Previews

World in Conflict

A new red dawn rises

Holy shit, I just dropped a nuke. Soviet forces have been repeatedly capturing the centre of town, moving in from the TV station to the east every time we, the Americans, reclaimed the area. Not any more.

The TV station has been replaced with a charred wasteland, smoke spewing up to blot out the sun. Moving in closer to the blast, the camera begins to flicker and a Geiger counter crackles over the deep rumbling of the earth. All the colours have drained from my monitor; a visual eulogy for the people I've killed.

I just dropped a nuke and it felt good.

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Unfortunately I'm not the only one. There are eight players on each team, and at the end of the 20-minute game a total of three nukes have been used. And despite the fact that our team were responsible for two of them, we still lost.

Can you imagine a real-time strategy version of Battlefield 2? You join a server while the game is in progress, choose your team, and then pick what unit class you want to control: Air, Armour, Infantry or Support. Dropped on to the battlefield with a fixed number of resource points with which to assemble your squad, your mission is to assist your team in the capture of control points that litter the level. The winning side is the one that holds most of the map for the longest amount of time. Welcome to World in Conflict.

Let's skip to the singleplayer for a moment. It's 1989 and children are playing in gardens and on pavements. Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants to Rule the World is on the radio, fading out as the DJ begins to talk. There's a caller, and he's panicked. Look into the sky, he says. America is being invaded.

A thousand Soviet paratroopers fall over a small Midwestern town, and the children aren't playing any more. Everybody does want to rule the world.

While base-building and resource management are both absent, resulting in frantic and action-packed battles, a lot of development time is being devoted to creating a story and characters that you can genuinely care about.

Each mission starts with a CGI briefing from Colonel Sawyer, and although your face is never shown on-screen, every other character is fleshed out with their own personalities and motivation.

If it's all starting to sound a little too much like Command & Conquer: Red Alert, keep in mind that these characters actually remain on the battlefield even once the fighting starts. Kane was never quite so personal.

In the game's third mission, you're off to the west of town taking care of some snipers while Lieutenant Banon is fending off an enemy assault from the beaches to the east. When he calls for back-up you can choose to help him or simply hope he takes care of it himself, earning either his thanks or his sarcasm in the process.

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But even when not aimed directly at you, you're privy to the bickering between Banon and Sawyer as they trade status reports and panicked calls for retreat. It's a canny way to make your team-mates more than just talking heads; these are people who can actually save you if you ask, and that's always a shortcut to endearment.

But let's get back to that nuke. Just as in Massive's previous Ground Control series, units
are acquired using your limited resources (which are refunded as your units are destroyed). Nukes and other special drops, such as paratroopers, artillery or napalm, are purchased using 'Tactical Assault' points. Awarded for accomplishing tasks during a battle, a hefty 50 points is necessary to use a nuke. But in online games players can donate points to one another, allowing you to push team-mates over the 50-point mark when they're already close.

So let me revise: I didn't drop a nuke, we dropped a nuke. Turns out that teamwork feels really good.

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