Editor's Note: North American retail version was used for this review, which has fixed a lot of bugs and crashes that were present in the original European release.
Amidst the rain of war games that are being released these days, like the battalion of interactive experiences related to WWII, Plastic Reality has put together their own take on the war theater genre, called Korea: Forgotten Conflict. If not for its relatively well-tuned squad-based gameplay, its name might have ended up being yet another self-fulfilling prophecy; “forgotten”, or maybe “forgettable”.
Korea: Forgotten Conflict starts you off in 1950, the year of the war’s inception, and takes you through 15 missions of varying terrain and difficulty. You have a crack crew of five soldiers, each with their own working specialty ranging from Korean double-agent to explosives expert. For any given map, an arbitrary combination of those stable five is selectively chosen by the game for each specific mission. You could end up with only two or three members of your group to work with, in order to challenge you to utilize each of the characters’ abilities that best suit a given situation. The soldiers, each with their own suspiciously stereotypical biography, are with you through the entire game. If one of them dies during a mission, it’s game over, try again. I found this to be a nice change from the faceless cannon fodder sometimes found in tactical squad games of this sort.
The game’s three tutorials, an actual part of the campaign structure, start you off with a good walk-through of the various controls and strategies you’ll find useful in the rest of the missions. The pacing in the tutorials is indicative of the consideration you’ll need to exercise through the rest of the game. Though the complexity of the missions change, the gauge at which you execute your strategies stays pretty even, effectively drawing the learning curve to a very manageable, and even enjoyable, slope. However, some of the planning involved can seem a bit dragged out, even in terms of outlining a tactical endeavor. This is chalked up to maps that require heavy exploration and considerations of three to four steps into the future before pulling a job.
Plastic Reality did quite well to keep most of the controls neat and simple. The most I ever had to do in order to direct my grunts from one place to the next was left-click on the screen, while a host of tactical options lay at my disposal in on-screen, clickable menus. Grouping the squad is pretty standard, and nixing that tango is just a right-click and a knife-poke away. I only ran into trouble avoiding enemy detection when the movement was so encumbered with unforeseen terrain obstacles or my Rangers’ illogical maneuvers, that I had to quickly double back, or at times, stumble into discovery by the enemy.
To alleviate complete frustration in the face of these occasional command indirections, a very accessible game pause feature has been added. During this pause (initiated and exited with the space bar), you can set up a series of actions for your Ranger to execute, such as one to five second pauses, exact movements from one point to the next, and body positioning (standing, crouching, army crawl). I found this helpful in several situations where I knew my human reactions would only get muddled in a situation where computer-guided reflexes were advantageous, if not required. At the bottom of your screen, whatever Rangers are afforded you for the mission are shown; emotionless visages surrounded by health stats, behavior setting (aggressive/passive), and the item currently in hand. I do have to give props to the developer for creating very centralized management points; every grouping of functions was well placed and useful. I only wish that the inventory item listings, limited to eight spaces, were keyed more intuitively to numbers or letters for quicker access to my characters’ bag of goodies. As it is, certain types of items available in my inventory were keyed to certain letters, and I just don’t have the time in my life to try and memorize what key brings up what bloody weapon when I’m being shot in the face by a Soviet officer.
The quotient of stealth in Korea is quite high, which suits the game well considering the squad mechanics and martial limitations of a small special ops team in Korea. Moving secretly, making the quiet kills, and leaving no trace of your passing are the keys to the greater portions of the missions. If anything brings the slickness of the gameplay to a slippery gait, it’s the imbalanced enemy AI. Adversarial soldiers, who will normally follow a set pattern of scanning out of the range of your path, will suddenly crane their necks to the breaking point in order to gaze at you, as you pass through a grove of trees they couldn’t have cared less about moments before. The pungent presence of death apparently doesn’t bother these hardened communist troops either, as in instances where soldiers in spitting distance of each other won’t blink twice when one of them drops dead from a sniper round to the head. Then there are other times when the long-decaying carcass of one of their kin is spotted from 200 yards away, and the eagle-eyed patroller will run full-speed from his post in order to get a better whiff. For all that this creates frustration and gameplay inconsistencies, the tension it generates for the player is actually measurable.
During the missions, you’ll be able to identify your sequentially numbered objectives on A.) the grainy intel map you’re provided for the mission, or B.) a handy little “useful items” button available to you in-game. Clicking this button highlights and pinpoints your mission objectives, as well as medical and tactical item locations. There’s also a button that will highlight all characters in the open, and I found this to be a huge advantage on a verdant playing field lush with dark greens, browns, and shadows. Finding the enemy isn’t always so easy with the naked eye when they blend in so well to the landscape, or are hidden inside loosely constructed bunkers.
Delicate care was taken in rendering the graphical beauty and articulation of the mission environments and their inhabitants. That isn’t to say there’s always a whole lot going on, but everything looks quite believable. Although the forested areas could easily be just about any hillside copse in the world, they still play a lushly convincing part in the visual aspect of the game. Human body motion is also very impressive; watching the even weight and movement of a soldier climbing smoothly in the back of a personnel truck is striking in its realistic emulation. Sounds are par with other games of this type: the rising score, the foreign tongue of the enemy, the backdrop trickle of rain or the broadcast of a radio program. All in all, the ambient details build lush, expansive environments to explore and traverse. Now if my experienced Army Rangers would just stop impulsively talking to themselves.
Some would consider Korea:Forgotten Conflict a pedestrian effort of a squad-based tactical game stationed in a microcosm of a historical conflict. Believe me, I’ve heard the talk. But for all that there really isn’t anything uniquely special about Forgotten Conflict, there are enough pieces of the gameplay, presentation, and creative license to keep the average player at least interested, if not downright entertained. The enemy AI is the biggest stumbling block, along with the lack of a perfect opportunity for a rudimentary multiplayer addition, and there could have been a few more missions to beef up playtime. But squad pros and novices alike should be able to enjoy Forgotten Conflict on equal terms, at their own 38th parallel.