Among the wave of real-time strategy games at the 1997 E3, WarGames was one of several that stood out. The attraction was the 3D graphics engine, a novelty at the time, which added full rotation and zooming to base building and tank rushing. Of course, Bungie beat them to the shelf with its 3D tactical game Myth (and a more attractive one at that), but WarGames still looks and plays well. It has no great surprises, but is solid and enjoyable in a genre that is too often neither.
WarGames essentially takes the premise of a large military computer protecting itself and jettisons the rest of the movie it’s based upon. The Cold War and nuclear elements are gone, to be replaced by a stand-off between the mechanical forces made, deployed, and controlled by WOPR in an attempt to start a global war and the human forces out to stop it. From there, gameplay settles into a comfy pattern of building units and conquering map objectives.
The campaign can be played from either side (human or WOPR) in a series of large-scale missions, but there are no single scenarios or mission editor. The thirty campaign missions that drive the game are fairly interesting, with large maps and multiple objectives. The game unfolds in a semi-narrative, fluid fashion, as you receive E-mail messages from headquarters, Professor Falken, WOPR, and others. Resource management is largely out of the loop, reduced to gaining funds through “hacker” units that can hack into computers to transfer cash used for structures and units.
The simplistic interface and cartoonish infantry units betray WarGamesâ€™ simultaneous development for the PlayStation and PC. Almost all information and controls are on the screen at once, and interface commands are reduced to their simplest level. While the ability to group units is supported, along with two movement speeds, a patrol order, an “occupy” order and an attack order, no other sophisticated commands are offered. As far as complexity goes, the game can’t compete with the likes of Dark Reign. There are no waypoints or AI tweaking at all..
As with far too many RTS games, pathfinding is a real problem. Units can find their way across large stretches of map well enough, but they become bunched up with other units too easily. When this happens, they often simply stop. Getting them unstuck takes a major effort, as they reverse, spin, and then run into each other again. Without the ability to set an aggression AI level, units also tend to rush enemies instead of staying put. If grouped and told to stay, they will, however, hold a position. Because of the variable terrain levels, you can set up ambushes and lure units (possibly a little too easily) into traps.
There’s not much novelty in WarGames outside of the 3D engine, but the gameplay is there. Overall it’s an effective RTS with noticeable case of rinse and repeat syndrome.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win95