The last few weeks I was ITCHING for a good modern real time strategy game. While looking for a new game to buy at my local EB I knew that I just HAD to play an RTS next and wanted it to be as modern as possible. And there was Real War: Rogue States. Since I haven't played the original Real War, I jumped on it. How more real and modern than that could you get, thought I judging by the title? And on the front side of the minibox it said "Based on the official JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF training game developed FOR THE U.S. MILITARY". So my fate was decided, I had to grab this one off the shelf, shell out my hard earned $40 CAD and RUN home to play it.
"The stage is set for new global conflict..."
The intro movie was beautiful. Planes flying, tanks rolling, explosions rocking the ground. I'm still trying to figure out whether this was real footage or SGI. This really boosted up my expectations for the game, as judging by the movie this was supposed to be on helluva high-class game. Did it hold up to my expectations? Read on to find out...
The first disappointment came after I examined the storyline of the game. As the good guys you have the USA, while the bad guys are (guess)... Why, if there are stereotypes for an enemy that sit inside Americans' heads now, they would be Arabs (after 9/11), Russians (ever since the Cold War) and Chinese (ever since everything that you see in stores started getting made in China!). Just see all the recent Hollywood movies and you'll find out that I'm right. The villains are either Arab terrorists, Russian communists or mafia or just some random Chinese general that hates the US and is bent on global domination. So of course Simon & Shuster didn't have to reinvent anything, except that to fortify the feeling of hate against your enemy in Rogue States, they've put Russians and Arabs together, while letting the Chinese off the hook (For now - I wouldn't be surprised to see yet another expansion for Real Wars with Chinese trying to take over the world.. Just give it a few years....). Russian and Arab radicals united in the game are called the ILA (Independent Liberation Army), more commonly called as "Terrorists" by the US forces. This one I couldn't figure out yet - if two or more nations would unite and declare a war on a third nation, how does that make them terrorists? No clue... I guess to attract more sales Simon & Shuster decided to play on the public interest in the on-going war on international terrorism. Bad move, if they can't even figure out for themselves what the definition of the word "terrorism" is. But enough of my ranting about the storyline, since that's not what makes an RTS game really good or really bad, and let's go on to other more important issues.
The audio was really cool. The soldiers' voices are authentic (even the Russian and Arabic voices are done very well and according to an Arab friend even the Arabic accents are realistic) and sound well. The SFX aren't missing out either, and do sound like real explosions or shots. The music is very nicely done, and adds up to the atmosphere, except that for each side you have one (but rather long) audio track repeating over and over again. At a certain point that might gets annoying, but there is an option to turn it off.
The graphics aren't too bad, but can't be called too fancy either. No, they're not up-to-date with Sudden Strike II's or Red Alert 2's graphics, but they're ok. Although there are some really cool visual effects (You should see the nuclear explosion... Just beautiful.), there aren't nearly enough of them to make up for the general plainness of the game. Ok, so the blowing up rockets look pretty cool too. But what about dead soldiers' bodies or blown up armor disappearing right after the unit was destroyed? Leaving at least a visible trace would be nice (or even let the bodies/armor shreds lye around on the battlefield ala Close Combat) and even realistic. But it ain't happening. Some of the buildings actually have animations, but they're not too impressive either... Like boxes moving one after another on a conveyor in the supply depot. Graphic wise (not counting the awesome SGI-generated cutscenes) this game is somewhere in 1999-2000. But then again, maybe the programmers were trying to go easy on the people with old machines?
"American forces mobilize all over the globe, the world braces as the battle for global dominance begins."
One of the things that I did try to appreciate in this game, was that it was trying really hard to be realistic (but trying was all there is, next paragraph will explain why). There are some realistic factors in there, like the fact that you can only have as many planes as fit into the parking spots in your airport (which you could add to expand its capacity). Missiles or rockets don't always hit their target if it moves. Also there's a huge variety of different forces to be selected from - ground, air, sea and even tactical or biological nukes. Then, there are advanced commands for your units- like the command to attack only enemy SpecOps or the ability to give an order to attack multiple targets one after another, which I found extremely cool and just wish other RTS games would provide it. There's also a command to protect one of your units, so gunship helicopters could possibly protect your infanstry as it goes into battle. Another great feature is that you can zoom in and out without a problem into and out of the game with a simple mouse wheel scroll.
This game features the vastest variety of different units blending together and creating a feeling of a real army. Snipers, stealth bombers, destroyers, navy seals and so much more... Problem is, you can't really manage them properly, since the gameplay is too fast to properly allocate resources. Tanks don't roll like in other games - they move with the speed of light, as if they're afraid to be late for the big show. For some reason, ground troops move with pretty much the same speed. And the thing that bugged me infinitely here, is that the game speed cannot be changed from options menu, unlike in most other RTS games. The game just moves too fast, hence it loses most if not all of its tactical elements... Often you don't even have the time to give orders to your units, that's how bad it gets. Nor can the difficulty of singleplayer campaign can be changed (although it's possible in Skirmish missions). And unfortunately some of the units can't be called anything but dumb. What would you call an elite ILA ground troop unit? Whatever you were thinking about, you were wrong. It's name is just "terrorist". Armed with grenades he can perform suicide bombings to destroy other units (including heavily armed tanks). Well, that's just plain dumb and unrealistic. Guys running around with a grenade and killing themselves while blowing up a tank? That might've been true in WW1 when the tanks had practically no armor, but in our age when tanks can often sustain direct RPG hits and remain functional? Yeah right. There's also a slight problem of regular rocket infantry being able to down high-altitude bombers, while the bombers (get this!) can't hit the infantry. How would you explain that? So a rocket can take out a stealth bomber, while the stealth bomber can't kill one simple ground pounder? Umm... okay. And the bombers for some reason do not cause any damage whatsoever to light boats... Why I wonder?
The next big problem with the game, is that unfortunately the units' AI is the dumbest that I've seen in ages. Probably the last game that had a AI on this level was the original Dune that came out 10 years ago. Way too often your units will be standing under enemy fire and not reacting to it. I wonder where's the realism in that? Let's imagine a "real war" (excuse my pun): your tank/soldier/ship is guarding out there or patrolling an area. All out of sudden a bunch of enemy tanks/soldiers/ships arrive and start shooting at him/it. His first reaction? Well, there's no reaction in this "Real War". He'll just stand there and let them shoot at him. I guess the only reason he got recruited into to the army at the first place was to experience euthanasia (assisted suicide, for those that don't know). So where's the realism in that, Rival Interactive, Semi-Logic and Simon & Shuster?
Furthermore, the enemy AI is similar to your own soldiers' AI and is even worse at times. No, they won't notice that you're shooting at them for good 30 seconds or so either. And what's worse is that they'll follow the same tactics all the time... For example, if your enemy has an airport, his bombers will fly towards your base, drop their bombs only on ONE object that they were selected to attack, and return to their base. If you repair or rebuild the object, the next time they come back (which is usually in a few minutes) they'll go for it once again, no matter where you've placed it. They don't mind that the object they're bombing is located further from their base and costs less than the brand new Airfield with some extra addons that you've just build, they'll keep going for the same target. As well, in one mission where my and enemy bases were separated by a sea, I've managed to destroy their airport with a nuke and they didn't have the money to rebuild it (Yet another bug in the game - it seems that in certain missions the maximum amount of money that you can have is limited to 1200 credits - no matter that the transport helicopters keep bringing more supplies, the money just isn't added to your total. So you might have a tactical nuke available for buying, but won't ever have enough money for it. So I wonder, where's the logic in that? If you can't access this weapon in this level, why can you build a nuke launching facility and spend money on it?). Instead they kept building ground troops, destroyers and gunboats. The funny part is that soon their entire shore was crowded with ships, and a horde of soldiers and vehicles was standing nearby... But they've NEVER led even one attack, in the subsequent 15 minutes that it took me to build enough planes and choppers and transport ships to get my army up and running and pound the hell out of them. And did I mention really crappy pathfinding by ALL units? Oh, I didn't yet. Well, units often tend to take much longer ways than needed, for no apparent reason. And that's a fact.
At least the multiplayer was somewhat of a relief. It's much funner to play with a human opponent than with the idiotic computer-controlled AI. And they've included some cool multiplayer options, such as the cooperative multiplayer, when two players can control the same forces against other two players and capture the flag. That makes it up for a much more rewarding experience than singleplayer, but it doesn't really mean that the multiplayer is something you'll spend a lot of time on due to bugs, gamespeed and general dumbness of unit AI plaguing it too.
There is a total of 14 missions in the campaign mode (7 for each side) and 20 skirmish missions. Most campaign missions are either surprisingly easy or mind-numbingly hard to pass (because the conditions enforced on you make it impossible to develop a base when the enemy is already attacking you with all his forces). At either case you're looking at about 10-15 hours of gameplay to finish up both of the campaigns. Then you can keep yourself entertained for another 15-20 hours with the skirmish campaigns. So... That's a MAXIMUM total of 35 hours of singleplayer gameplay for you in this game (if you're really dumb, that is). There's no map editor included for the game, which is a real downer too and decreases the replay value even more...
"So you're giving up? Hahaha!"
The bottom line is that this game can't be called terrible. It features terrific cutscenes, a very solid overall audio, some innovative (and might I even say - sometimes realistic) gameplay features and some really cool multiplayer modes. I've actually had a certain amount of fun while playing some of the missions. But it also features one of the dumbest AIs ever created, missing game options (speed, difficulty control), dated graphics and a lot of general gameplay annoyances that can be attributed to the fact that this game feels really unfinished. And that's what's disappointing. Real War: Rogue States could've had the potential of becoming a real hit if given more time in development. It would've been a much smarter move for Simon & Shuster to invest the money they've put into commercials for this game (and there were quite a lot of those) into the actual development process. But for some reason they didn't. Which leaves us with an obviously unpolished game that could've been, oh so much more...
P.S. I think the only reason I didn't bring it back to EB under some lame reason was because the game came with a full text of Sun Tzu's "The Art of War". It's too bad the developers didn't bother to read the book that was bundled with their own game.
P.P.S. If the U.S. military nowadays indeed trains on this game, you can expect another Vietnam if George W. Bush starts his campaign against Iraq.