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Say the words ‘real-time strategy’ to your average console gamer and he’ll yawn his jaw off. To many, playing an RTS invokes images of tedious resource gathering, tunneling through hefty manuals, building bases and nudging tiny tanks through foggy fields. But World in Conflict wants to change all that. It’s as tense and tactical as the beardiest PC strategy games but with the immediacy of an FPS, blending thoughtful warmongering with ludicrous action. One minute you’re organising infantry to flank the enemy, the next you’re dropping a tactical nuclear bomb on downtown Seattle, destroying everything within a 20 mile radius. If you thought strategy games were the sole preserve of serious-faced PC folk, it’s time to think again. Soviet Assault will be a standalone port of the original World in Conflict that came out on PC, but with additional features added, and will also come out as an expansion pack for the PC version. So console gamers are getting two games for the price of one - kind of.
If you paid attention in history class you’ll know about the Cold War and how it wasn’t really a ‘war’ at all - more an edgy stand-off between America and Russia. After years of mistrust and “my nuclear missile’s bigger than yours” one-upmanship, the fracas finally ended in 1989 when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush Sr. kissed and made up. But what if they hadn’t? What if the Russians had actually invaded America? That’s where World in Conflict kicks off - it’s an alternate timeline in which the Cold War actually became a real skirmish.
Now, in most strategy games you’re basically God. You’re suspended in the air, gazing at the battlefield from the clouds, orchestrating the entire war single-handedly. But World in Conflict is different because you actually play as a character - the faceless, voiceless Lieutenant Parker. In each level he’s given command of a single deployment of vehicles and infantry while the AI controls the rest of the army around you. This lets you focus on single objectives rather than the entire war, which would be silly given that you’re just one man. And as for the camera; you can place it anywhere you like within the battle zone. It’s completely free-roaming, letting you go from miles in the sky to ground level with your troops, studying the detail on their uniforms. Using the sticks to control your height and rotation quickly becomes second nature and there’s not a single corner of the map you won’t be able to quickly focus on from any angle.
And ordering your troops around is just as slick. Selecting them takes a single button-tap. A double tap selects every unit of a particular type. To move them somewhere, tap the same button where you want them to go. To make them attack something, again the same button is used. There are subtleties for the more hardcore gamer - organising troops into companies, for example - but at the control scheme’s core, just one button is king. You can also call in reinforcements if your numbers are dwindling by tapping another button and then selecting from a circular menu with the right stick. The game’s currency is ‘tactical points’, which are accumulated throughout the level as you push through enemy defences. Get enough and you can call in extra units to beef up your offensive and - hopefully - smash the enemy to bits.
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