World domination or more of the same old RTS? We take a look at Atari’s Act of War to see whether it can break away from the mould and take over your life as you try and take over the world.
Atari’s Act Of War boasts a storyline crafted by Dale Brown, author of the novel of the same name and the live-action cutscenes bring to mind memories of earlier C&C entries such as Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2. Digital Video technology means the clips look great, and it’s smart to have the introductory setup shown to us as we load, given that it’s a DVD-only game.
As with most games of this genre and following the novel’s storyline, it’s all about a crisis and for Act of War is an energy crisis that has forced nations to turn against each other so they can turn the lights on. Petrol prices have gone up to $7 a gallon (in the UK anyway, just like today then - but that’s like the apocalypse for America) and the battle for energy means that you’ll be fighting for it across the world. Handily for Brits you’ll start in London before jetting off to Russia, America twice, Libya and Egypt, so the terrain’s hardly dull.
This reliance on cutscenes means that while the storyline gets to unravel around the missions you can be left itching to get into it way before you ever get the chance. Once you’ve got past your short movie you are dropped into a game and given some objectives, and one of the great strengths here is the addition of secondary missions that you can attempt while getting on with the main battle. This means a lot of use is made of single maps at a time. Nothing wrong with that, but when you eventually win the day (you guessed it…) there’s more video to watch. You can’t help thinking that it would have been better to put all the video on a separate disk and let us watch everything after the installation cutscene in our own time (just as you can read the book).
Balancing out the waiting around for the action, an additional strength is, you can zoom all the way in to see large-scale third person battles before zooming back out again to plan your units’ movements. Resembling RTS classic Ground Control, this is an advantage when you’ve got so much to manage, or you can simply treat it like another cutscene but using the game engine.
Unfortunately there’s the usual kind of AI pathfinding problems that plague all but the best RTS games. Most of the time there’s one man, Major Jefferson, who must be kept alive at all times, he’s like the Command APC of Act Of War - i.e. the mission’s over when he dies. Since he’s just a man who doesn’t even start with a vehicle, the good thing is Jefferson can be left behind while you get on with the fighting. So, seeing him, or a platoon of new soldiers, walk straight into the most dangerous parts of the level or split into groups when moving around larger objects can be frustrating, even if it’s par for the course in this field.
Thankfully, the action, once you get to it, is good enough to sustain the waiting of those cutscenes. With another year to go before we see the next in the Command And Conquer series, this passes the time adequately.
Given that Atari's most recent PC release was the spectacularly poor Driv3r, an above average C&C retread is a massive improvement, even if it's chasing Unreal Tournament 2004's crown of fattest action game (it's 2Gb short on UT2004 once all the patches and add-ons have been installed).
If you have lots of watching as well as playing time to kill and 6Gb of hard disk space waiting to be filled, it's adequate, just not at full price. Also, if the game is shipped in a DVD Case, the cardboard wrapper with all the same artwork and design is, in our opinion, wasteful.