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World in Conflict

Steve Hogarty discovers that the Cold War is hotting up again. Those pesky Russians

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It's a gradual learning curve, but one that never lets you slip. Shy newcomers and men with silly girly voices can co-operate fully in multiplayer without ever needing to utter a word, thanks to the ability to pin notes to the battlefield and give pre-vocalised orders with a handy rose menu.

Besides, just watching what your fellow players do with their units will tip bucketloads of strategic knowledge down your newbie gullet. That's especially true when you're me, and you're playing with and against lead designer Magnus 'Soundboy' Jansen and some Whopper-fuelled playtesters. Playing, for the most part, on those new multiplayer modes I mentioned earlier.

PULLING POWER
The first of these multiplayer modes is Tug Of War, in which a line of command points splits the playing ground in two. Massive boot up a map based in the war-ravaged Soviet countryside, a featureless sprawl of toasted forest. On either side of this map, opposing armies attempt to simultaneously control every point along the line, something that's easier screamed down a microphone than done.

Zoom

Over the course of the conflict, TA points are acquired and used to call in specialised attacks such as extra artillery or airstrikes. Every player accumulates these points, and can choose to stockpile them or hand them over to somebody else - an act that allows the recipient of such goodwill to call in the one thing World In Conflict is becoming synonymous with: the tactical nuke.

Enemy units are only visible if they're in sight of one of your own (or your team-mate's) units, meaning recon is invaluable when deciding where to drop the big one. But in Tug Of War, it's possible to see who's controlling any given point on the front line, and if it's enemy-controlled it means there are enemy units at that location.

So, hold a control point too long in this mode and you receive a harsh nuclear slap in the face - only a co-ordinated team capable of swiftly capturing multiple locations will succeed here, and once the line is completely controlled, it jumps forward, encroaching on the opposing team's territory. Then the tug of war begins again.

AGGRAVATED ASSAULT
After a skin-of-the-teeth defeat, we move on to another game mode, Assault, which will be immediately familiar if you've played Unreal Tournament. In it, a series of objectives are presented to the attacking team, who have a certain amount of time in which to move through the map, completing these objectives.

The defending team must simply prevent the attackers from doing all of that, and when the clock runs down, the teams switch roles. The defending team then have to try to barricade themselves in streets they'd previously bombed the crap out of, and might find a single ponderous moment in which to allow pangs of regret to flit through their minds. See? World In Conflict is carrying a message: don't break stuff you might have to hide inside of later on. Oh, and that war is bad.

Zoom

The particular map we play Assault on sees us working our way uphill through a sunny European town, capturing churches and streets with a wonderfully carefree attitude towards collateral damage. As we meet a solid wall of defence, we're forced to roll out bigger and bigger weapons, working our way up through tank busters, daisy cutters, long-range artillery and fuel air bombs. In time, everything on the hill is reduced to a fine smouldering powder, and the sky is turned a dark, ominous brown.

Compare that to good old Red Alert 2, whose nukes simply deleted every building and left a glowing green patch that made soldiers bleed from their pores. Proper damage modelling has come a long way, and it looks spectacular.

INNER CONFLICT
Before I wave goodbye to Massive, they briefly allow me to run through a single-player level, revealing slightly more of World In Conflict's 'Russians invade the USA' alternate-reality timeline. It begins in an American town still a little dizzy having been bombed, with a handful of military-types, each with 'hang-ups'.

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