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Platform: PC
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: 1C
Developer: 1C
ETA: Q4 2006

 

 

 

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Theatre of War

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One of the most impressive demos I saw at this years E3 was 1C’s World War II era RTS that recently received its official name—Theatre of War.  Shown in less polished form at last year’s E3 as simply World War II RTS, Theatre of War is beginning to look ready for release.  The game allows players to take control of dozens of units in large-scale battles that are based on actual WWII engagements (the company hasn’t revealed any overarching plot, but they say the game features a number of under-gamed battles from the European Theatre.  I saw many (make that very many) WWII RTS games at this year’s E3, but none came close to Theatre of War when it came to the fine details.  Theatre of War looks to be the most realistic WWII RTS ever created.  The game has been in development for over four years and three historians were kept on staff full-time to ensure realism on all fronts.  Adding to the realism is a powerful game engine developed in-house at 1C that is able to track an enormous amount of information.  As an example, if an armor piercing round is fired into a tank, the ToW engine will know exactly where each member of the crew is placed inside the tank and will calculate the damage each individual crew member takes from the ricocheting rounds.

 

The historians on staff have helped design scenarios around many of the major battles of WWII.  The game uses authentic maps from the period to generate the battlefields and many of the scenarios are designed to let the player try to re-create or, better yet, alter the outcomes the pivotal battles of the war.  The scenarios shown backstage at E3 were taken 

from the Polish campaign, but the game contains European Theatre scenarios from 1939 through 1945.  At this time, the plan is to ship with more than 40 major battle scenarios. 

 

Theatre of War features a number of RPG-like elements.  Each individual unit has stats that can increase or decrease in the course of a battle.  These stats are used to determine the outcome of battles and any order the player gives.  For instance, if the crew of the tank mentioned above were all killed, the player could choose to have three untrained infantry take over operation of the tank, but they would be very bad at their job and be unlikely to be able to fulfill the orders given in any useful 

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way.  However, if they do manage to survive the battle, the crew will earn skill points in the abilities they used within the tank.  These units with changes will carry over to the next battle, which means the soldiers will eventually be able to pilot that tank—assuming they survive a few battles from within the tank.

 

The demo showed off some impressive A.I., which again scales right down to the level of the individual soldier.  If not given a specific order, units will attempt an action designed to improve the player’s position.  The company seems really proud of the A.I., but it is still possible (and likely necessary) to give each individual unit in a huge battle a specific order.  Those individual soldiers also each have a morale value that is tracked and each individual soldier decides whether to fight or flee according to this morale score.

 

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Given that realism is their stated goal, I wondered how Theatre of War could be even playable by a casual gamer given the speed and knowledge it would take to command so many units in a battle and do it realistically (there is no highlighting all tanks at telling them to bum rush the enemy, for example).  Pretty much each individual unit must be given orders during a battle (though there is an A.I. system that will take over in situations where the player has been unable to find the time to give them specific orders.  The answer is simply that they probably couldn’t in real time, but ToW includes a Tactical Pause button that allows the player to freeze time and hand out orders without everything being on the move simultaneously.

 

Rounding out the list of impressive features is the presence of a dynamic environment.  Nearly everything the player sees onscreen can be put to use.  Buildings can be destroyed.  Enemy vehicles can be commandeered (though not repaired).  Terrain can be used to the player’s advantage.

 

Graphically, the game already looks great.  The attention to detail is astounding.  Every vehicle is modeled down to the tiniest detail and everything is historically accurate.  Individual soldiers are modeled down to the weapons they are carrying.  It is simply very impressive to move from a zoomed out view with dozens of units scurrying around like ants to a zoomed-in view where the variations in soldier’s uniforms are easily detectable.  The environments are equally well-detailed and the game appears to run smoothly even when action is furious.

 

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I came away from my time with Theatre of War convinced that it was the WWII RTS to beat in the coming year.  Obviously, there are some big titles coming from companies with stronger brand recognition in the US, but those willing to take a chance on a company just starting to establish itself in the states will likely find Theatre of War hard to ignore.  Furthermore, the game tracks such minute details that it should really draw the attention of grognards looking for the computer equivalent of those minutiae-driven Avalon Hill titles of the past.

 

Danny Webb

(May 16, 2006)