Game Review - by James Allen
Never has there been a persistent online world for any game: we have relied on individual user servers, which are not always up. The ambitious goal of World War II Online is to have one online battlefield in which all players replay the greatest war of the 20th century. It's such a simple goal, but, as we will see, it is very hard to meet. Will World War II Online serve its nation proud, or just crash and burn?
There is a great discrepancy in what is advertised on the game box, and what's actually contained in the game. From the first running of the software, it is painfully clear that this was never intended to be a finished product, and World War II Online is more of a public beta that we pay for. A common theme is the bugs that plague this game, well, like the plague. For example, you cannot install the game in any directory name that contains spaces. This is just the beginning of a long myriad of shortcomings World War II Online has to offer. In combing over the features, we see what may be present in some patched version in the future. As it stands right now, we are given a small portion of France and Belgium (not the whole of Europe), a couple of aircraft, tanks, AT guns, trucks, and troops. Consulting the technical manual, we see that we are missing any hint of grenades, machine guns, and a majority of the aircraft. No doubt these will be released at a later date, but have we ever seen a game that releases new features touted on the box and in the manuals in patch form? If this game was anything other than online, a huge outcry would be emanating from the consumers who paid hard earned cash on this (not that there isn't any now).
The load times are entirely too long: just entering the game is a three-minute affair. I can't remember any other game that took this long, and most of them have better graphics and other features. The persistent online universe is currently comprised of anywhere up to eight or nine servers, depending on load. As you can imagine, each has a different "current state," so we are still waiting for our half scale Europe. And let's talk about the keymapper: who came up with this piece of confusing nonsense? If you've ever tried to use it, you know my pain. Just trying to map a joystick button to "gas" on a tank is impossible. The game wants certain commands to be axis driven (such as brakes, gas, etc). Now, I've played NASCAR Racing 4, and I've mapped buttons to axis positions: why can't the same be true for World War II Online? Most everything related to this game is an exercise in frustration. The offline training mode let's you run/drive/fly around and shoot standing targets: there are no bots that can be found in other online games such as Tribes 2. Thus, we are stuck with a buggy online only mode. With such high expectations for this product, the grand claims made by World War II Online have yet to be met in any derivative form.
Albeit this is a realistic war simulation (or its trying to be), but I just haven't seen anything memorable with the sound. There's the wine of tanks, and the sounds resulting from firing weapons, but we have no voices whatsoever: unlike Tribes 2, we can't send sound bytes back and forth: we are subjected to sending text messages, which tie up precious game time when we are under enemy fire. I hope they plan to add more features here in sound, because now it's just plain and unimpressive.
All right. Let's say this: if you can get World War II Online working well, it's really a blast to play, despite all its problems, and it definitely has great potential in the future. You can choose from basically three different roles: infantry, pilot, and driver. The tanks have positions for more than one person, and you can team up several people into one tank, which makes everything much easier, until the driver flips the tank over (thanks, StormDaemon). If anything, World War II Online forces the participants to work together, and the infantry must be transported to the battlefield by tank or truck, since it takes upwards of twenty minutes to DRIVE, let alone run. Troops are only allowed to spawn in field, army, or air bases, and commonly the battles take place a town away: since the terrain is scaled to half of real Europe, and France is the size of Texas, you can do the math. The travel times are cut when you spawn in a base that is currently under attack, in which quick death and rebirth is found. When you do need to navigate the French countryside, it's the kind of nervous anticipation driving to the battlefield that we see at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, and it's pretty effective: you try not to waste your lives, since it takes so long to drive back after respawning. That is if you can find the battlefield: the in-game map is buggy, as some of the towns don't even show up, or even exist (the perpetually German town of Champion). The game works by using choke points, which means that one of the two sides controls a certain town by inhabiting all of its buildings, and the other side must travel to it using the closest available friendly base, although you are not forced to. Once you arrive at the contested location, the game screams reality and it shows in the simple fact that it takes three buttons to shoot a gun. Also, the realistic speeds and shifting ratios of all the tanks are present. Now, there is a fine line between reality and unplayability, and World War II Online skirts this line ever so slightly.
One of the most interesting aspects of the game is the fact that all of the participants are human, so we don't have any AI issues (of course), just human issues. It's paramount that you understand all the controls offline first, as the veteran players will give no mercy for a tank driver who doesn't take the part very well. Speaking of tank drivers, most of the players in the game choose tanks, and why not? Since the infantry take three buttons to shoot, they walk slowly, and they are armed only with a rifle or sub-machine gun, what else would you expect? Plus, it's more fun driving a tank than riding on one. The only advantage that infantry have is that they are the only units allowed to capture buildings by touching the Magic Disappearing RadioTM. Once World War II Online gets going (and all of the promised features are included), we can expect gameplay to live up to the expectations: massive battles, where the individual helps the team win. But until then, we're just guinea pigs in the grand experiment of testing for bugs.
So, those long load times are finally explained, since the graphics must be stellar, right? Wrong you are again! We move back into the early days of 3D acceleration with plain accelerated graphics, below even Quake standards. I'm sorry to say, but I just may say these are comparable to Airport Tycoon/Mogul/Inc (and you thought that skeleton was buried forever). I can understand having passť graphics to provide for faster connection status and let lesser computers join in the fun, but, c'mon, Tribes 2 did it! The HUD gives information of direction and stature, but no information on ammo remaining or number of clips you have left for infantry. The nicest things about the graphics are the sunset and two sunrises each day. Everything with World War II Online has that feeling of: "Yeah, we'll get it right eventually, but please give us $10 a month!" Blah.
World War II Online is a very unfinished game, but it's really fun if/when you can get the game working properly. You can tell the game may just be all that we thought in the future, but if I were you, I'd wait a couple of months before plopping down $40 for a public beta. I really hope this game works in the end, because if it does, the experience shall not be paralleled.