The real-time strategy genre hasn't had too many games that deal with modern warfare. Generally, games in this genre have either fantasy or sci-fi themes, or are historically based. Even Command & Conquer games, which seem modern, are too fantastic to be considered present-day. It makes you wonder why, in a genre swarmed with clones of popular games, there haven't been more games designed around current technology. Well, strategy fans need to look no further, because a swarm of modern warfare games are on the horizon: Conflict Zone, Real War, Divided Ground, and of course, the subject of this preview, World War III: Black Gold.
If you look at the game and think it looks familiar, that's because World War III uses the Earth 2150 engine. Earth 2150 and its sequel, The Moon Project, both developed by TopWare Interactive, used this engine with success. The developer's next project was supposed to be World War III, but that was put in jeopardy when the company filed for bankruptcy and was bought by Zuxxez Entertainment. Fortunately, the remnants of TopWare Interactive formed Reality Pump and continued work on the game.
We were able to play a preview build of World War III to see how the game is coming along. The cinematic cutscenes and music still need to be finished, and balancing isn't entirely complete. But we did get an impression on how the game will play, and we've determined that it differs from previous TopWare/Reality Pump titles. First of all, the engine itself has seen even more improvement since The Moon Project. You can now zoom in much closer than before and view the terrain in near horizontal viewpoint. Individual troops manning machine guns in jeeps and tanks are distinguishable when zoomed in on. Menu adjustments have also been made; previously, to build a unit you'd need to click on the right building and select the unit from a menu that popped up. Now, there's a single menu with tabs set in the bottom right corner with all the available options. This facilitates construction because you aren't made to fumble around to find the correct building when you are in a heated battle and need immediate reinforcements. There is even a way to configure what direction transport planes and helicopters come from to improve overall efficiency.
World War III enjoys one drastic gameplay change over its sibling games: You aren't given a main base of operations. Rather, each mission is independent of the next. This means you can't carry over units and extra credits from a completed mission to the next one. Any technology that you research during any given mission will be permanent throughout the campaign, however. The style of unit and building construction is reminiscent of the Command & Conquer series, which would explain the menu changes mentioned previously. Also, you can only build one type of unit or building at any given moment. For example, if you have two airfields, cargo planes transporting new units will only land on one of them.
New units and buildings are acquired through research. You can customize units available to you to fit your needs. You can equip an Apache attack chopper with either air-to-surface rockets to take out enemy ground vehicles, or you can strap on some air-to-air rockets if your opponent has a lot of air units. You pay for all of this by drilling for oil and converting it to credits. In fact, the war being fought in the game is for control over this oil. The Arab nations led by Iraq cut off oil to the world, prompting Russia and America into a massive conflict. You can play as the USA, Russia, or Iraq in single-player campaign and skirmish modes, or in multiplayer games with up to eight players. Despite sharing similar basic units, each side is unique and employs different strategies. The following page will describe each side and some of its units.
The menu for unit commands gives a wide variety of options with an easy-to-use interface. Buttons clearly display what the command does with small graphics, which are color-coded to show whether the unit is active. The advanced commands are necessary to give you the most control over your units. You can tell combat units to chase an enemy or hold position, and you can tell repair vehicles whether or not to automatically fix damaged units. A nice feature in the game is the scouting command. Some units can scout the map autonomously in several ways. You can tell them to scout the map's borders or to explore the interior areas or even to move randomly to unexplored terrain. You can also set formations when a group of troops are selected. Another useful feature is a display of what groups you have made. A bar on top of the bottom menu shows how many units are in the group under its respective number assignment.
All three factions have some units that share functional similarities. For example, for light vehicle units, USA has the humvee, Russia has the UAZ 469, and Iraq has a plainly denoted jeep. The jeep unit is fast, versatile, and most importantly, cheap. It is essential to explore the map and find new oil fields before your opponent. It can be equipped with a variety of weapons, like machine guns and mortars, making it more than able to fill multiple roles. Its weak point is that it has few hit points and weak armor. Air filters are the only defense against chemical weapons, and all sides are able to equip their units with them.
There are two general tank units for each side. Light tanks form the backbone of every force. They are extremely useful because it can fire at air units and be equipped with antitank weapons. It can also traverse water to attack an enemy's flank. They are fairly cheap to build thankfully, so light tanks can be built quickly. The heavy tanks are designed to take a beating while dishing out a powerful punch. You'll want to use them when you spearhead an attack to draw fire away from weaker units like artillery and ballistic missile launchers.
The United States has the most technologically advanced arsenal in the game. They have the best tanks to wage a ground war, the best helicopters to dominate the skies, and the best weapons to annihilate foes. You can build air strike and bomb control centers to send in F-15s and B2 bombers. You can even launch nuclear warheads to unleash massive destruction. Here's a short list of some of America's unique units:
Leclerc Battle Tank: A next-generation NATO tank, the Leclerc is even stronger than the M1A2 Abrams. It is expensive, though, so you will only be able to realistically have a few of these because of the unit/credits limit.
Comanche Stealth Helicopter: Enemies are in trouble when you get this helicopter. USA already has the Apache and Cobra attack helicopters, so the Comanche seems like overkill.
Patriot missiles: Like in the Gulf War, Patriots are used to knock down ballistic missiles aimed at your forces.
Jammer: The jammer confuses enemy forces that enter its range.
Russia still has quite an arsenal despite having fallen behind after the Cold War. The T-80 is a match for USA's heavy tanks, and Russia also has the ability to call in air strikes and bombing runs.
ZSU AA gun: A dedicated anti-air vehicle, the ZSU will undoubtedly be guarding your offensive forces from enemy air power.
BM 21 Rocket Launcher: The BM 21 is capable of attacking defenses and enemy units from a safe distance. It can either fire single shots to conserve or a salvo barrage to blanket a position. You can later upgrade the unit to carry chemical weapons. Chemical weapons don't physically destroy things but rather kill the crews in units and buildings. You can then bring in an assault vehicle to take them over.
Scud A: Armed with an atomic warhead, the scud missile launcher can do massive damage to an area. Spy Center: The Russians are able to use this structure to temporarily gain insight into the location of all enemy units and structures.
SDI: Since you'll be fighting enemies with ballistic missiles of their own, you'll need this structure to protect yourself from incoming rockets.
Iraq isn't a powerful military force, so it must rely on other tactics to win. Its main battle tank is a T-72, which is outclassed by both the USA and Russia. Nor does Iraq have much of an air force. It is able to counter this by investing in weapons of mass destruction.
Ballistic Missile Launcher: A long-range rocket that carries a chemical warhead, it can render a huge area of a base's defense inoperable by killing the crews. Destroying turrets is much easier when no one is around to man them.
Saboteur Base: Suicide troops are trained here to carry explosives into an enemy structure. When charged, you will be able to automatically destroy any structure in an opposing base.
Spy Center: The Iraqis are also able to use this structure to temporarily gain insight into the enemy's location Long-range artillery: Iraq's passion to build a huge cannon must have paid off. This cannon can fire at an extreme distance to take out opposing forces.
Devastator: Very simply, the devastator is a truck bomb. You drive it up to whatever you want destroyed, and it will take massive damage.
So far, everything in the game looks to be all set. The music tracks that were in the preview build are excellent, just like Earth 2150's score. Some changes, like unit balancing, will most likely occur because a few units are extremely powerful. The AI is already good and will be able to put up a good fight, especially in skirmish mode. The campaign missions will take you quite a while to complete as well. World War III is currently on track for a September 2001 release.