Kuma\War is built around an interesting, if potentially exploitive, idea: offer a shooter based on current military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan and then update it over the Internet with new missions inspired by the latest battles. Plenty of other shooters offer relatively realistic looks at modern combat, but Kuma\War is unique in this focus on real, recent battles. Sadly, the actual gameplay is so bad that the high concept becomes almost irrelevant.
Kuma\War is available only via download from the game's official Web site, which means you better set aside some time if you want to try it; the main client alone weighs in at over 200MB. After that lengthy download, you have to sit through a tediously long auto-update process and then download each of the missions you want. You can play for free for a week, though you have to provide contact and credit card information before you do so. If you like the game, you can then pay a monthly subscription to keep playing and downloading new missions as they're released.
On paper, Kuma\War has some of the essentials for a good military shooter. You control a fire team of four soldiers armed with real-world weapons. You can play from a first- or third-person view and switch between directly controlling any of the soldiers at any time to issuing simple orders, like "hold fire" or "fire at will" to your team. Via a Web-based front end, you can also follow links to mainstream media reports, images, and videos relating to the real-world missions that have inspired the game's action. You can also download Kuma's own CNN-style broadcasts for each mission. These broadcasts mix real-world footage with in-game images and offer background information, expert analysis, and tips relating to the game's virtual versions of the battles.
That all sounds cool until you find that the analysis usually lacks the sort of nitty-gritty detail that military buffs might like, and the gameplay tips are comically obvious: "Keep your head down or it might get blown off." More significantly, Kuma\War's gameplay is sorely lacking and it doesn't succeed at any level. The presentation is dated and drab, and the vaguely realistic military trappings can't disguise what is at heart a weak, simplistic shooter. Those expecting a realistic tactical simulation will be sorely disappointed. For that matter, those expecting a thrilling run-and-gun action game will be disappointed, too. Enemies appear in the same places every time you play a mission, and they will pretty much just stand around and do nothing until you're right in their faces. Also, the enemies will often ignore buddies dying right next to them. Combat feels more like plinking tin cans with a BB gun than blasting wily enemies with high-powered military weapons.
On top of that, you can't climb many obstacles and you can't lean, which results in lots of long marches around low walls and unnecessary deaths as you turn corners. Combat mostly boils down to using your sniper to blast bad guys before they can kill your other three men. Your inept squadmates often fail to return fire effectively--or at all--and frequently get lost or caught on the scenery. Your squadmates will also block you from moving down stairs or through narrow passages--sometimes right as you're taking fire. When you have to rescue hostages, the liberated captives will usually run off on their own in some crazy direction, only to get gunned down. You can play Kuma\War online, but it's a ghost town out there; we could never find any active servers to play on after several days of trying.
Kuma\War's missions are mostly based on real engagements in the current Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, such as the attack on Saddam Hussein's sons and a fight against anti-Coalition insurgents in Sadr city. For a bit of desperately needed variety, a couple of missions look back to the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980. Despite such nods to realism, Kuma\War gives you the comical impression that these battles were each fought by a single four-man (or smaller) fire team. You don't coordinate with other units or even with the rest of your seemingly nonexistent squad, so there's no sense that you're part of any real military operation. Sometimes you will see fellow troops, but they're just distant window dressing. It's frustrating, and frankly pathetic, to see a line of Humvees and troops standing there and doing nothing as your four men are being gunned down by snipers who've been left to casually stand around on nearby rooftops.
Mission goals can be a bit confusing insofar as the in-game map is concerned--it's so poor that it's worthless. Then again, the goals are tediously simple: just keep aimlessly walking around and killing the guys with headdresses and AK-47s until they're all dead. That repetitiveness gets numbingly boring fast. For a little diversity, you'll get to control vehicles, like an M1 tank, from time to time. Actually, that's not quite correct since the M1's "controls" are outrageously clumsy and unresponsive, and the tank easily gets caught on everything from sidewalks to small signs to little piles of dirt.
On foot, you'll get to fight with sniper rifles, M4 carbines, M16A2 assault rifles, and other real-world weapons. Outside of the sniper rifle, many of these are woefully inaccurate, and overall they feel more like toys than real weapons. Another departure from reality (but a necessary one, given some of the crackpot enemy snipers lining the rooftops and mountainsides) is the ability to magically heal yourself instantly with health kits. Instead of one-shot-one-kill, Kuma\War is one-shot-one-kill-kinda-sorta.
Kuma\War's presentation is as problematic as its gameplay. One of the video hosts sounds rather too enthusiastic for the subject matter, treating recent real-life combat almost as if it were, well, a video game. The in-game graphics are marred by bland textures (building interiors and tanks look downright awful), clunky animation, major clipping problems, and boring weapon/explosion effects. Sound effects don't give the weapons any sense of power, and the music volume levels can change drastically for no apparent reason. The music is utterly forgettable, anyway.
Between all the tedious downloads, sorry gameplay, and weak audio and visuals, Kuma\War simply can't compete. Games like Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield, Joint Operations, and America's Army (produced by the US Army, no less) offer vastly more sophisticated, realistic, or flat-out entertaining looks at modern tactical combat and weaponry. Kuma\War has an interesting idea at its core, but with such weak execution, it really doesn't matter.