Real War: Rogue States is the follow-up to a pretty bad real-time strategy game. But since there was room for improvement, developer Rival Interactive had a perfect opportunity to go back and address some of the original game's shortcomings, though apparently, the developer didn't take care of all of them. Although Rogue States does fix several of Real War's problems, the original game's biggest problems remain.
Last year's Real War had a poor user interface and terrible AI. That game's story involved US military forces going overseas to battle terrorists, and it was notable mainly for its bad timing, since the game was released a few weeks after September 11. The subject matter in Rogue States hasn't changed much. You could certainly say that some of the game's missions--for example, those involving the use of Apache helicopters to hunt down Scud missiles tipped with biological contaminants--are timely. And if Ben Affleck can do it in The Sum of All Fears, then searching through an American city for a nuclear bomb counting down to detonate must be OK for a real-time strategy game. Rogue States' box even borrows President Bush's language about an "axis of evil." However, it's still unsettling, when you're playing Rogue States as the Independence Liberation Army, to load terrorist units into trucks or airplanes and then drive the vehicles into an enemy building for a suicide attack, all the while hearing them confirm the orders in Arabic. It's hard not to find this sort of thing to be in poor taste. It's also hard to believe that most of Rogue States' audio is lifted right from Real War, including the same canned sound effects and the same voicework from Full Metal Jacket star R. Lee Erney.
Rogue States features two playable factions: the United States and the Independence Liberation Army, an amalgam of terrorist groups with access to heavy weaponry. Although each side has a couple of unique weapons, their arsenals are largely identical. However, Rogue States does add some new units. Both sides get a medic to heal injured infantry units, a flying drone to scout enemy positions, and an amphibious attack transport. Rogue States also has some new planes, including a hardy C-130 gunship, the B2 stealth bomber, and some advanced fighters. The most notable additions are the new base defenses, including rocket, machine gun, antiair, and artillery emplacements. More than anything else, these make a big difference in how Real War plays, since you won't have to divide your limited army between offensive and defensive duties.
Rogue States has some useful new hotkeys (although it should have more), and the graphics and animation have been cleaned up a bit since the last game. Units move a little more convincingly and don't routinely march right through each other like ghosts or shuffle sideways as if they were on ice. You can also select camouflage patterns for your units. Ironically, this is mainly useful to make them stand out better against the terrain. In addition to a new seven-mission campaign for each side, Rogue States features beefed-up skirmish and multiplayer modes. There are loads of new options for unit restrictions and resource availability, as well as some clever maps and new game types. Rogue States' improved resource model encourages control of certain points on the map to improve your income. You can even play games in which allied human players control the same side, sharing command of their units.
Then again, it's difficult to recommend playing Real War: Rogue States in the first place. If you're a glutton for micromanagement and punishment, then this is the game for you. The game's interface has changed only slightly since the original Real War. Rogue States still requires a lot of careful clicking on tiny moving units, indecipherable pictures, or little icons. The game's unit formations and new AI settings aren't very helpful, because the AI simply doesn't work. Units stand around while they're being attacked. Oftentimes, you'll have to manually target an enemy to get your units to react to taking fire, but even then, your units will occasionally just ignore you, as if they're on some union-mandated coffee break. In fact, Rogue States' pathfinding is just as bad as Real War's.
An AI this bad completely undermines the gameplay. In fact, you could say that having to deal with Rogue States' frustrating AI is a bit like playing a multiplayer game with some guy who keeps breaking up the game by walking away from his computer to grab a snack from the kitchen--even though you're all set and ready to play, something that's out of your control keeps disrupting the experience. Considering that there have been several other real-time strategy games this year that are much more highly polished, solid, and enjoyable, you'd probably be better off spending your time and money elsewhere.