Mixing elements of first-person combat and the evening news, Kuma\War was designed as an inaugural entry into a new category of interactive entertainment: "Reality Gaming." The squad-based, first-person shooter serves up missions based on current events and set in real-world locations. Following the early success of shows such as Cops and MTV's The Real World, "reality television" moved to the forefront of mainstream broadcasting in the late '90s. Kuma Reality Gaming is placed to facilitate a parallel expansion in video gaming, beginning with the release of Kuma\War.
Content in Kuma\War is developed under the consultation of a board of military advisors, in order to make the missions, settings, strategy, and tactics realistic. The game offers a series of single- and multiplayer missions, designed to give a taste of "reality gaming." Once these missions are completed, players are encouraged to check the online Kuma\War Service, which is continually updated to deliver new maps and missions based on current, international events.
A pioneer of "episodic" gaming, Kuma\War later became free to download and share. In its first few years of operation, the Kuma/War Service catalog grew to offer over 80 individual missions, many based on events occurring during the U.S.-led Coalition's "Operation Iraqi Freedom," including the deadly standoff against Uday and Qusay Hussein, battles in Baghdad, Mosul, and Sadr City,
and the capture of Saddam Hussein.
What a cool concept. Turn current military and political events into a game! This is the framework that Kuma\War hinges on and it has the best front-end interfaces I've ever encountered. It's set-up to resemble a news site, complete with ticker tape that features real headlines that link-out to actual news sources. To the developer's credit, they've made the interface a snap to navigate and chock-a-block full of useful information for each mission (including professional-looking video clips).
Kuma\War renders down to controlling a squad of soldiers (on foot or in a vehicle) through hostile territory to accomplish various objectives. The experience falls flat, particularly after the front end interface raises expectations.
Many of the early complaints that plagued Kuma\War - the list was long and included being able to crawl as fast as you could run, AI that liked being shot rather than dive for cover, and so on - seem to have been addressed to some extent. There are still a lot of AI problems, both friendly and hostile. If you're not constantly jumping into the boots of your squad members (up to four) to keep everyone together, they'll often wander off or just stop. There's nothing more disconcerting when you turn around to find your teammates are MIA. On the other side of this is your squads propensity to open up on any enemy they even glimpse, unloading ammo like Rambo. You can issue short commands (shoot my target, etc.) but it's just easier to take control yourself. It becomes less about tactical and strategic movements and more about herding cats. Hostile AI swings from superhuman to "Hey, a tank is running me over!" At times, there is actually a sense of tension, but it's all too often shattered or replaced with frustration. Where's the fun?
While I've never put a whole heap of focus on graphics, Kuma\War actually manages to distract with its graphics. They aren't pretty and appear more than few years old - think about the original Counter-Strike - and at times I mistook building features for enemy snipers.
Kuma\War has a great idea and some great innovations, especially the front end interface, but it needs to pack some better gameplay into the package if it has any hope of catching on with a broad or even a niche market.
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