Pages: 1 2 3
Graphics: With such an impressive scope, one of the sacrifices that had to be made for playability in WWII Online was graphics. Granted, some of the landscapes, vehicles, and planes look realistic, but many of the trees, buildings, and soldiers appear blocky and pixilated despite their 3D accelerated rendering. I will admit that I was impressed with the level of detail on some of the instrumentation on the vehicles and planes, but without any sort of on-screen heads-up-display, you have to constantly switch to a separate view to read it. There is a neat day and night cycle during the game, and some of the views at dusk are quite appealing. WWII Online‘s colors present themselves in somewhat muted tones, which seems appropriate for a war gaming title. I was also happy to see nuances like dirt flying up in explosions and shells landing in water, causing large splashes. WWII Online supports resolutions up to 1600×1200 using 32-bit color, though there is a noticeable slowdown at the higher resolutions. Even at 1024×768 on my GeForce2 MX, I was constantly experiencing slow frame rates at inopportune times, though, this might have been attributable to load and connection issues.
Interface: As I’m sure most of the gaming community is aware by now, WWII Online was released as an unfinished product. It is impossible to play anything but the offline game out of the box without downloading an update patch from PlayNet. What is even more outrageous, however, is that the patch is a ludicrous 75MB update that attempts to be downloaded when you log on, without warning. Modem players can expect to be online for many hours getting the patch before they can even step onto the virtual battlefield. While it may be possible to request a patch CD directly from Strategy First or Cornered Rat, I found no available resources on their websites for this purpose. That said, it takes no less than three system restarts and a minimum of 30-45 minutes on a very high-speed connection to get the program running, as both the game and the PlayNet launching software updates itself.
In addition to using the mouse and keyboard during play, WWII Online requires a joystick to fly a plane or drive a vehicle (a requirement noticeably absent on the box). This surprised me, as practically every simulation on the market provides an option to fly or drive without having to buy a joystick. Despite this requirement, there was no force-feedback option available for it. There are several configuration options for sound and graphics that players can set using an external setup program prior to play, but none during play.
The screen layout focuses on realism, and as such, is somewhat difficult to use. Infantry do not have any pre-drawn crosshairs; instead they have to line up their sights on their guns like in real life. Similarly, pilots and tank drivers cannot see their instrumentation panels without actually switching to a separate view, potentially crashing their plane or vehicle in the process. The only on-screen displays are your 3D character view with compass, and a health and endurance bar. Determining whether you are running, walking, or jogging, can only be done by looking at the small 3D character as well. Finally, there is a map overlay you can access at any time with an arrow depicting your location; this may is useful, but it obstructs your entire view. It would have been better to place the overlay in an out-of-the-way location.
Gameplay: Plainly stated, WWII Online is a difficult game to tackle. Much of the designers attention seemed to focus on realism over gameplay, and unfortunately, the program suffers as a result. Players used to the Quake-style first-person action will likely be bored and frustrated with the infantry model here; the boredom comes from the severe lack of action. Like in WWII, soldiers are not in the thick of battle all the time. Often, most of the time spent in WWII Online (when not endlessly waiting for the program to load) involves arriving at your destination in one way or another. The fastest way to get to a battle is to ride in the back of a truck or on a tank, but this requires other players who choose to drive these vehicles. If there is no means of transportation around, infantry players either have to wait around for one to arrive, or attempt to reach a battle on foot. While hitching a ride can take ten minutes to see action, walking can take over an hour. When you finally reach the battlefield, the frustration comes in having to deal with the clunky weapon interface. You have to hold the left-shift key with your pinky to ready your weapon, then hold the right mouse button to aim, and click the left mouse button to fire. This is asking a lot from players used to crosshairs and single-click action, and it is difficult to react to situations quickly using the three-button interface.
I found the tank, truck, artillery, and airplane models more fun to use than the infantry, but they were no less difficult to operate. These vehicles all require a mixture of joystick and keyboard controls to move, a tricky combination for the uninitiated. All tanks and trucks have a gear system, so players need to have the joystick pushed forward with one hand and their finger on the gear shift key to move. For tanks, there are several battle stations inside, and players must press a number key to switch to that station. Unfortunately, switching from driver to gunner in a tank does not put the driver on computer-controlled autopilot. Instead, the game only remembers your last speed and direction, meaning that if you were not perfectly straight when switching stations, your tank will keep going in circles as you man the gun. Once on the battlefield, firing the turret is fun, but there is no real way of knowing whether you hit the enemy or not. I never saw smoke or flames from struck tanks or buildings, but I did notice they disappeared from time to time.
Airplanes were another can of worms entirely. As a flight simulator fan, I was looking forward to how the flight model in WWII Online would be handled. The designers did a good job overall, realistically modeling all the control surfaces from ailerons to rudder, and even incorporating G-force effects, stalls, and other quirks. Unfortunately, I found dogfights practically impossible during flight. Often the game would freeze to synch up for a critical few seconds during a dogfight, and my bullets never seemed to come close. Sometimes I would be pulling a tight maneuver, and the program would freeze again, only to recover half a minute later with my plane augured into the ground.
The integration of the three types of players is done fairly well, and it was quite a sight to see a dogfight going on overhead while I was riding in the back of a truck, but overall I didn’t have much fun playing. There are still far too many quirks in online play, despite the fact that the program has been patched to version 1.22 as of September. It’s a good thing the designers have chosen to postpone the $9.99 subscription service, because I doubt very many people would pay money on top of their initial $40 purchase to play WWII Online in its current state.
Multiplayer: Multiplayer is the key to WWII Online, but I still feel the title has some difficulty handling the thousands of simultaneous players it is supposed to support. The program uses a connection protocol through PlayNet to run, but despite my DSL speed, there were still noticeable incidences of lag and latency by myself and other players. To get the most out of the game, WWII Online demands teamwork, and I felt that this was one of the strongest aspects of multiplayer. Being Rambo is not really possible during missions; a lone soldier sprinting across the battlefield is a prime target for tanks and strafing planes. As far as balance goes, I thought WWII Online seemed to favor tanks over soldiers and planes. Tanks cover ground quickly, can take a hit or two, and are the easiest model to operate. The only real incentive to play as a soldier, despite the novelty, is their ability to take over choke points, but I was afraid that there wouldn’t be enough players willing to let go of their trigger to act as chauffeurs. Despite their role as non-firing vehicles, however, trucks and their human drivers were thankfully in abundance. During my time as a soldier, there were friendly players willing to give me a ride and provide artillery support for my assault on a town. There is definitely a sense of community while playing; it just takes a while to feel comfortable enough to become a part of it.
Sound FX: WWII Online supports 3D sound effects with up to 32 samples at once. Most of those sound effects come from shots fired, shells exploding, and engines running. Everything seems appropriate, and overall I think the effects are good, but they provide nothing truly memorable. I would have liked to have heard soldiers speak a series of pre-set commands, similar to Counter-Strike, rather than having all communication rely on a small chat window. Notably, sometimes the sound would actually cut out, doubtless another bug to be fixed in a later patch.
Musical Score: There is no music in WWII Online, so this category is not judged.
Intelligence & Difficulty: The only artificial intelligence I noticed while playing came from computer-controlled defenders sitting in machinegun nests, but I never saw them actually fire at an enemy, so I can’t judge their quality. I did notice that there was no computer controlled autopilot when switching from position to position on tanks or planes, meaning that you had to make sure you were traveling perfectly straight before switching or you were in danger of going off course or crashing.
Since WWII Online is a user-controlled massively multiplayer environment, the difficulty varies according to the quality of your opponents, as well as pure luck. Some people will find playing the game too hard due to the difficult controls and realistic damage model (one shot usually means you die or bleed to death). After spending over half an hour traveling to a combat zone only to get shot immediately, I would tend to agree. However, there are those who relish this type of realism and are careful to avoid ambushes while working together for success. Such people would no doubt enjoy the challenge offered in battle.
Overall: While Cornered Rat and Strategy First are to be commended for attempting a multiplayer WWII product of such huge magnitude, WWII Online tries very hard to meet the expectations of multiplayer fans and unfortunately falls short. Despite numerous patches since its June release, the program is still a work in progress, and does not look to be completed any time soon. There are certain novel features and innovative efforts present, but they cannot overcome an annoying patch requirement, clunky interface, multiplayer instability, and an unfriendly gaming environment.
Pages: 1 2 3