by Virgin Interactive
Role Playing Strategy (RPS) is something that only a handful of games developers have tried to achieve. Seven Kingdoms 2 attempted it and failed and Kingdom Under Fire achieved no greater success either. Now we have Original War and it too attempts to blend RTS ingredients with Role playing character development. Let us see if it too fails or whether it can pull it off.
Original War is a game that will take you by surprise. From looking at the box you may be fooled into thinking it is standard RTS material. Don't be fooled into thinking this as only minutes into the game will prove that assumption is way off the mark.
The story goes as follows. After World War I the Americans found a strange device in Siberia. They called the device an Eon. Scientists later found this to be a time machine and the fuel for this time machine was the mineral Siberite. They later found some more Siberite and decided to go back in time (to a time where Siberia and Alaska where connected by land) and remove the Siberite from Siberia and carry it over to Alaska. This is basically what the American campaign is all about. The Russian campaign is a similar story but because the American campaign took place first all history has been rewritten. The Russians now find the time machine, they call it TAWAR, and then later the Siberite, which they call Alaskite because the history has now all been changed. The Russians now suspect that the Americans had used the time machine to alter history and they themselves attempt to do the very same thing. The story has two sides to it and you can play either the American campaign which sees you going back in time to remove the Siberite, or you can play the Russians who go back in time to stop the Americans removing the Siberite (or as the Russians call it Alaskite).The story may sound a little confusing but the game tells it in such a way that it seems fairly straight forward.
Gameplay is sort of a mix between Baldur's Gate and Commandos. This may sound a little odd but it plays really well. There is no unit (person) creation in the game so when you lose a person they are gone for good; so cautious, strategical play is encouraged. The characters you control have four attributes. These are a combat skill, an engineering skill, a mechanical skill and finally a scientific skill. Although your characters begin as one of four professions/classes they can change at anytime if they are sent into the relevant building. An example being if you send a soldier into a workshop you can change him into a mechanic. The people gain experience in whatever role they are fulfilling so a scientist's scientific skill improves when he is in the laboratory doing some research. All classes can battle and will gain combat skill experience from being in a battle. As you can see it is vital that you don't lose many people otherwise you will constantly have people that have low skills. If you do manage to keep the majority of the people alive then the later levels will be that much easier. There is some base building in this game but it is kept to minimum and you are never distracted by maintaining your base.
A couple of things will strike you when playing the game. The first of these is that you can pause the game and give orders and this means you never lose control. The second thing is that occasionally you get a dialogue box that offers you a choice of what to do next. An example of this is in one of the early American missions where one of your characters captures a Russian and the options available to you are to 1. Kill the Russian 2. Interrogate the Russian or 3. Let the Russian go. These kind of choices happen frequently and it's a very refreshing change to be able to change the way the story unfolds, even if it is only to a minor degree. The modelling of the units line of sight in the game is fantastic as is the ability to use long grass and trees to take cover in a realistic fashion. The game encourages you to assess the terrain to your advantage which adds to the overall charm of the game.
The game lets you save at any point whenever you want to. It encourages you not to through means of a medal system. At the end of a level you are given medals for meeting meeting requirements. These range from keeping everybody alive to completing the level without saving the game. Games that like you to do without save games ought to learn from this example as it offers the game choice. If a gamer wants all four medals then he/she must complete the level without saving but on the other hand if that is too difficult (there are 3 difficulty levels within the game) then he/she can save and still progress through the game.
The quality of text in the game is fantastic. Everything is subtitled except for a few things thankfully (see the red paragraph for details) and past messages can be recalled. The aforementioned dialogue boxes pause the game when they appear so there is plenty of time to read them and make choices. I found the interface to be very playable and the game gives you guidance as you go along so you're never left guessing how to do things. The manual is thin on content. What the manual does do is clarify the concepts of the game such as the building facilities and your units professions etc. but it still would have been nice for the manual to have contained more about the game.
There are some niggles with the game though. The different professions your units can take all come with their specific action. The mechanic can fix vehicles for example which the other professions can not do. This is fine until you come to the action of crawling. Only the soldier can crawl and this can cause problems. It is advisable to take a mixture of professions when you are scouting the area as if any of your soldiers are hurt the scientist can heal them. However if you do this and you tell your troops to crawl through the grass then you will find that only the soldiers will do so and the rest will remain standing. This limits your control and makes things a little awkward at times. Secondly your characters cannot run. The people walk all the time in the game and when your men are getting shot at, it is horrible watching them just walk and keep being fired at, when running them out of the way would have got them to safety. Finally the scientists cannot heal themselves. It is advisable, where possible to have two scientists so that they always have somebody to heal them. On some missions though this is impossible and it makes the game that little bit more difficult.
On the whole Original War is a great game and deserves to be dubbed the first true role playing strategy (RPS) game. There are niggles with the game as mentioned above but the game does so many things right that it is still worthy of your time and money.
special note must be made about the language within the game. ELSPA rated
the game at 11+ but this rating is way off. If you are unhappy with comments
like "he p*ssed himself, the yellow b**tard" or indeed unhappy
with your child being exposed to that then please keep away from Original
War. Thankfully the full range of swear words that are used by the units
such as "sh*t" are not presented textually. However there are
some comments like the aforementioned one that are subtitled and in my
opinion it is too strong for anyone under 15. As always though the choice
Overall Game Rating: 8.3/10 The first true RPS (role playing strategy).
Quality of text: 9/10 In game it is very good but the manual could have been more informative.
Graphics: 7/10 Good. They are adequate for the game but they are not state of the art.
Interface:8/10 Very Good. The interface is clean and allows easy manipulation of the game
Gameplay: 9/10 Only the aformentioned niggles hamper the gameplay.