The story behind the World in conflict series is like a war enthusiast’s ultimate fantasy. It takes place in a parallel version of 1989 in which the cold war tensions between East and West have finally erupted into full scale warfare. With most of Europe still hidden beneath the veil of the iron curtain, and the two world superpowers nervously eyeing each other from opposite sides of the Berlin wall, things kick off when the USSR launches a pre-emptive strike against the US. Like a coiled spring, Russian forces gathering in East Berlin are suddenly unleashed onto the West of the city. Unable to resist the devastating blitzkrieg, Western Germany is totally overrun. Finally, with the yanks in full retreat, the reds mount a full scale invasion of America itself.
But for however far-fetched the story might seem – especially given the state of the red army in 1989 - World in Conflict does deserve credit for how well these fictional events are given a real sense of authenticity. This is achieved by some superb storytelling and first rate voice acting which, amid the cringe worthy narration of so many other titles, is really refreshing. In the Soviet expansion, the player assumes the role of Lieutenant Romanov who, initially with a lone spetz-naz team, is ordered to infiltrate behind the Berlin wall and knock out two AA batteries. Although this seems like a suicide mission, the player doesn’t really have to do much, as Romanov’s men simply mow down everyone in sight and, with no real problems; the path westwards is open.
With this achieved, the player is then given command of an armoured squad and, after crossing the rubble of the Berlin wall, proceeds to annihilate the bemused yanks as they attempt to counter attack. This is when the player – if they have not played the prior addition – really gets a feel for World in Conflict’s unique gameplay mechanics. Although the game has some similarities to other RTS titles like Company of Heroes, it uses an innovative system of resupply which, although it means the game can sometimes seem more like an action title, make it consistently fast paced and intense. A bit like Men of War, the player is given points as they achieve objectives which can be used to purchase various units for reinforcement.
So, unlike so many other RTS titles like COH and Dawn of War, the player does not replenish their forces from bases. This means that in World of Conflict the momentum of an offensive can be continually sustained as you don’t need to organise new waves personally. However, this does not come at the expense of the games demand for strategy. Players must judge which units to call in depending on their particular situation, resulting in a rock, paper, scissors scenario. Selecting which units best exploit the vulnerabilities of the enemy is crucial, and this follows a few basic principles like, artillery is good against infantry not armour, aircraft are good against vehicles not infantry and so on.
All of World in Conflicts strengths - its story, its gameplay, its diverse weapons and vehicles - only really come together to produce something spectacular when they are played out on screen. Graphically the game has some of the best explosions – particularly when it comes to mushroom clouds - of any RTS game I’ve ever seen. Also, the way in which it manages to reconcile the large scale of the battlefield with the small is superb. Scroll out for a birds eye view of the action and you’ll be greeted with a scene of apocalyptic mayhem stretching far off into the horizon, while when zooming in, you can pick out the plights of individual soldiers with as much clarity as a first person shooter.
The only negative thing which can be levelled at the Soviet Assault expansion is that it simply retains the same core gameplay elements of its predecessor. Although these are undeniably strong, the expansion does not actually expand the format in any way. This is surprising given the long wait fans have endured for a follow up to the first World in Conflict – which was released in 2007 – and will surely cause some to feel a slight twinge of disappointment. However that said, Soviet Assault provides six new missions with just as much depth and diversity as the original. Even several years on the gameplay still feels fresh, dynamic and is complemented by visuals just as good as any contemporary RTS.
If you’re new to the series, both editions to the World in Conflict series can be purchased for about the same price as a single game, and are definitely worth checking out for anyone who appreciates a good RTS. However for those who have already completed World in Conflict, Soviet Assault provides a great excuse to go and do it all again. By all accounts when getting into the game second time round its even better than you remember, and after asking yourself how it happened in the first place, you’ll vow never again to let it escape from your hard drive.