E3 06: World in Conflict Preshow Impressions

This unique multiplayer game will attempt to bring the fast-paced, competitive nature of team-based shooters to real-time strategy.

The biggest show of the year for computer and video games is less than a month away. Soon, the Los Angeles Convention Center will house exciting upcoming games like World in Conflict from publisher VU Games and developer Massive Entertainment (no, not the people who brought you in-game ads, but rather the people who brought you the excellent sci-fi Ground Control strategy games). The developer's next game, World in Conflict, takes place in a slightly alternate reality that explores what could have happened if the Cold War had gotten hot and had also included a highly innovative multiplayer mode.

The heart of World in Conflict is, you guessed it, conflict, in the form of large-scale battles in huge 3D environments modeled after locations in both the US and Russia (better known in the Cold War era as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). The basic gameplay focuses on capturing control points across the map, some of which may be linked together to form larger nodes. By holding control points, you'll see these areas fortify themselves over time, eventually becoming manned by free armies of extra troops. Control points also net you "tactical aid" points, which you can spend on various one-time effects, like a parachute drop of free infantry soldiers, air strikes and artillery strikes (for which you can "paint" ground targets using colored smoke canisters), and the most destructive aid of all: tactical nuclear warheads. As we saw, tac nukes can instantly devastate small cities and turn them into large ashtrays, complete with billowing clouds of fallout.

Unlike traditional real-time strategy games that require you to chop wood and mine gold for the first few minutes of a match before you can start churning out armies, World in Conflict starts you off with a few thousand deployment points--points you can spend to call in different types of armies (and which are gradually returned to you when you lose your armies), such as infantry, armor, jet fighters, and support units, all of which are highly detailed and well animated. In fact, you'll choose one of these four army types to specialize in as your "role," similar to how recent team-based shooters like Battlefield 2 and Day of Defeat: Source let you play as a specific character class (like a sniper, medic, or assault trooper).

In World in Conflict, your role will specialize you with one type of armed force. Infantry players will have access to a wide variety of versatile infantry troops that can garrison themselves inside of vehicles and buildings but that are vulnerable to armor and air strike attacks. Armor players can command powerful vehicles that can dominate the ground, but they must be faced in the proper direction (or risk exposing flanks to antitank weapons) and must be aware of tankbuster aircraft. Air players can command fighters, bombers, and other powerful ships that can fan out quickly and spread massive destruction--but no aircraft can actually capture any control points. Support players will be able to drop medical supplies for wounded soldiers and repair damaged vehicles, and they can also requisition long-range artillery.

Choosing a role gives you access to a much wider array of troops in that particular specialization but limits your choices in other fields. For instance, if you choose to play an armor role, you'll have access to various types of tanks and armored personnel carriers, but you may only be able to order up basic foot soldiers. Then again, as executive producer Greg Goodrich explains, the different roles aren't intended to be symmetrical. World in Conflict isn't about different roles being carefully balanced to have individual counterunits.

Instead, the game is about a bunch of players (and maybe a few computer-controlled "bot" players) jumping into team-based online matches, choosing different roles, and seeing which team can put up the best fight using combined arms and teamwork. Interestingly, though you can call in reinforcements at any time, it currently takes about 20 seconds for your troops to be delivered and an additional 20 seconds for the troop transport to fly clear, which means that there's a built-in delay of about 40 seconds between reinforcement drops before you can call in more troops. Goodrich expects that advanced players will plan around this 40-second delay and use it to launch the best strikes at the most opportune times, especially since in multiplayer, anyone can jump in at any time (though new players will have the disadvantage of holding no control points, while players who have already been in the game for a while will have been building up tactical aid points). However, the executive producer also suggests that the game will have the same quick, accessible feel as good modern first-person shooters have. And we have to admit that the idea is intriguing and that if the game shapes up well, then World in Conflict will offer great-looking graphics and a fast-paced strategic gameplay that could give first-person shooters a run for their money. The game is scheduled to ship later this year.

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