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Platform

PC

 

Genre

RTS / RPG

 

Publisher

Virgin Interactive

 

Developer

Altar

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

December 2001

 

 

- An interesting mix of RTS and RPG

- Mix and match vehicle components

- Story drives much of the action

- Random events

- Two Campaigns to play through

- Challenge is excellent

- Bang for the buck is good

 

 

- Some missions are incredibly difficult

- A few "right way" missions

- Micromanagement may frustrate some

- Needs a manual!

 

 

Review: WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos (PC)

Review: Shogun: Total War (PC)

Review: Hundred Swords (PC)

 

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Original War

Score: 7.1 / 10

 

Original War (OW) really surprised me.  First, it came out of nowhere.  Even in my capacity at the Armchair Empire – with all the media contacts and inside information – I didn’t see OW coming.  When it landed on my desk in its quiet, unassuming package labeled with the “Anytime, Anywhere” logo I let my expectations fall slightly – a little more when I read the accompanying release stating the budget price of $20.  Budget games have certainly received their share of snide comments and low ratings, but sometimes, one comes along that’s actually good.  OW is one of those games.

 

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OW offers you two campaigns – play as Soviet mechanic Yuri Ivanovich or American soldier Lt. Donaldson.  Both campaigns revolve around the connivings to secure an all-purpose ore, Siberite (or Alaskite), by traveling back in time – 2,000,000 years (give or take a few years).  Although time travel has been achieved, it turns out to be inaccurate and a one way trip.  The Americans send back wave after wave of troops and scientists to setup shop and transport the stores of Siberite to what will eventually be American soil (ie. Alaska).  Not to be outdone, the Russians show up, with better technology and in greater numbers, leading one to believe that they’ve been there longer.  Also of concern are marauding bands of mercenaries hired by oil rich nations to stop both the Russians and Americans from exploiting Siberite as an alternate fuel.  Chaos and timeline shifts ensue.

 

Foremost to remember, as the Readme emphasizes, is “that there is no human production facility.”  Unlike most RTS games, you can’t churn out hundreds of fighters to be used as cannon fodder.  In a nod to RPGs, OW restricts you to a certain number of human units that can be “leveled up” and specialize in four professions, allowing them to construct buildings faster, be more effective soldiers, build vehicles faster, etc.  So, when a character dies, you really do feel the pinch – as do your enemies if you return the favor. (Occasionally, you can get reinforcements from another base or a random guy will "transport in" from the 

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future.)  Human units are required for your structures to operate.  Want to research some basic technology?  You’d better have a scientist in your lab or you’ll get nothing done.  The same goes for defensive turrets, factories -- nothing’s automated.  This is quite jarring if you’re used to the traditional RTS strategy of building massive armies and pummeling the opposition into submission while letting your base defenses handle any retaliation.

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OW rewards those that perform tactical strikes on targets – taking out human units that could be used as vehicle drivers, for example.  Or conversely, damaging an enemy vehicle enough forces the occupant to vacate (then is handily killed) then the vehicle can be captured and repaired by one of your mechanics. (This changes a little with the advent of remote control technology.)  But what happens if your mechanics get killed?

 

Changing a unit’s profession is easy to do.  If you want an army of engineers, send everyone to the warehouse and switch their profession to engineer.  Obviously, if you want to have any success you’ll have to have a diversified group of people under your command.  Engineers are the only units that can start construction of buildings. (Creating buildings is akin to barn raising – everyone close by comes over to help build, no matter their aptitude, profession, or stage of evolution.)  And they’re the only ones that can collect resources – crates sent from the future.  Each profession has their specialty, not the least of which is the healing ability of your scientist units.

 

Difficultly is staggering on some missions.  If you’re taking too long to finish a mission (or simply too much inactivity going on) – maybe building up your supply of vehicles so you can attack in larger numbers – command can be taken out of your control, even as you maintain control of your main character, and things unfold without your input.  It means you have to constantly keep up the pressure on the opposition with hit and fade tactics, while managing all the little details: getting your primate helpers collecting resources, doing basic design of the vehicles you want to produce (Solar power or diesel?  Gattling gun or Ray gun?), telling your comrades where to wait, making sure your solar powered vehicles don’t run out of energy in bad locations, etc.  Most of the missions in OW can be finished with persistence and a little luck – but a few are enough to make you want to give up. (Best advice: Just start the mission again and try a different approach.)  Once a mission is (successfully) over you get to allocate experience points to the surviving members of your team.  Besides these injections of experience points, they can also be earned throughout a mission.  For example, having a soldier help build a structure awards him with experience points to his engineering skill.

 

The enemy AI is wily – if they’re taking heavy damage they will retreat, repair, and refuel and wait for a good opportunity to drop the hammer on you.  In short, the AI is no push-over.  It should provide tons of challenge for experienced RTS players. (There are three difficulty settings.)  Part of the challenge is the persistent fog of war which does a good job of informing the player on lines of sight and the definite advantage of elevation when scouting an area.  You’ll have to use every trick you know to squash the AI.  There is multiplayer included, but with the solidness of the single player mode, you have more than enough gaming for your $20.

 

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Graphics move smoothly for the most part and there are a few resolution options.  Everyone has a resolution preference, but I played easily at 800x600 (high resolution) and didn’t have any problems.  My one real gripe with the graphics is that, although the manual says it’s easy to tell unit professions by their different uniforms, I often clicked on a unit so I could get a look at his/her portrait and current profession. (After about five missions, I did get used to it though, and on some of the other resolutions it is easier to tell.)  Cutscenes are minimalist and use the in-game engine more often than not.  Audio is surprisingly good, although I felt the Russian accents were a bit overdone and Donaldson sounds too much like Rambo. Battle sounds – small arms fire, explosions – have a touch of realism about them.  I’ve never bought a game on the basis of it’s music – for OW I probably wouldn’t even mention it, except to say it captures the feeling of foreboding.

 

Control and interface is the most solid I’ve ever seen in a budget title and matches most control schemes used by "regular" games.  There’s a little bit of Red Alert, Age of Empires, and Empire Earth (and possibly a bit of Shattered Galaxy) that makes the interface easy to learn if you’ve been exposed to these games.  However, if you’ve just come down with the RTS bug, there is something to be desired – a solid manual.  Throughout the early part of the game, constant descriptions become available for just about everything you do.  The keyboard shortcuts are explained in the manual (printed off the disc) but everything else, like building effective turrets or the effect of power on your base (or lack thereof) is totally ignored.  I know that including a manual for this kind of game – a deep RTS/RPG combo – would be huge and bring OW above “budget” status, but it still would have been welcome.  As it is, OW supplies lots of explanation "bubbles" that explain everything you come across and most of the conventions of RTS are here -- upgrading buildings, occasional bizarre pathfinding choices, unit grouping, scripted events, etc. -- plus the ability to issue orders while in pause mode.

 

As the primordial soup starts to congeal around the edges of the bowl, I can safely say that Original War is a good buy.  For $20 you get a deep game with an interesting blend of RTS and RPG elements, while couching everything in somewhat familiar control and interface schemes.  Granted, some missions seemingly require luck more than tactical ability, the “manual” doesn’t tell you much, and it doesn't (as you can probably tell by now) attempt to redefine the RTS genre, but it could be worth your while. (There's a demo available.)

 

- Omni

 

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