Despite some hidden charm, Theatre of War 3 leaves a lot to be desired
Some people never learn, it seems. New players need to feel they can get a grip on a game, that they can understand it. They don't need to be bewildered right from the very first second of the game. They need a tutorial system that is clear, effective and easy to play through, not one that's obtuse and clumsy.
The trees are actually disguising themselves as a tank
This was the major problem with Theatre of War 2 and you'd think more would have been done to address the issue in the third game, set in Korea. It would be unfair to suggest it was quite as bad as the second game, but it's still difficult to describe it as helpful. Especially when, once completing the Novice tutorial, it refuses point blank to let you continue to the next two. Sigh.
“You can call in an air strike now” says the text-only order on the top left. “How?” say I, not seeing any button to do so. “If only there was some kind of arrow pointing to it!” I think, angrily, before finally noticing where it is. There's no signposting at all on even the most basic of the tutorials. Granted, the buttons aren't in illogical places most of the time, but any newcomer is going to be put off by the way TOW3 sets out its stall.
It's a shame too, because there's definitely a half decent strategy game hidden away below the rough exterior, with a handful of really interesting campaign ideas. Like in the Total War series, campaigns are split into two sections – turn-based strategy map and real-time battle. The former is simplistic but effective. Pick up a unit and drop it onto the territory you want it to go to. If no other unit is there, you capture the land. If there's someone defending, you'll go to the battle section once you've clicked to end the turn
The strategy map is quite large, with 20 or so zones of control to fight over. You can either select one of two pre-set campaigns, fought from the North Korean or US perspectives, or you can go into the campaign generator and set up a unique scenario of your own choosing. Perhaps you might want to see if either side could fight back from having only one or two territories left, or set it up so the Koreans have made a huge central offensive and left themselves open to a flanking attack by the US.
Sadly, Men of War does this better...
There's a lot of potential here for creating some interesting scenarios and the mission generator is similar, just for the battle section. There's also multiplayer to consider, if anyone is actually playing it, but it's limited to just attack/defend and capture the flag modes. You've also got an exhaustive encyclopaedia to trawl through should you require more info on any tank, vehicle or whatever.
The meat of the game is obviously the battles though, and this is where things fall down. It's all just a bit too impersonal. There's not a lot of feedback from your actions and sometimes you wonder if giving commands actually makes any difference. Certainly the path-finding is a little off, with tanks not going straight along a road and over a bridge, preferring to sometimes take a detour over a trench, before clumsily trying to stop, turn and then get over the river. It's the same with men getting into trenches or into buildings. One always seems to be decide to 'miss' the door and look confused outside for a while.
As for being impersonal, you can barely even see the units (unless you zoom in so much you're left with an unhelpful view of the battlefield) let alone identify with them. It doesn't help when they're always scattered about all over the place. For example, one of the soldiers in an infantry unit might have become totally split from his group and might be near a load of your tanks. You drag a selection box around the tanks and order them to move, but because you accidentally selected the one guy along with them, the distant infantry unit may well decide to go off towards the tanks' objective. If they decide to obey, of course.
And apart from trenches or houses, it doesn't seem like there's any cover at all. You just have to hope your assault troops don't get butchered as they traipse across open country or through thin woodland. It's also very slow, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean you'll be there watching your pixels crawl towards their target (no cover, remember?) at a snail's pace.
The most fun thing to do is to call in air-strikes or mortar barrages, simply because you click the icon, select a target and boom, it happens. Amazing. There's also something to be said for having such a large scale in terms of the maps you play on, even if this exacerbates the lack of speed and the impersonal nature of the combat.
Realism is key for Theatre of War 3. Sald, 'fun' isn't...
THEATRE OF WAR 3: KOREA VERDICT
Yes, it’s got loads of realistically recreated tanks, choppers, planes and all sorts of stuff like that. That’s all fine and dandy. But it’s easy to get that stuff right. What they fail at is creating a ‘fun’ game for all the nice tanks to be used in. Realism is fine when there’s some gameplay oomph to back it up. Not here and, judging by the fact each Theatre of War game is pretty much making the same mistakes, not ever.
TOP GAME MOMENT
As we sais, the tactical options are fun to make sure of.