Death, doom, and destruction - presented to you in real time. Another typical night of CNN? Think again. The culprit responsible for bringing this entertainment experience to your PC is War Wind. SSI has released a real-time, multiplayer strategy game in the style of Warcraft II and Command & Conquer. War Wind adopts the best elements of these, and adds some fascinating new features of its own. It's magic, it's mayhem, and it's murder - even against your friends, if you like. Who could ask for more?
War Wind is simply breathtaking to behold. A native Windows 95 application, it takes advantage of DirectX to provide reasonably fast cinematics and gameplay. Your installation choices can take from 5MB to 80MB of hard drive space, though the minimum leads to very long pauses during the game (usually in the middle of combat!). Once you are up and running, you get to watch an animated introduction reminiscent of Command & Conquer. After this, the regular game screens you encounter are simply stunning at 640x480 resolution.
Once you've chosen one of four alien races to play, you can choose between a campaign mode (seven missions) or an existing scenario (one of three different missions). A good read-through of the manual is important before jumping into the campaigns. Each race has different advantages and disadvantages that make your race selection somewhat difficult as well. The interface is mouse-driven, and many options for unit selection are like those in a previously mentioned game. Since combat occurs so rapidly, you should learn some of the Hot Keys in order to survive. Your job is to complete the mission goals - no matter what. In case you forget, the Options screen lets you review what you're supposed to be doing.
Your basic job is to mine resources (sound familiar?) while avoiding being overrun by your opponent. Several nice touches are the presence of neutral and hostile wildlife, the ability to train and upgrade your units, and the Fog of War that closes down on areas as you leave them. Your computer opponents will seem to have two modes: PATROL and KILL. If you succeed in a mission, you can select some of your people - er, creatures - and place them in the Hall of Heroes, which will allow you to carry them forward in future missions. If you get bored with your campaign, you can use the Scenario Editor to create your own single- or multiplayer missions.
War Wind is outstanding, but I do have a few quibbles with it. Combat is frequently hand-to-hand, and the view makes it difficult to see what's actually occurring. The Walk Through/Quick Start is not much of a walk-through (hint: look at the readme.txt file before starting a campaign). The campaigns could also be longer. Otherwise, it's a very strong contender for strategy game of the year.