Coming out with a hit game that garners top honors from almost every gaming e-zine and print publication is no mean feat, but following that up with a couple more hits is what truly proves that you are a force to be reckoned with.
Redstorm Entertainment is just such a company, taking the gaming community by storm last year with their mega hit title Rainbow Six and the Eagle Watch mission packs. Having redefined the genre of the first person shooter into the first person tactical, RSE now has made their move into the real time strategy (RTS) genre with Force 21.
The Force is With Them
Force 21 is a 3D RTS game set in the near future in the year 2015, where the US and Chinese forces have come together on the battlefields of Kazakhstan in a test of wills over disputed oil fields. Allowing the gamer to play from either the US or Chinese side, Force 21 is Redstorm’s attempt at modeling the modern day dynamic mechanized battlefield.
In some ways Redstorm succeeds, such as in their creating an atmosphere of uncertainty with short and somewhat inconclusive briefings. While some gamers may find these briefings lacking for a game, I found them more along the lines of what you would face in a battlefield situation. As the saying goes, military intelligence is an oxymoron.
But, in all fairness, as you continue through the game you will find some briefings that are misleading relative to the mission that has been designed. A great example of this is the second mission where you are tasked with defending a village from a Chinese onslaught, or so you’re lead to believe. I spent a lot of time setting up my forces in what I felt were pretty good defensive ambush positions in relation to the expected avenue of advance. Once set up I sat back and waited and waited and waited.
Finally, after too long a time waiting I sent out a recon force and found the enemy just sitting there waiting for me! Finding enemy placements throughout the map with no signs of advancing I was force to abandon my defensive positions and take the fight to the enemy. Only after engaging them and ‘triggering’ their reactions was I faced with a running battle.
Here is where the game fails to be a great 3D real time wargame and instead falls into the real time action game genre. By forcing the gamer to trigger the actions of the enemy AI, and lacking random placement of the enemy when you replay the mission, the game becomes a study in memorizing unit positions and ganging up on the enemy before moving on to the next enemy position.
This sort of setup doesn’t challenge the gamers tactical thinking much and instead becomes a twitch fest as you are feverishly moving and clicking the mouse onscreen to take out your enemies. Random placement of enemy units as well as much less trigger driven action would have better served this game.
As a real time action game Force 21 is fun, but lacks depth unless you find yourself some online opponents. The more serious wargamer will be left unsatisfied by Force 21, as its realism doesn’t expand further than the vehicles and weapons represented.
Continuity and Visuals
Speaking of which, the characteristics are not accurately modeled and the AI and pathfinding of your units is also lacking. There are some futuristic weapons platforms and vehicles, which may or may not come to fruition in the future, but for the games purpose their ideas sell well. Force 21 ends up more like a standard RTS using modern day vehicles and weapons, not bad but not a serious wargame.
There is no force continuity in the campaign missions either. If you finish a mission with only one or two vehicles you still get your full force for the next mission. With linear campaign missions and no consequences for losing almost all your vehicles the campaign is nothing more than a series of canned missions.
Visually the game is very nice, not eye boggling but nice once you get used to the jittery movements of vehicles perched on small hills and the clipping problems that ensue from that. Sometimes units will disappear halfway into a hill as they are cresting it and once they stop they tend to jitter around like they all had an epileptic driver. Weapons effects are beautiful and the smoke trails of TOW missiles are superb, as are the explosions when a unit is destroyed.
The interface is good for the pre-mission layout screens, where you can pick your platoon leaders and check out a satellite map of your upcoming AO. The interface within the game, however, is a bit limited and confusing, although you’ll learn to use keyboard shortcuts real quick.
Interface and Tactics
One issue here is that the unit formations are limited to line, column, wedge and reverse wedge. There are no echelon formations to be seen, something that would be nice for those times you’re moving a mixed armor force and want to use the terrain to mask one flank and an echelon to refuse your other.
Another fault with the interface is the fact that you can’t judge your unit movements very well. While Redstorm has made it easy for you to just click on the map and tell your unit where to go, you can’t always get them exactly where you want them. You’re forced to constantly micromanage your units to place them properly.
The most glaring problems arise from the friendly AI’s actions and pathfinding as well as engagement ranges of all the vehicles in the game. Most engagements happen at close range and when you have a thin-skinned APC or TOW vehicle in the engagement, your chances for survival are slim.
Go to Part II
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Last Updated October 1st, 1999