Game Review - by James Allen
There has been no shortage of strategy games this year. It seems that this is the most popular genre of today, based solely upon the number of titles being published. These games cover a large variety of different subjects, from the past, present, and future. World War III: Black Gold concerns itself with the near future, when the world's oil supplies have shrunk and three powers vie for control of the hoard: the U.S., Iraq, and Russia. World War III: Black Gold takes classic real time strategy elements and mutates them into a new game for all to enjoy. Will World War III: Black Gold successfully secure control of this important resource, or just become another has-been?
World War III: Black Gold has several gameplay modes which we, as the gaming public, have become all to accustomed to. Each of the three sides, the U.S., Iraq, and Russia, each have two mission of five missions each; however, you must complete the first American mission first to unlock the others, which is somewhat of an annoyance. If structured gameplay isn't your thing, you can take on the world in skirmish and multiplayer modes. There are three kinds of games here: destroy structures (regular), limited cost battle (no resource gathering), and tech war (all technology upgrades researched). You can learn the intricacies of the game by completing the included tutorials, which do a fairly good job at relaying the differences between this game and others you may (or may not) have played.
The first thing that you will notice with respect to the units included in the game is the lack of infantry. I'm not so sad about this, since I've found that most of my infantry tend to get run over anyway. Each side has realistic units based off real world tanks, helicopters, jeeps, and planes. The U.S. has Hummers, M2 Bradleys, M1 Abrams, M113 APCs, AH 64 Apaches, RAH 66 Comanches, and UH-60 Blackhawks, for example. This tie in with real life is a welcome addition, contrasting most games which feature vague representations of actual units. Even with these added bonuses, the features in World War III: Black Gold are exceedingly standard.
The sound in World War III: Black Gold is average. It's a strange feeling during the game, as some aspects are given absolute attention in the sound department, and others are left alone to die. For example, we can hear the rain effects during that particular kind of weather effect, but there is a total lack of engine and propeller sounds. The units give very short and general acknowledgements during combat. The explosions have appropriate effects, and oil derricks wail suitable noises. In the end, however, you'll be left with the feeling that not enough attention has been paid to the sound in the game, something which is a distressing trend in recent gaming.
There are several innovations present in World War III: Black Gold that streamline the game and put the emphasis on leading your units to victory. First, the only resource in the game is oil, which is collected automatically by placing oil derricks on the obvious patches of oil and powering them. However, there is a finite supply of oil at each location, so you must eventually scout out more locations of resources. The technology tree is also interesting. You just choose your goal, and the game queues them in order. Researching new offensive and defensive weapons, like mortars and air missiles, can lead you to attach these new weapons to existing units, so that the same basic unit can have different weaponry. You build landing zones and airports to fly in new units, rather than constructing them directly at your base. This method of ordering new units is far more realistic than many other real time strategy games, and I find it to be a very revitalizing change. You can also choose the direction in which the units are flown in, so that you can avoid enemy fire. When you order the new units, you can have them automatically placed into groups, so this avoids yet another headache present in RTS games. It even tells you on screen how many units are currently present in each group: no counting for us! And even better, you can continually order new units, instead of building 5, then forgetting about it and losing the battle. These improvements are very welcome and are a great way of simplifying the game.
To get around the map, there are tunnels that transport you underground to another portion of the map. I find this a really strange addition to the same, because having expansive underground tunnel networks seems a little farfetched to me. When you finally do engage the enemy, more problems surface. First off, and probably most damaging to the game, you units, if instructed to move to a specific location, will speed right past enemy units without a care in the world. They don't think for themselves, ever. And when the enemy units do come into view, it takes too long for your units to engage them. This is especially upsetting when your units have blazed past them and subsequently die quickly. The good aspect of the game I will note here is the use of collateral damage: neighboring structures can get damaged by exploding buildings. All right, enough of that, on to the vague mission objectives. The mission objectives are vague. Oh, and units gain experience, but they die in such great volumes that it won't matter. With all of the good things that World War III: Black Gold has, it's ruined by the poor engage tactics.
The graphics looks good zoomed out, but become blocky and have little detail when you are close up. The terrain appears to be very believable and detailed, and isn't muddied out like in other games. The explosions are fairly good, although quick: you can usually see little particles spewing from the remains of a destroyed structure or unit. You can also notice the trails of dirt as the units cross desert areas. The use of fog of war is very good, casting aside the usual black shroud and adding a translucent smoke that actually appears to be fog. However, the line of sight of each unit is sometimes erratic, as enemy units can continually pop in and out of the display. The nighttime effects are particularly striking, as headlights appear on the units and sweep around the landscape, scouting for enemy units. The transition to darkness is also realistically done, gradually going through oranges, reds, and pinks on the way to pitch black. If the textures of the units were not so poor in close proximity, the graphics could be quite good overall.
World War III: Black Gold is yet another average real time strategy game. With everything that the game does right (resource collection, infinite unit queuing, automatic group allocation, technology tree, flying in new units) it's mostly offset by the poor enemy unit recognition. It's good that a majority of the game can be automated, since fighting would otherwise be impossible. Instead, it's just exasperating. If you want to check out some of the new innovations in the game, go right ahead, but most people can avoid this title and not think twice about it.