Theatre of War 3: Korea Review
By Monica Bair |
For the last four years, online publisher Battlefront.com and developer 1C Company have channeled their joint enthusiasm for realistic war simulations into serving a niche market of like-minded hobbyists. Through their Theatre of War franchise, they've presented a series of realistic, historically-based titles focusing on real time tactical warfare. Their latest offering, Theatre of War 3: Korea, focuses on the battles that took place between the U.S. and North Korea during the summer and fall of 1950. Despite 1C Company's obvious love for the subject matter, the game suffers from various legacy issues that prove the old adage, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
The first problem you're confronted with is the near-complete lack of direction. A bafflingly complex menu screen displays all your infantry, weapons and vehicles, but all of these appear to be completely non-interactive. You hit the "start battle" button hoping the tutorial clears things up, and this takes you into the brief, single objective tutorial battle where the instructions continue to be near-nonexistent. What you do get is limited to a handful of terse pop-up messages from your commanding officer who tells you how to select combat units and move them, as well as how to enter and exit a helicopter. For further instruction, you're stuck referencing the manual through Steam.
Problems with pathing and presentation.
Very quickly you find yourself in the weeds, unsure of why units won't move or if they move, why they won't go where you tell them to. You continue to urge your reluctant units to move to the objective marker on the mini-map but just as you make it within spitting distance of your objective, a victory message inexplicably pops up. Confused, you hit the "Finish" button to end the battle, not knowing how you won a battle you technically hadn't even attended.
Post tutorial, you head into the campaign which can be approached from the perspective of either the North Korean offensive or the American counteroffensive. Whichever you choose, you'll then be whisked to the game's strategic map. Strategic mode is new to the Theatre of War series and takes place on a large map detailing the larger areas under contention. Each side takes a turn moving markers around the map, either to conquer an unoccupied territory or to clash head-on with the region's occupying force. On paper this mode might sound like a ton of strategic fun, but in practice it's terribly dull. Nothing much happens unless you're involved in a fight so this mode quickly becomes an unnecessary pit stop on the way to the next battlefield.
Once the battle starts, you're tossed onto the field again with a selection of armored vehicles and infantry as well as the ability to call for air or artillery support. Calling for support is actually the most fun you'll have in the game since you hit a button and soon after, see an actual result. Otherwise, you spend most of the time fighting your own forces more than you do the enemy. Despite the extensive number of unit controls, it's amazingly difficult to get them to do what you intend and more often you're stuck watching your infantry run off in the wrong direction or watching helplessly as a tank circles around and around a building rather than blowing it up. It's extremely frustrating as poor AI and poor pathfinding make your army act like it's been bombed with idiot gas, rendering it completely incapable of taking direction.
It's really too bad because 1C Company has obviously worked very hard to create a sense of realism in the game. Sadly, they seem to have lost sight of a game's purpose—fun. They might have spent hundreds of man hours create individual names, skills and gear for each member of the infantry and emulating the way things work in real warfare, but is it any fun to watch for 45 seconds while a helicopter takes off or to wait ten minutes while your mortar crew drags their collective ass across the map? Dedicated military history buffs will likely think this is a big part of the fun but everyone else will likely become impatient with it.
Heavy on detail, light on fun.
Other problems Theatre of War 3: Korea suffers from are poor frame rate and an overall lack of historical flavor. The game chugs when there are more than ten or fifteen units on screen, even with the graphics turned all the way down. And with the settings cranked down, the work 1C Company put into the environment art is all for naught since all you'll be seeing are flat, ugly textures. Of course, this graphic handicap could be countered if the game offered more in the way of context and story. Strangely, while embracing one of the most interesting phases of the Korean War, Theatre of War 3 offers nothing in the way of backstory, characterization or even background music. After seeing so many war movies, most of us think of America's wars as taking place to music so where's Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa" when we need it?
These flaws do a lot to undermine the game's overall fun, though hardcore wargamers may gladly ignore the frame rate, unresponsiveness and AI issues; heck, they might not even mind having to leave the game to study the online manual. Additionally, dedicated sim gamers who live for the genre's inherent micromanagement will no doubt relish the time and effort it takes to plan assaults, direct individual units and in between battles, upgrade each soldier's specific skills. While there are only two ready-made campaigns to choose from, the Campaign generator allows creative players to make their own, setting things like number of turns, terrain, maps and even the dates of the battles. Further, they can use the Mission Generator to create individual battles, setting the mission type (assault or defense) as well as the weather. Multiplayer too offers other gameplay possibilities, although it features only attack/defend and capture the flag.