previewed on PC
Faces of War is the latest RTS offering in a setting that has almost become a gamer cliche - World War II. And while Omaha Beach and Stalingrad may be as familiar to some gamers as Mario and Luigi, developers keep finding new and interesting ways to utilize the imagery from the Last Great War.
Developed by Best Way and published by Ubisoft, Faces of War isn't a traditional RTS. Instead of managing a dwindling supply of resources or deciding where to place new buildings, Faces of War has you managing a small squad - up to 12 troops - through Eastern and Western European battlegrounds. In addition to this deviation, the gameplay is more action-oriented than other RTS offerings. While you can give your troops orders and watch the AI try and fulfill your request, you can also take control of each individual directly, controlling their movements with the arrow keys and their shots with the mouse.
The effects? Pretty special
The visual offerings are strong and quite convincing. Best Way boasts some rather impressive effects - the ability to destroy objects and modify terrain dynamically; the use of ballistic calculation to track bullets and shells; and the capability to break ice. None of these features are groundbreaking by themselves, but when you consider their context - needing to be aware of the deteriorating condition of cover, being able to be hit by bullet drop, or luring a heavy tank onto a thin sheet of ice - these effects will certainly enhance gameplay.
Other visual effects have been enhanced to provide a more vivid experience. Explosions are bigger and tracer rounds come more frequently. Realism takes a back seat to fun in many aspects of the game - your squad will be able to commandeer any vehicle they come across on the battlefield. Motorcycles, jeeps, trucks... tanks. Other equipment is fair game as well, from mobile enemy infantry weapons (guns and grenades) to larger, more fixed emplacements (howitzers and whatnot).
There is one curious addition here: "tri-dimensional hi-detail grass," when zoomed in. Besides being an interesting facet for increasing scene detail during times of lower engine load, it?s an odd thing to include on a game?s feature list. Sure, it's a feature, but what sort of message is meant to be sent along with this addition? That Best Way is so detail-oriented that they've included the rendering of grass for close-up shots? Do they anticipate the use of their product in machinima? Is it just one of those things that the developers have always wanted to include, and finally had the chance to? It's probably just a neat little feature Best Way wanted to include, but it provides for interesting (and amusing -editor) speculation.
Your squad of soldiers won't be fighting WWII alone. Friendly units will be fighting alongside you, which could present some very interesting situations, if done correctly. Being able to rely on another squad to guard your flank, or provide backup if you?re about to be overrun, could give the player a more immersive experience. The AI is being touted as improved and highly sophisticated - your soldiers are said to behave like real soldiers. For example, they'll take the most "sane" path towards an objective, moving from cover to cover instead of in a straight line. It?s unclear how this will work in all situations, as there are clearly cases where you may want your soldiers to throw caution to the wind and sprint across a street guarded by an MG-42... or maybe you made a mistake, and didn't want to send PFC Riley to his death under the tread of a halftrack.
But the shining gameplay feature that caught my eye has gone relatively unmentioned - and that?s objective fulfillment. Developer Best Way intended to have five or six ways to overcome any specific objective, which should yield a significantly more open-ended gameplay experience. Coupled with the ability to modify objects and the terrain through superior firepower, the potential exists for some very creative problem solving. As I?m already looking forward to how much of 1940s Europe I can destroy in the final version, it's even better if I can fulfill an objective or two while doing it.
The exact details on Faces of War's multiplayer modes are somewhat sparse, though it has been said that there will be 8 multiplayer gameplay modes with a cap of 16 players. Sixteen squads of twelve soldiers fighting over some deformable patch of a French town sounds like it has the potential to be amusing for a very long time indeed.
With this cross-genre game still coming, and the (hopefully) inevitable public demo not far off, we can only wait to see how gamers will react to this offering from Best Way and Ubisoft. Faces of War is scheduled to launch first quarter 2006, probably some time in late March / early April.