customizable hotkeys stymies gameplay in the thick of battle.
Real War's unit production offers something new to the RTS genre, as supply crates must be flown into depots to provide resources to buy arms. But each weapon is limited in production, making tank rushing impossible. The focus is on the war at hand, with economists left behind the front line. It's a unique method of parceling out forces, but considering the computer's propensity for early attacks, building even the most basic defense is more challenging than completing the objectives, and works only modestly better when employed by human participants.
Ultimately, Real War feels like a title rushed out the door without common sense judgment, and the timing is only one of many questionable decisions concerning the game. It's barely playable, and the few fresh ideas are simply too buried beneath the spoiled war. The wonky AI algorithms and lackluster graphics make for rough going early on, and insures Real War will fade away in the manner of old soldiers.
Graphics: The graphics are reminiscent of earlier RTS games in the genre. Soldiers are a few pixels tall and the pictures in the HUD even smaller.
Sound: Sadly, R. Lee Emery offers the brightest sound achievement in the game. Real War fails to convince anyone they're in the thick of battle.
Enjoyment: While playing the terrorist is rarely enjoyable, it's even less so after the World Trade Center attacks. Even playing against the terrorists, wandering units that fail to respond correctly makes war hell.
Replay Value: Twenty-four missions are enough to suit most players, though not if one is averse to playing the role of a terrorist. Multiplayer offers extra theaters of war.
People who downloaded Real War have also downloaded:
Real War: Rogue States, Panzer General 3: Scorched Earth, Axis & Allies, Praetorians, Rise of Nations, Port Royale: Gold, Power and Pirates, Railroad Tycoon 3, People's General (a.k.a. Dynasty General)
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