ALFA: Antiterror Impressions

This turn-based combat game features realistic weapons, real-world locales, and Russia's elite counterterrorist task force.

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ALFA: Antiterror
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ALFA: Antiterror is a realistic turn-based tactical simulator that will likely remind you of games like X-COM, Jagged Alliance, and Silent Storm. But this new game in development at Russian studio Mist Land, and based on the exploits of Russia's elite counterterrorist unit, promises to introduce some innovative new features to the genre, and its gritty real-world setting should appeal to fans of military and strategy games.

Command Russia's finest commandos in battles drawn from the unit's actual combat history.
Command Russia's finest commandos in battles drawn from the unit's actual combat history.

In ALFA, you'll control members of Russia's elite special operations unit, ALFA, the country's equivalent of America's Delta Force or Britain's Special Air Service. ALFA was founded in the 1970s, and the group has amassed a long combat record in places that most Westerners have never heard of. Since the historical record is so deep, the designers have based all the missions in the game on actual ALFA missions, consulting with actual ALFA veterans to nail down the details. These missions will cover an interesting section of recent Russian history, from 1984 to 1991. As such, they'll range from rescuing Russian prisoners of war in war-torn Afghanistan to battling diehard rebels in Chechnya.

You'll control a squad of up to 16 ALFA operatives, though some missions will restrict you to just a handful of commandos. At the beginning of each mission, you'll be presented with your orders and then left to decide how to carry them out. You can determine the makeup of your team by choosing the personnel and equipment. This is done through a "paper doll" system that allows you to easily outfit your commandos with a wide range of real-world weapons and equipment (being a Russian-developed game, expect a wide range of Kalashnikov rifles.) Once this is done, you'll be dropped into the large and detailed 3D landscapes to begin the fight.

Though essentially a turn-based tactical game, ALFA features a simultaneous resolution phase that allows the action to unfold in real time. Basically, each side takes turns issuing orders to its men. By issuing orders, you'll basically map out what you want your troops to do. Once the orders are given, the game calculates a 20-second chunk of the battle and then displays the results. You'll watch the action unfold over 20 seconds, and see your commandos carry out your orders as best as they can. At the end of the 20 seconds, the game pauses again and you'll be given the opportunity to issue new orders or adjust existing ones. The game will then calculate and display the next 20 seconds of combat. In theory, you could program commands for all your commandos that will last the entire battle, and then sit back and watch it unfold 20 seconds at a time. But doing so would be very difficult, because as the old military maxim goes, no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.

Multiplayer will let you control Western antiterror teams, like Germany's GSG-9.
Multiplayer will let you control Western antiterror teams, like Germany's GSG-9.

During the resolution phase, the camera will automatically select the best parts of the battle to watch, and the action will unfold cinematically. But you can also replay the 20-second clip from almost any angle, allowing you to determine exactly what went on. For example, if a commando goes down, you can rewind the playback and view that moment again to determine where the shot came from.

The order system is fairly sophisticated, but you won't have to micromanage your commandos. If you want them to climb a wall, all you have to do is map out a series of waypoints leading up to the wall and beyond it, and they'll take care of the rest. In addition to the standard movement commands, such as run, walk, or crawl, you can issue five-second delays, which means that the commando will move to a certain point and then wait five seconds before continuing. Using the delay, you can order a commando to provide cover while his teammates run past him. Meanwhile, the artificial intelligence is smart enough that commandos react properly to events. So if you tell your guys to run through an open field and they come under fire while doing so, they'll automatically cancel the move order and find cover. That said, there may be times when you need them to bulldoze their way through no matter what the cost, so you can also adjust their initiative levels so they follow your commands to the letter.

ALFA features a sharp-looking graphics engine that's capable of rendering relatively large battlefields that are packed with detail. One level features what seems to be a large apartment building overlooking several parks and a rail yard, and there's a lot of clutter on the ground to provide cover and concealment. Buildings also play an important role in the game, as they can provide height advantages, especially for your snipers. The interiors of buildings are modeled in detail, so part of the challenge will be to mix close-quarters combat with outdoor battles.

There are vehicles in the game, though you won't be able to control them.
There are vehicles in the game, though you won't be able to control them.

The multiplayer component will let you pit ALFA against Western counterterrorist units, such as Delta Force, Germany's GSG-9, and the SAS. As such, you'll have access to Western weapons and equipment, and your troops will be clad in the appropriate uniforms. Multiplayer will support up to eight players, and the game will feature Internet, LAN, hotseat, and even play-by-e-mail matches. One point that will likely have mod makers salivating is the fact that the developers are making the entire game very mod-friendly.

Mist Land is currently working to finish ALFA: Antiterror in time for a May 2005 launch, and the game could be an intriguing entry in a genre filled with classic titles. The turn-based nature of the gameplay should satisfy strategy fans who like to carefully control their battles, but the real-time resolution should bring the combat to life like never before.

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