On first impression, World in Conflict seems like a very pretty-looking version of your standard real-time strategy game. Since the game is about World War III between the United States and the old Soviet Union, you've got a mix of modern tanks, artillery pieces, helicopters, infantry, and more that you can control around the battlefield. But then I started to toy with it and that's when its clutches grabbed me.
First of all, this isn't a simple one-on-one multiplayer RTS game. You can have up to 16 players on a server, divided into teams of two. That means up to eight players a side. And the beauty of World in Conflict's design is the division of labor in the game. There are four primary combat arms in World in Conflict, and when you join a multiplayer game you have to select one, and that determines the units that you can bring into battle. Armor gives you tanks, air gives you helicopters, support gives you artillery, and infantry gives you grunts. Once you've selected a combat arm, you can begin to requisition units. If you select armor, that means choosing between different types of tanks, with the cost increasing for the heavier, more advanced models, such as M1 Abrams tanks.
The main limiter to all of this is the number of reinforcements points that you have, and World in Conflict wisely limits it so you can only control three or four expensive units or a slightly larger number of cheaper units at any one time. Doing it this way means many things. First, players will need to take on different roles if they want to win. If your side goes overboard on nothing but attack helicopters, they'll get chewed up if one or two players on the other side simply choose the support arm and load up on antiaircraft platforms. So your team needs a good balance of combined arms. Second, this means that you'll really have to work together, because if you don't support one another on the battlefield, you'll be chewed up quickly. This aspect of the game is reinforced by the small numbers at each player's command. It's awfully difficult to overwhelm the enemy if you only have a platoon (four tanks) of M1s.
Once you've made your unit selections, you hit the deploy button and one of the cooler little aspects of the game kicks in. You'll see a huge, lumbering air transport swoop down out of the skies and airdrop cargo to the ground. Once the cargo lands, your new units instantly appear, ready for your command. Sure, it's not realistic, but it's cinematic and a neat way to quickly usher new units into battle. Plus, you can easily gauge that enemy reinforcements are on the way by seeing enemy transports swooping down in the distance.
Once you have units on the ground, you've got a lot more to worry about than just destroying the enemy. Each map has a number of key strategic points on it, and each point is defined by at least two different nodes. For example, in order to control a bridge you need to control both ends of it, so that's two nodes right there; seizing just one end of the bridge isn't good enough. Or taking control of a town square means seizing three nodes that border it. Unless you can put units in each node simultaneously, then you do not control the point. And controlling strategic points is important for a number of reasons, because it's how you basically win the game.
The longer you can park units into all of a strategic point's nodes and maintain control, the better, because you'll automatically dig in at that position. First, you'll construct machine gun positions that can take out enemy infantry. Once those are complete, next are antitank positions. And once those are complete, you'll construct antiaircraft positions. At that point, the strategic point is fully built up in terms of defenses, and you have a couple of choices. You can sit back and enjoy the defensive advantages at that position, or you can move on to the next strategic point and not have to worry about the enemy just waltzing up and seizing your point as soon as you leave. However, again this illustrates the risk/reward element of the strategy. Building up these defensive positions takes a long time, which means that as long as your units are parked in the nodes they're basically out of the larger battle. So what do you do? Sit back and wait to build up the defenses, or maintain momentum and initiative by moving out immediately and attacking the enemy?
I'm only scratching the surface of the game at this point, too. There's still plenty to talk about, such as how the reinforcement system works, the tactical aid system and how it can deliver everything from aerial recon all the way up to tactical nuclear weapons, the rock-scissors-paper nature between the units, and more. And then there's the game's wonderful graphics that brings all this destruction to life. Seeing a warm glow of a nuclear explosion or the smoke trails of a rocket attack arcing through the air is incredible. After participating in online battles all day, it's safe to say that World in Conflict has quickly rocketed up my chart of must-play games this year.