Act of War: Direct Action

Essentially Tom Clancy’s Command & Conquer.


Cool explosion effects!

Act of War is a real-time strategy game involving a mix of Tom Clancy-ish depictions of terrorist attacks, United States military ops, shadowy corporations and giant conspiracies. For a game that hasn’t stirred up much buzz, Act of War’s approach is surprisingly canny and harsh: it seems that San Francisco has been laid waste by a terrorist attack, and a freaked-out U.S. administration has pulled its far-flung forces back from distant theaters to defend the homeland… which is exactly what a certain evil alliance known only as The Consortium wants. The story is told via frequent cutscenes and triggered events.

Everyone else can simply ignore the mixture of live-action and pre-rendered videos, since the somewhat short but well-done single-player campaign lets you skip them, and they’re not required to figure out where to go and what to do next. The campaign missions guide you through two of the game’s three factions: Task Force Talon and the US Army. The villainous Consortium is only available in skirmish and multiplayer modes.

Talon’s units are generally fast and slightly fragile, while the Army is powerful but slower and less flexible. The Consortium can pump out a ton of cheap units quickly at the beginning of a match, when in “Undercover†mode. However, they have to switch to “Revealed†mode to gain access to more advanced equipment, at the expense of an across-the-board increase in infrastructure costs.

The game uses a clean and simple unified resource model. You can gather money by building oil derricks or having infantry units commandeer the bank buildings scattered throughout the game’s many urban maps. More interestingly, you can also earn an unlimited supply of loot for capturing POWs. Since derricks and banks are finite cash producers, POWs are pretty much required for late game financial planning. They’re also a great way to aggravate and demoralize your opponent. Nothing stings like having your own units turned against you.

0_1Many of the maps take place inside cities (London, San Francisco, and Washington DC to be exact), and the visuals are unprecedented for a strategy game. The streets are believably packed with traffic, pedestrians, and beautifully rendered buildings (almost all of which can be blowed up real good in a gratifying shower of flames and masonry). One memorable mission takes place during a protest where there are literally hundreds of people everywhere. It’s an impressive feat considering that the game runs surprisingly well on even lower-end specs.

Buildings aren’t just cosmetic, either. You can stow soldiers in virtually all of them. This not only lets you turn the maze of streets into a gauntlet of kill zones, it rehabilitates the lowly infantry unit. They’re much more useful throughout an entire match than they typically are in similar games.

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And, honestly, there are plenty of similar titles. The POW system is the game’s one real innovation. Apart from that, it’s all hoary tradition: gather resources (well, resource), build a base, pump out units, and watch them blow the crap out of each other. Each team even has its own superweapon, à la Generals. Fortunately, the game’s also hugely polished, great-looking, fast-paced, and, at this point, seemingly well-balanced in its up to eight player online matches. It’s also just deep enough to require tactical thought without bogging down in a ton of extraneous chores and options.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2 GHz, 512 MB RAM, 128 MB Video, WinXP

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