World War III: Black Gold
Windows - 2001
Description of World War III: Black Gold
It's strange how world events can often mirror and overshadow the theme of a new computer game that has usually been years in the making. Such was the fate of JoWood's latest strategy game that took as its central theme a global conflict between various Western powers and the Arab nations.
Although initially pulled as a mark of respect to the events of September 11, the time is now deemed right to let virtual battle recommence. The story revolves around the suggestion that the world's oil reserves are almost completely exhausted and OPEC has decided to hoard what remains. Naturally, NATO and the Americans find that inexcusable and the decision is taken to take back the oilfields by force. The Russians have their own plans to do likewise, so at the outset, you can decide whether to fight for the Ruskies, the Yanks or the Iraqis.
Each army has its peculiar strengths and weaknesses. The Iraqis have a large and fanatical army and know how to use camouflage expertly as they know the terrain intimately. They don't have much in the way of modern equipment but highly effective kamikaze units, plus a large cannon and missile-launched chemical weapons are at their disposal. They rely mostly on the effectiveness of their speedy jeeps to race to neighbouring oil wells and capture them before anyone else and thus squeeze their foe's resources. It's probably best not to start with this nation if you're not a seasoned RTS campaigner.
The Russians are more up-to-date, mostly using inexpensive but reliable weaponry as well as their weight of numbers. They can construct their vehicles relatively quickly because they're not complex but they need more repairmen. Like the Iraqis, the Russians have a Spy Centre to give them intelligence on their opponent's location and strength and their vehicles (especially the BM21 Rocket Launcher) and weaponry are roughly equivalent to the Americans'.
The Americans, on the other hand, have a huge, well-oiled military machine that can spend months planning strategy while churning out weaponry, but are conducting a war from a long distance. While they have the most sophisticated weapons, they are also the most expensive and take longer to research, so both time and money could prove ultimately fatal. It's also a terrain and culture they don't know and just throwing hordes of soldiers at the enemy isn't enough to ensure victory.
Each side can engage in 2 engrossing campaigns with an average of five missions, and each is preceded and concluded with a rendered film scene to stir the blood. Experience is gained from completing each mission, which then allows you to research more complex and varied technologies.
Real-time strategy fans will feel at home as you begin manufacturing buildings, tanks, humvees, pill boxes, helicopters, etc., in the usual click 'n' drag manner. One main departure from the usual is that instead of constructing factories, you plant oil wells and generators and use the money from the oil to start manufacturing. As soon as a unit is completed, a helicopter drops it off on your landing pad, while bigger vehicles and equipment need an airfield built for a decent sized cargo plane.
Further, you can protect the arrival of new supplies by changing the direction that the helicopters fly in, so they won't be shot down before they can complete the drop-off. Conversely, a good way to weaken your opponent is to construct some ground-to-air missile launchers near his landing pad to keep disrupting his supplies. Attacks on generators are also recommended, as they will cripple all construction.
As the game progresses, you gain access to various upgrades and technologies such as weapon and chassis systems. These are all displayed via the Technology Tree button on the user-friendly interface and the more money you have, the better your attacking force will be. Another useful development is that when it's time to move to a new area of the map, you can sell any units or structures you have to leave behind and recoup half the cost.
Those who enjoy 'rushing' -- i.e. churning out huge numbers of the same units and then sending them en masse to attack the enemy's HQ -- will be disappointed to learn that there's a cap on the amount of money available for building vehicles and equipment, no matter how many oil wells you can annex. Whether the developers should have offered this as an alternative will no doubt be the subject of furious debate on the forums, as will the notable absence of infantry.
Enemy units and buildings can be captured by using the designated vehicle that draws up alongside and 'converts' them, and repair vehicles will rescue partially disabled vehicles during or after battle. Success is of course as much strategy as firepower, but in World War III making the right decisions about the modifications and upgrades to your assault force is also key. For instance, the American Hummers can not only be outfitted with an anti-missile rocket launcher but can also carry electronic system jammers and are capable of detecting targets using stealth devices or camouflage. The difficulty level rises as you complete missions, and because of the limits on units, you'll find that this game will stretch your strategy skills to near breaking point. Is it more important to dig trenches first and shore up your defences against initial attacks, or streak towards the nearest oil wells to prevent their capture, or go for a 'first strike' on key enemy installations?
Helicopters can be churned out to increase air power but these can also be effectively neutralised by appropriately armoured tanks and turrets. Weaponry can include chemical and nuclear weapons, SCUD missiles and mine-layers, as well as more conventional surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles and rapid-fire guns. The Iraqi kamikaze trucks also make a very satisfying 'whump' as they explode on contact with other vehicles.
Visually, the terrains are sufficiently varied to hold your interest and changing weather conditions as well as alternating day and night scenarios help to create the air of realism that's essential for such a topical 3D wargame. The built-in map editor will allow you to construct your own terrains for multiplayer action and bulldozers can be sent out to flatten hills, create bulwarks or dig ditches, etc. On this last point, the action can be played out in underground tunnels as well as on the surface and you can have simultaneous play on different playing areas such as the battlefield and base.
Whether you play as the Americans, Russians or Iraqis, you're offered the chance to progress through the more than adequate tutorials before launching into the campaigns. You can also enter skirmish mode and use your created maps as a training ground for multiplayer action against the computer before you tackle the real thing, setting down the victory parameters. Fighting against more than one enemy AI in skirmish mode is extremely challenging, though, and first-time RTS players will need to bone up hard on all the tutorial skills they can pick up, as well as all their innate strategy abilities to succeed. This is where the money capping really becomes an issue, as you need to send one group out to attack the enemy whilst retaining a sufficient defence force to protect your base - three choppers and a couple of tanks won't cut it. A minor irritation is that the pathfinding seems to have some problems, as there's a tendency for occasional units to wander off on their own rather than stay with the group.
The music is by turns stirring, patriotic and moody and fits the action like a glove; battlefield cries of alarm and conflict are fairly standard but never less than impressive. The zoom facility on the camera is well worth experimenting with as there's nothing like hovering a few feet above ground level when all hell breaks loose - watch out for the oddly disappearing helicopter when you get too close, though. Clipping problems aside, however, the depth of realistic detail conjured up in the desert and mountain settings is eye candy at its finest -- much as you'd expect from the developers of Earth 2150.
If you fancy the idea of a global conflict with possible Armageddon overtones and a highly topical theme, then JoWood has neatly distilled it here for you with WWIII: Black Gold. Developers tend to back away from the headache of creating sides with differing units and effective tactics, but the authentic challenge of playing as an Iraqi faced by superior military might proves Blizzard isn't the only company that can do it. It ain't particularly novel and it ain't particularly easy, but it is engrossing and refreshingly reliant on strategic thinking to see you through.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
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