World in Conflict Updated Multiplayer Hands-On

We check out some of the intense multiplayer gameplay in this real-time tactical combat game that is set during the Cold War.

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Sweden's Massive Entertainment may best be known for its Ground Control tactical games, which put you in command of sci-fi armies that battled with futuristic versions of tanks, helicopters, and artillery. World in Conflict, the company's next game, lets you play with 1989's versions of the same things. World in Conflict asks what if the Soviet Union didn't just role over and die like it did? What if it saw the writing on the wall and decided to go out in a blaze of glory? As such, you'll be able to command Western or Soviet forces as you attempt to crush the other side for freedom or for communism. We recently got a chance to play a skirmish game of World in Conflict to check out its multiplayer mode and came away impressed with the destruction that we inflicted on both the enemy and the environment.

The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!
The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!

The thing that we really noticed, especially for a real-time strategy game, is the sheer amount of action that is packed onto the screen during a big multiplayer game. Not only do you have all the combat going on in the middle of the screen, but huge cargo planes continually stream in to deliver reinforcements at the edge of the battlefield. The sight of these lumbering beasts, which swoop low to deliver fresh troops and vehicles by parachute, is downright cool. Meanwhile, the action in the game is also just non-stop--as if it were a hyperaccelerated reality. Tanks kill tanks, antiaircraft take out attack helicopters, jets sweep in to deliver pummeling bombing runs, artillery rains down left and right, and to top it all off, a nuclear missile arrives and wipes out everything in its blast radius.

The four-player multiplayer skirmish that we got to play let us take command of these units. Four players will be ideal for multiplayer because the game basically divides the forces into four types, which is similar to the way the different classes in the Battlefield games work together. One player can choose armor and purchase tanks and other armored vehicles; the second player can select infantry; a third can choose aviation (mainly helicopters); and the fourth can go with support, which is a combination of artillery, anti-air, and everything else. This way, players can focus on their specialty, and instead of having each one juggle all of the different combined arms, they can simply combine their efforts together to get the same effect.

Thanks to the nature of the battlefield, it is likely that you'll also need to work together. There are numerous nodes on the map that must be seized to generate tactical aid points; however, the kicker is that often these points are linked together in groups. For instance, both sides of a bridge might need to be controlled for you to "own" it. Or a town might have three or four nodes that must all be controlled at the same time. This means that you'll have to spread your forces greatly to hold multiple points. This is a problem if your forces are scattered and the enemy suddenly appears in force. If you have teammates with units that can back you up, however, it's not so much of a problem.

Thankfully, none of the resource gathering or base building that's seen in other real-time strategy games is in World in Conflict. The only real resource actually replenishes itself automatically. You're given a pool of points that you can use to purchase units; the more powerful the unit, the more expensive. However, as units are destroyed, their points are returned to the pool. The challenge is that those points don't all return instantly but gradually trickle back. So you won't be able to mount a suicide charge with all of your units, seriously weaken the enemy, and then instantly turn around and replace all of your losses. You still have to be careful, use combined arms tactics, and preserve your force as best as possible.

The alternate history of World in Conflict imagines a Cold War turned hot.
The alternate history of World in Conflict imagines a Cold War turned hot.

As you might expect from a strategy game that is set in the Cold War, you'll have access to all of the appropriate weapons and vehicles. We saw Abrams tanks, Apache helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, and all of their Soviet counterparts, among others. In addition to all of these conventional units, you can also call in tactical aids, or special attacks and powers. A simple and inexpensive tactical aid power might be to call in a radar plane (like an AWACs) that can cut through the fog of war and show you the location of enemy units. A more expensive tactical aid could be to call in an artillery strike that can pound an enemy concentration or request a fighter sweep to clear the sky of hostile helicopters. The most expensive tactical aid is the nuclear missile, which not only creates a huge blast but also leaves behind an incredible mushroom cloud. The blast radius is also now radiated, which can cause damage to any units that stray into it.

When everything is happening onscreen, all of the action looks intense. We found all of the possible environmental destruction really impressive. Pretty much everything in the game can be destroyed, which means an orderly European town at the beginning of a battle can become a completely gutted husk of its former self by the end. There are also tactical applications for all this destruction. Burning down a forest means that infantry can't hide in it anymore because of the blackened landscape. Or destroying a bridge means that someone has to bring in a bridging unit to cross a river.

With its real-world units and setting, World in Conflict feels like a combination of Tom Clancy and Command & Conquer. In fact, author Larry Bond is one of Clancy's collaborators and furnished the story for the game's single-player campaign. This isn't a hardcore realistic war game, and World in Conflict's fast pace and beautiful visuals will appeal to many. The game is scheduled to ship next year.

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