With its cool blend of high-tech military equipment and geopolitical storyline, Act of War: Direct Action was a techno-thriller novel come to life as a real-time strategy game. In fact, techno-thriller author Dale Brown contributed to the game and then released an accompanying novel of the same name. Unfortunately, while Act of War (the game) proved to be excellent, it wasn't such a huge hit, which might explain why Atari quietly released the expansion, Act of War: High Treason, earlier this year. That's a pity, since High Treason ups the storytelling and the gameplay even higher.
Admittedly, the plot of Act of War was a bit out there, especially when it came to terrorists attacking American cities like it were the D-day invasion all over again. Still, that provided for some cool moments as you battled it out in San Francisco and Washington D.C. The good news is that High Treason's story is a lot more compelling, as it focuses on a coup d'état in the United States. Task Force Talon, the high-tech military force that saved the day in Act of War, is framed and finds itself on the lam, so the unit must save democracy the hard way.
Since Task Force Talon is on the lam, the challenge in High Treason is a lot tougher than it was in Act of War. In most missions, you can no longer draw on the practically unlimited military might of the United States, so you've got to be a lot more careful about how you use your units and resources. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, as Act of War was a bit easy due to the ample firepower at your disposal. The missions in High Treason are tough, but for the most part, they're not brutally difficult (there are a couple of exceptions), and they'll force you to think a lot more. Many missions put you in challenging situations where you have to figure out how to best maximize the forces at your disposal.
The good news is that many of the cool features of Act of War return in High Treason. Infantry are very useful in High Treason, since they can storm buildings, expel any defenders, and then barricade themselves inside. The neat resource system that relies less on gathering resources and more on capturing and holding prisoners is back. And you'll once again have the cool mix of familiar high-tech and experimental weapons that you saw in Act of War. These include Abrams tanks, Stryker assault vehicles, Black Hawk helicopters, and infantry power armor. You also have access to some new types of units in High Treason. One of the easiest ways to boost your force is to hire mercenaries, which are specialized, powerful units that cost a fair amount of money to purchase and maintain, but whose presence could turn the tide of battle. For instance, you can hire a team of medics to heal your troops, or summon air defenses to help deflect enemy air raids. The other new addition is naval warfare, which now gives you carriers, destroyers, and submarines to control, though their presence is limited to water maps. Still, that opens up a whole new dimension of warfare. Multiplayer has been enhanced a bit in the expansion, mainly with the addition of more configuration options at the beginning of a match. You can adjust unit lethality, toggle prisoners, tweak game speed, and more. Otherwise, the fast-paced multiplayer remains the same.
The battlefields in High Treason offer new variety from the urban jungles and deserts seen in Act of War. You'll now be able to plow through tropical jungles, as well as coniferous ones. The visuals remain as sharp as they did in last year's game, and you'll appreciate the highly destructive environments. Explosions can gut buildings, trees can be knocked or blown over, and vehicles can explode in glorious fireballs. Unfortunately, the extensive live-action cutscenes in Act of War have been replaced with computer-generated ones, probably due to the heavy cost of filming such scenes. Thankfully, the voice acting remains the same, so you'll hear the familiar cast of characters heard in Act of War.
Perhaps the only real knock against High Treason is the amount of hard-drive space the game requires. The expansion alone takes up about 7GB of free space, which is considerably larger than all but a handful of full-fledged games. Combine it with Act of War (which is required to run the expansion), and you're looking at around 15GB of hard-drive space for the two of them. Still, High Treason is a great expansion pack that doesn't satisfy fans of the series simply by throwing more at them. Instead, the challenging missions will force players to adjust to a new style of play.