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08th May 2019 | 196 views
Game: Real War
Developer: Rival Interactive
Game: Real War
Developer: Rival Interactive
There has been lately a decent amount of games I’ve reviewed for this site that come from a sense of nostalgia. Maybe I play them again to see if they hold up as well as I remember them, maybe because the game design of the past hit some particular nerve that today’s offers can quite reach. Maybe it’s because I already have the game, so I don’t have to search for interesting offerings everywhere else. Whatever the case, I’ve talked here about some quite remarkable offerings, most of the time forgotten by history. However, in the great scheme of things, hidden gems are the exception, not the rule. For every game that manages to spark the flame of brilliance, you get hundreds that are just bad, ugly lump of coal. And there is nothing more terrible for the legacy of a game to just be mediocre, middle of the road. And thus, we meet Real War.
Real War is an RTS made by Rival Interactive and released in 2001. Set in the modern world, the game comes from an old war simulator program that the US used for a while, at least according to Wikipedia (chek out Joint Forces Employment software, that's the supposed origin of this). The plot is rather simple: the United States fights a new terrorist menace that threatens to cause world upheaval. You can play either side of the conflict, using a variety of military units, fighting the war on land, air and sea. Before I start the review, I have to mention that I’ve played the Spanish FX version of the game. Apparently there are some voice acting done by some famous actors in the original version, but because this is the dubbed version, I can only comment on the Spanish voice work, which is quite generic, something that is going to become a pattern the more we delve into the game.
The game offers the expected options for a 2000s RTS: A brief single player campaign, regular skirmish mode, a multiplayer mode through LAN or Internet connection and a tutorial. The tutorial is rather basic, and one might think it’s not particularly informative due to it not really getting deep into the game mechanics, but the truth of the matter is that there is very little to actually see here. The skirmish mode offers around thirteen maps, with an option to able or disable the deployable units, the rate of resource gathering, and the colour of the team. The unit choice is nice if you want to try different strategies, but you can also make it so that no one can deploy any military units, thus condemning the game to go on forever, as neither side can really do anything to hurt the other.
And here it is when we finally meet how limited this game really is. Because you will notice right there that there are no options for getting a match of more than two players. The game is exclusively 1 vs 1. That is just amazingly shallow for an RTS in the 2000s, considering it’s the golden age of the genre. Almost every single other RTS at the time would have offered you the chance of getting more than two players on a single map. It also makes you realize that things such as diplomacy, alliances, unit combination, squad abilities… That is just not present in the game. That right there is one massive blow against the game. But it doesn’t really stop there. After realizing that all of the previously options are nonexistent, you will immediately realize that there is only one kind of game: Allies vs Rebels. There is no option to play Allies vs Allies or Rebels vs Rebels. This means that all of the games you will play will be exactly the same. No matter what you do, you will see the same units deployed against you, and you will have the same exact units to counter them. This alone would kill any game, but we are only getting started here.
The gameplay is rather simple. Like most RTS, you have an initial base of operations, a single building, and you have to gather resources, build units, find the enemy and destroy it. Simple enough, right? Wrong. First off, resource gathering is probably the worst mechanic in the entire game. By far. Unlike in many series where you have gathering units that go after the resources, in Real War resources get dropped by helicopter. You build resource stations, and every 20-40 seconds, a chopper will come around from the edge of the map to leave you resources. And this is it for resource gathering. If you don’t immediately spot the problem here, allow me to elaborate. You can only get up to three basic resource stations, and it takes a while to get enough resources to build all three. You can get additional resource stations by building a dock and an airport, and you can upgrade the existing resource stations once you have developed enough of your base. This means that, unlike in every single RTS out there, resource gathering is pretty much out of the player’s hands. There’s no real way to speed up the waiting period between travel, so the initial moments of the game, the most vital part in every other RTS, are reduced to sitting around doing nothing until you get the resources needed, and you will wait around quite a while to have a resource stream good enough to actually play the game. Most RTS have gathering units get different kinds of materials, and you control the amount of gathering units, the resource gathered, you upgrade their work rhythm… This moments are some of the most intense in the whole session, considering a strong economy can decide the match. In many other games you have the option of just saying “fuck it” and attacking with the same gathering units in a myriad of ways. So many options are laid down to the players, and their actions here make them feel like they are important, like they are in control. Real War is the complete opposite, taking away most of the options and strategies the players may want in exchange of just waiting. You will be around 5-10 minutes doing nothing, which is unacceptable. I cannot fathom how the developers thought this was a good idea under any circumstance. And there are so many options to resource gathering in a game with this setting: capturing resource points on the map by scouting and controlling the map (something like Dawn of War 1), maybe gaining the support of the local population who will give you what you need, maybe enemy units destroy could grant you extra resources to indicate how much high command trusts you… Anything. But no, just wait until they drop from the sky. I cannot stress enough how bad this is for the game. And the developers know it too, considering they give you an option to choose the amount of materials sent on each deployment. Why not just making it the default, who would want to play with the minimum rate? Playing on everything but maximum is setting yourself up to boredom for the first half of the match. The game also makes you think that you can intercept enemy supply lines, but that’s a laughable idea. The supply helicopters come from the edge of the map, you’d have to be right in the base to actually intercept them, and at that point, just blow up the resource supply points. There’s also energy generation, but it’s pretty forgettable. You build power generators that will make you be in the blue or in the red energy-wise. A lack of energy will mean that construction is slower and the fog of war will set itself up again, losing sight of the scouted space. But other than that, it’s pretty much pointless. Once you have enough resources, you build the maximum amount available and you won’t need to worry about it ever again.
After complaining quite extensively about resource gathering, we move on to the stuff you can actually purchase with them. You initially have three options: a land operations base, a dock, and an air operations base. From them, you can get more specialized structures and units. You can start building naval and air military units immediately, but you can’t recruit anything from the land operations base from the get go, you have to build either a barracks or a vehicle manufacturing station. Which, only serves to emphasize how long it takes to get resources to build one structure after another, but I think I’ve complained enough about the resource problem. It takes a while to actually start deploying land units, which are the most important in the game, considering how effective they are at keeping both land and air units at bay (sea units are another thing entirely). You can only get a limited number of each unit to avoid spamming helicopters at the beginning or superbombers at the end. And there is no population limit, so you can have the maximum of each of them without penalty. Once again, this limits strategy, you know how many units you and the enemy both have, so there’s no surprise there. Some units and buildings can also deploy missiles, from the most vanilla of rockets to nuclear heads. However, they are incredibly vulnerable to anti air defenses, so clean them out before doing anything with them. Both sides have almost the exact same units, with marginable differences. All except one thing that kind of breaks the balance early on: the rebels can get landmine trucks and ships, while the allies cannot, they get minesweepers. This means that the rebels can take vast swathes of space and make it unusable unless the enemy gets the minesweeper units, but the allies can’t do the same. Considering how copy paste the units of both sides are, it’s surprising they decided to leave it like this, it’s a flagrant balance problem. Though, to be fair, this brings us to yet another big problem: the AI is abysmal. It will blatantly cheat on higher difficulties by getting more resources faster and attacking before you could realistically set up defenses, and on anything less than that, it will do nothing for a set amount of time, then attack (again with the waiting). The AI cannot solve simple problems, and it has only one plan: attack after a grace period of a couple of minutes. If you have a map with rivers or sea, you can basically stall it ad infinitum by blowing up the bridges and transports. It has no idea how to counter that. Maybe it will send an attack helicopter and, once a full moon, a full aerial attack combined with the occasional missile. But because anti-air units are quite overpowered once they are set up, this efforts are pretty much pointless. No amphibian assault, no sneaking around with commandoes… Nope, just attack and burn its aerial units until you either counter-attack or leave. This is definitively not the game to go if you want to get a good and fair challenge.
The campaign is… odd. I’ve mentioned before that I have played the Spanish version, and it seems that they have, well, changed the complete story. From head to toe. It’s just not the same story. I’m not sure how much was changed, since footage of the campaign is rare even on YouTube (and a good chunk of the ones around aren’t on a language I know), but from what I can gather, the plot of the original version was the US fighting against a new terrorist group all throughout the globe, while the Spanish version centers around a military revolt in Russia that threatens to reinstate the Soviet Union, and the US intervenes to stop it. The reasons for the change are not really stated anywhere, but looking at the release dates, it becomes quite obvious. This game's original release was late September 2001. September 2001, right after the Twin Tower attacks. A game that tackles US fighting terrorism around the globe so close to that tragedy might have made everyone working on the game get a “too soon” vive, but the game was already done and less than a month to go, so they couldn’t change the story for the original release. But they could do that for the localizations, modifying it just enough to adapt the original plot into a generic post-Cold War story. It’s definitively a really unfortunate event for the developers and publishers, who already had their hands full with the other problems this game had. The campaign has twelve missions for each side. Most of the missions are the same, but you play one side or another, which is a cool concept poorly implemented, considering the previously mentioned AI. Also, some of the missions are just pointless. There’s one that’s just build a unit far away from your base and wait for the enemy to blow it up. That’s it. This mission also has some of the highest resource gathering rates in the whole game, for something that lasts five minutes. Why? The enemy will always have a base already built and units ready to go from the start, but a good player will throttle the unfair AI by exploiting its artificial stupidity. The final missions for each are quite tough and unfair, with the enemy spamming nukes from very early on, to the point where I just gave up because it was no worth beating those last two missions.
The online is dead, as it’s expected from a game this old and unknown, the servers went down ages ago. Apparently the developers made it so that, depending on the kind of connection the players chose, they could field more or less units, limiting the maximum units one can field even more. I guess online gaming was still something of a novelty, and for a team that seems to struggle with other areas, maybe they couldn’t make it so that performance stayed stable above certain amount of units. It’s not really important anymore, considering the online potential this game could have had is long gone, but it’s an interesting fact regardless. Also, apparently the online offers up to four players at the same time, but considering there’s no way to activating that option anywhere on the menus, and the fact I’ve not managed to find a single proof of that online other than it just being mentioned, I’m very skeptical.
Graphics are fine, and the score is basically four tracks: two for each side, one for attack mode and one for passive mode. Nothing worth mentioning, really. Well, outside the fact that, when you nuke a main base of operations, sometimes you can see a toilet in the rubble. That’s… something?
Real War is one of the many wannabes of the RTS gold rush of the 2000s, but unlike many of the ones I’ve reviewed, it gets worse and worse the more I play it. My nostalgia for this game has turned into impatience and irritation, to the point that I’m asking myself why I played this so much when it came out. There is no reason to pick this game over any other game of its genre, it offers nothing new and adds nothing but problems and annoyances.
Also, this has a sequel. Think about how many games lack a sequel, but this does have it. Think about that.