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Review by: Jeff Haynes
Published: October 26, 2001
Does anyone remember playing War as a kid? I’m not talking about the card game that could go on for hours; rather, I’m referring to the one played in backyards, empty lots, and neighborhoods all across the country. In an imitation of battles seen in movies, every kid was a valiant soldier in the military fighting an evil foe. We called out for medics when we were wounded and tried to press an offensive against the enemy with the strategies and weapons at hand. After a long, hard-fought struggle, we always emerged victorious, safe in the knowledge that what we’d fought for was stronger than the bad guys. While the current climate of the world has thrown a pall on activities such as these, it does manage to isolate a theme that has been repeated in the news: fighting for what you believe in. Ripping a page from the headlines, Simon and Schuster’s recent release of Real War gives you the opportunity to choose sides in a burgeoning global conflict over differing ideologies.
A recent development in military strategy has been the re-purposing of pre-existing commercial technology to train next-generation soldiers. For many years, PC sims ranging from flight combat to squad-based ground warfare introduced players to tools that law enforcement and the military have used for years. The military has only recently realized the beneficial synergy of their training methods and these titles. The real-time strategy offering Real War is based on the official Joint Chiefs of Staff training program developed for the U.S. military. Its initial purpose was to teach joint doctrine, a military term for war guidance in battle theaters around the world. While the original game has been used for the past two years at many military academies, it has only recently been given the commercial go-ahead.
The plot of Real War is similar to the nightmarish updates you see on the nightly news: In the game, the United States is widely regarded as the finest military force the world has ever known. While its armed strength is unquestioned, the economic, political, and international policies of the American government are disputed. Seeing the U.S. as a corrupt hegemonic state, a terrorist organization called the Independent Liberation Army strikes at American military bases and civilians. Bombings of naval vessels in the Middle East and chemical weapon use in the Baltic States are merely two examples of the lengths to which the ILA goes to repel the U.S. from the Eastern Hemisphere. Actions such as these draw America’s armed forces into a protracted battle with the ILA in different regions of the world. Scrambling to battle, Congress authorizes the U.S. military to use air, land, and sea forces to confront this growing threat.
There are three ways of leaping into the fray in Real War: skirmish, which allows for user-defined battles; multiplayer, which lets up to four people fight over a piece of territory; or the campaign. Regardless of which option is chosen, it’s highly recommended that players run through the three tutorial briefings. Here, fledgling commanders learn how to deploy and control their forces, as well as how to engage the foe. Even though the training is presented from the U.S. perspective, the control scheme applies to both sides, so tactics learned for one faction work for the other just as well. Training also allows you time to experiment with some of the group maneuvers that can be used: “Follow” directs troops and vehicles to accompany each other in a direct line; “Group” lumps all of your ground troops into a circular formation; and “Three Abreast” lines them up in a square pattern. While mastering these instructions is not necessary, knowing which arrangements are effective in different situations will make strikes and defenses much easier in operations.
Both the U.S. and ILA have 12 missions available in the campaign, and each side is nicely presented. Commanders are briefed with movie clips that show what has transpired before they enter the war zone. The quality and presentation of the video sometimes tricks the mind, forcing double takes as you attempt to determine whether the video is news footage, a documentary, or computer generated. Advisors explain what the commanders are watching, and the impact on the war effort for each side. While the ILA has a nameless, unrecognizable voice, Real War scored a coup by drafting R. Lee Ermey, the harsh drill sergeant from legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s film “Full Metal Jacket,” to be the American advisor. Ermey barks out everything to players with a military cadence that makes them feel as though they’re in basic training, which does lend an air of authenticity to the game.
With the briefings come scrolling summaries and highlighted maps about the mission objectives, effectively condensing the rhetoric and the goals into distilled, understandable targets. The maps typically spell out landing zones for friendly and enemy forces, and choke points such as bridges. Also, before every mission, a final set of orders is provided that gives suggestions for the upcoming conflict. These suggestions should be heeded because battles can be very large in scope and highly destructive. While the targets of each operation vary, two facets are continually explored in Real War: objective destruction and base defense. Certain missions force players to make quick strikes against enemy targets before they can be deployed or fortified. In these cases, a clock quickly ticks down, adding to a sense of urgency. However, the opponents, knowing these targets will be attacked, do their best to repel any assaults. As time runs out, fights quickly boil down to massive offensives that usually lead to high death tolls on both sides. Similarly, commanders are typically dropped into landing zones with minimal buildings or fortifications, and have just a few minutes to establish a front line of defense before the first wave of attackers assaults their base.
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