One of the great things about working here is that I get to witness cutting-edge computer rendered graphics on a regular basis. But barely ten minutes into World In Conflict and I'm harping on about its graphics so much that members of the team have slowly begun to edge away from me on their wheelie chairs.
But sure enough, any passers-by who are foolish enough to look at my screen are sucked in like a spider caught in a draining bath. And it's not hard to see why. This game is bloody gorgeous. Just take a look at those screenshots. And then imagine it moving at 50 frames per second.
Unless you've been hiding under a rock somewhere for the last six months, you'll know that WIC is set in 1989 at the peak of the Cold War. The Soviets, on the brink of internal collapse, have invaded France (one can only presume for the wine and cheese).
They then spread forth into other parts of Europe before eventually landing
on US soil and bringing the fight to America. Well, that's the basic timeline, anyway - in actual fact, the missions start off with the invasion of America, hang around for long enough to give you a good feel for what's going on and then flit back four months in time to Europe before returning for the last set of levels. A bit like one of those flashbacks in Lost. Only without the polar bears, tropical island and plane crash of course.
You enter the scene as Parker, a relatively green Lieutenant fresh out of the academy, alongside a cast of well-acted and convincing counterparts, including the hard-nosed, no-nonsense Colonel Sawyer, the increasingly annoying loose cannon Captain Bannon and other notable characters. The stories of the soldiers involved and their relationships with loved ones is told through a series of hand-drawn screens between missions.
These well-written snippets add some much needed humanity to the conflict and some of them are, at least for my emotional self, quite moving. They also serve to endear the characters to you - in contrast to most RTS titles where you probably couldn't name a single participant. By about halfway through, I found myself really feeling for the personalities involved.
Aspects of each character also play a role on the battlefield, but without wanting to ruin anything, you'll have to play to see what I mean. Loading screens also spell out what's happening mission-wise and are excellently narrated by the gruff-sounding Alec Baldwin. (Who's obviously found some spare time away from shouting at his 12-year-old daughter - check YouTube if you don't know what I'm on about.)
So on to the missions themselves. One problem often encountered in the RTS genre is that the missions can, after a while, really start to feel quite similar. But developers Massive Entertainment have really outdone themselves here with the content and variety, as the campaign never feels dull or repetitive. Levels are generally huge, sprawling affairs in which objectives commonly involve taking and then holding an area (similar to the Carentan mission in Company Of Heroes), but also include defending bridges, taking out helicopter bases, searching buildings for personnel
and blowing up power stations.
Completing a main objective opens up another one, meaning gameplay is fast-paced and on occasion, hectic to the extreme. At any one time you can be waiting for reinforcements to drop, ordering the next batch, fighting raging battles in different sections of the map and calling in tactical aid, all while trying to complete the objectives of the level. Phew! But it was here, under fire on all sides by the enemy, that the first niggle began to rear its ugly head.