While the "Cold War" between the Soviet Union and United States never led to any major military actions between the two superpowers themselves, it set the stage for numerous conflicts between their allies and other interested nations. This real-time strategy game focuses on many of these important conflicts, as they played out in the Arab-Israeli wars and on the Korean Peninsula. Throughout the four single-player campaigns' three-dozen missions, players will command the forces of the United States, Israel, Egypt, and North Korea. The game is designed to present an accurate account of battlefield warfare, so most missions must be accomplished using a limited number of available units and supplies; the focus is on real military strategy and tactics, instead of resource gathering and base development.
A few years back, German publisher CDV found a healthy niche with its Sudden Strike series of real-time strategy games. The games focused on real tactics and realistic scenarios where you couldn't win through brute resources or zipping up the technology tree. GMX Studios has recently taken the Sudden Strike engine and a number of its basic concepts and cobbled together Cold War Conflicts, but, sadly, it's nowhere near as good as the Sudden Strike games.
Cold War Conflicts tackles historical settings that we don't see too often in games: the conflicts that took place in relation to the Cold War between the years of 1950 and 1973. It's a nice step away from the settings we usually get, even if it seems kind of stitched together and lacking a coherent narrative.
With no physical manual to speak of, I started the game right up, assuming there would be a helpful tutorial. There wasn't. You can start a new game and choose from four different campaigns, but each one of them dumps you onto a map and expects you to just shut up and figure things out on your own.
Now, some aspects of real-time strategy games don't need to be explained every time, but Cold War Conflicts is almost callous in its disregard for giving you any information on how to play the game. This is particularly distressing given that there are many special units in the game whose talents are required for winning any given map. Even the mission briefings are as cursory as can be, with only scrolling text and crude graphics giving you slight clues as to what you're supposed to be doing and how. No voiceovers, no cutscenes.
The game's graphics aren't any better. The Sudden Strike engine is showing its age with low resolution settings for its 2D graphics and none of the bells or whistles found in other modern RTS games. Even with the highest settings (the game's maximum resolution is only 1024X768), the whole battleground looks muddy and lacking in detail. The frame count on unit animations is cringingly low, and nothing is particularly interesting to watch. Losing track of units was a constant problem, with many a comrade in arms being left, puzzled, to stand behind a bush or palm tree just because I couldn't pick his yellow-and-brown blob out from the yellow-and-brown blobs surrounding him. The only kind thing I can say about the graphics is that at least the system requirements are low enough that it'll run on just about anything.
The sound in Cold War Conflicts is just kind of there, neither outstanding nor terrible. The voiceover, cutscene, and in-game music escape criticism by virtue of not existing, but the other sound effects like machineguns, mortars, and airplanes were fine. In keeping with the emphasis on realism, the troops in Cold War Conflicts speak in their native languages, so Korean troops yell out commands in Korean and Israelis shout in Hebrew. Personally, I like this kind of touch, with the only drawback being that it took me a while to learn the difference between an unintelligible yell that means, "I'm an enemy unit that has been killed!" and the unintelligible yell that means, "I'm one of your units and I've just been reduced to paste from mortar fire!"
Gameplay is, in some ways, standard RTS fare -- you take control of your units and march them around the battleground so they can attack other units. Cold War Conflicts streamlines the typical RTS gameplay model, though, by eliminating resource gathering/management, the technology tree, unit creation, building construction, and the like. The only resource in the game is ammunition, which your soldiers need to gather from ammo dumps or supply trucks. Missions all have objectives, but some missions can be finished without a complete and total victory. You may largely fail a mission but be able to proceed to the next with the deck only slightly stacked against you. Some players may not appreciate this lightening of the RTS load, but others may enjoy it because it focuses the action of the game on, well, the action.
Unfortunately, that action just isn't that engrossing. You have some limited abilities with troop and formation management, and I did like the way Cold War Conflicts kept Sudden Strike 2's easy keyboard shortcut commands, but I generally found that the game's pathfinding was poor and units would often just do idiotic things while en route to my desired destination. Particularly infuriating was ordering my troops to "search for landmines" in an area where their comrades were being mysteriously blown to chunks. Actually, they spotted the hidden landmines just fine, but apparently the logical thing to do afterwards was to automatically rush at them and do a belly flop onto them, thus ensuring a glorious death. Maybe a different unit type would have handled the mine sightings with more sanity, but the game had no mechanism to inform me of this gameplay feature and the interface doesn't do a very good job of giving you information on particular units, especially if they're grouped with other units.
All in all, Cold War Conflict doesn't offer much except cut corners and a genuinely frustrating experience.
People who downloaded Cold War Conflicts have also downloaded:
Codename: Panzers - Phase Two, Close Combat 5: Invasion Normandy, Close Combat 4: The Battle of the Bulge, Codename: Panzers - Phase One, Close Combat 3: The Russian Front, Combat Mission 3: Afrika Korps, Combat Mission 2: Barbarossa to Berlin, Cuban Missile Crisis: The Aftermath
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