It's been almost a year since Sega announced it was abandoning its failing Dreamcast in favor of development on competing hardware. Now the poor system is almost dead and buried, and the very few remaining Dreamcast games trickling into stores are to be looked at with a critical eye. Such is the attitude you should take if you're interested in playing Conflict Zone, a port of last year's real-time strategy (RTS) game for the PC whose only real selling point is its bargain-bin price.
There is a fairly clear division between game genres that work best on consoles and those that are more appropriate on the PC. Platformers, shooters, Japanese-style RPGs--these games belong on a console. Likewise, first-person shooters and real-time strategy games both originated on the PC, and both are generally better suited to that platform. Chalk up these facts to the great difference between the controls available on each side. First-person shooters and real-time strategies are more at home on the PC because they require a mouse and keyboard to be enjoyed to their fullest extent, and Conflict Zone on the Dreamcast is a prime example of why this is the case.
Spend five minutes playing Conflict Zone and you'll understand why it should have stayed on the computer. The most basic part of an RTS game is the cursor, which you use to select units, navigate menus, and perform any number of other essential game functions. In Conflict Zone on the Dreamcast, the cursor is locked to the center of the screen; instead of controlling it, you control the position of the entire camera and line up the arrow in the center with the unit or building you want to select. Although this gets easier with time, it's not even in the same realm of precision as a mouse-based control scheme, and anyone used to playing RTS games will likely be frustrated with this feature of the design.
The rest of the control setup is equally awkward. All manner of button combinations are required to activate certain commands, and though an onscreen guide is provided to help you out, in the heat of battle it's still a cumbersome process. This isn't really MASA's fault--the number of functions you can realistically achieve on a keyboard far outstrips that of a console's controller. In fact, it's generally too hard to select a specific number of troops for combat; you're better off hitting the provided Select All button instead. If you're used to the precision of a mouse, be warned that Conflict Zone doesn't play as smoothly as your typical game of Starcraft or Command & Conquer.
Conflict Zone is set in the year 2011, at a time when the political state of the world has destabilized considerably. In typical RTS style, the main conflict occurs between two factions. The ICP, or International Corps for Peace, is a NATO organization charged with liberating subjugated peoples and restoring order in war-torn countries. The ICP's rival is the GHOST, a multicorporate, multinational consortium that militarily steers world affairs toward its own ends. Each side has a preset campaign against the other, and the story advances between missions via poorly acted briefings and television newscasts. Structurally, it's all pretty formulaic stuff and doesn't really inspire much excitement.
The resource and building model in Conflict Zone is fairly standard as RTS games go, as well. When you have enough resources amassed, you can build new buildings, establish your technology tree, and create new units. The resources themselves are a bit different, however. Aside from the requisite cash money, you have command points, which are an arbitrary rating that determines your ability to build structures and equip troops. The energy rating is controlled by the number of generators you've built in relation to the size of your base. Finally, and most interestingly, you have a percentage that rates your popularity--if your actions are inappropriate, this rating will go down, disallowing the use of buildings and troops. In the end, though, these resources differ from the norm in name only, and the gameplay ends up being average at best.
Conflict Zone has a few other issues working against it. The frame rate suffers when a lot of units are on the screen, and the game loads from the disc far too often during combat, causing the flow of action to stutter annoyingly. Combined with the awkward controls and bland gameplay, these problems add up to make Conflict Zone a tedious game experience that even its low price won't save. The only people who might enjoy Conflict Zone are gamers who exclusively own a Dreamcast and are into real-time strategy games, but even they should get with the times and look elsewhere.