Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Strategy Games REALLY Suck Sometimes

I like the
real-time strategy genre. It tends to be dominated by clones that are, at the very least, cloned well enough to be playable.

Such it is with Act of War: Direct Action.

Three words: Full-motion video.

These developers probably spent a boatload on their video sequences. The plot is a bad imitation of Tom Clancy scribbling on the back of a napkin. Some kind of gibberish concerning terrorists (cause they're the popular bad guys, right?) and oil companies (cause oil and terror are connected . . . somehow?) and Russia (not really sure yet . . . vodka?).

Here's the gameplay gist:
1. Build your base.
2. Defend your area.
3. Build a good mix of forces and kill the enemy.
4. Goto step 1

That's it, other than the few missions that start you with limited forces, because we all know how great it is to lose all your troops in the beginning and struggle to figure out exactly the way the designer meant for you to play, stupid gamer.

I don't really feel like going too in-depth. I think a few scattered thoughts on the game will serve to illustrate my distaste.

I'm given a medevac helicopter at the start of a level. In order to heal my men it must land near them. So I must be absolutely certain they are safe before I can heal them. No problem, I can deal with that. My helo is destroyed. What's this? I can't get another? I can send out for high-tech future tanks but I can't get an extra medevac? Who budgeted these forces? It's easier to send out cannon fodder then bother with the helicopter.

Ooh, I can build jeeps that repair my vehicles. That's very handy. But they have no weapons unless I put troops in them. Cool, nice idea. Wait, if I group them with all my other troops, they still won't regulate their speed, so when I click to attack something they race ahead of my front line that is protecting their asses and get blown up. Haven't these guys heard of formations?

Why don't the infantry units, when grouped with armor, intersperse themselves to protect the tanks from rocket fire?

Why can't you adjust dispersion?

Why is the pathfinding so fucking stupid? It's some of the worst I've seen. My great force gets decimated because it's too busy trying to navigate and doesn't bother attacking the guy that's shooting at it.

Here's a hint. Try building a game that acts at least semi-intelligently, especially if it's supposed to be a strategy game.

And how about innovating a little, or at least stealing some of the innovations that have elevated the genre. Warhammer had great ideas about fireteam combat and reinforcing teams. Age of Empires had city boundaries that influenced your enemy.

Pull from all games. Let me pause the action in a single-player game a la baldur's gate so I can queue up actions and feel like an actual strategist - in other words, real strategy, not a twitch game of 'click the new threat as quick as you can before it hurts you'.

This game brings nothing at all new to the genre. It is worse than a cliche - it feels exactly like the original command and conquer only with better graphics and worse AI.

I'm still, y'know, playing it.

But only because I like a good clone, even when it's bad.

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