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World in Conflict, a DVD-ROM by Massive Entertainment for Sierra, distributed with a 47-page Hebrew-language user's manual by Hed Artzi Multimedia, requires Windows XP and up and a 2.6 mhz PC or better, for ages 16 through adult, NIS 219.
Rating: **** 1/2
The history books say the Cold War - the period of rivalry, conflict and tension between the US and the Soviet Union and their allies starting in the mid-1940s - ended in the early '90s with Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's summit conferences with US president Ronald Reagan, as well as Gorbachev's launching of perestroika and glasnost reforms. But this impressive real-time strategy game keeps it going, with surprising fallout.
Russia and the US never faced each other in direct military engagement during the decades of the Cold War, but in this fictional story, communist troops attack Western Europe, which was assisted by US forces, and then launch a surprise attack on America's West Coast, catching the US completely by surprise.
Urban warfare breaks out in Seattle, and you are charged with defending America. You begin as a West Point graduate named Lieutenant Parker, who remains faceless throughout and is commanded by retired Colonel Sawyer, who was called to duty in the emergency.
You are put through an optional tutorial (recommended even for experienced real-time strategy fans), which shows you the ropes. Your teacher is a black sergeant named Watson who calls you "sir" - especially when you carry out his instructions - and doesn't emit the usual abusive curses of military trainers in other war games. It's the fall of 1989, and Watson clearly says that upon graduation, you will be shipped off to Western Europe to help out against the Soviet invasion.
But the "Commies" carry out a Pearl Harbor-like attack on Seattle, and you have to scramble to protect the civilians, military and dense urban infrastructure. Even the huge Kingdome, which served as home to the Seattle Mariners baseball team, the Seattle Seahawks American football team and the Seattle SuperSonics basketball team, is leveled by Russian bombs (although in real life, it was demolished by implosion in 2000 because of leakages and the collapse of an internal ceiling). The Soviets even have the temerity to attack Burger King!
Massive Entertainment clearly invested in this software, bringing in best-selling author Larry Bond and hiring Alec Baldwin as the believable narrator. It also worked especially hard on the graphics engine, which produces scenes so realistic they look like a movie. In the single-player mode, which is offered at three levels of difficulty, enemy parachutists float down to attack or your soldiers arrive as reinforcements when you frantically defend the city against all odds. Even in the tutorial, the sky's cloud patterns are ethereal and ever changing. Forest fires spread with lightning speed. Human faces and bodies (both alive and dead) look good enough to identify with as human beings; pillars of gray smoke dissipate naturally; and the cityscape would be recognizable to Seattle residents.
By clicking the three buttons of your computer mouse, you can blow up enemy tanks with artillery and even laser-guided and tactical nuclear bombs or call in the air force for strafing runs. Fortunately for people who don't like Civilization-type micromanagement, there is no need to build up bases and worry about troop morale or ammunition. Instead, you just go and fight - but keep an eye on the number of points you have accumulated, as without them you can't do anything. Sometimes, however, you feel you're fighting against a phantom Soviet army, as you hear only the American forces on the walkie-talkie and no Russian-language dialogue over the radio.
The single-player mode, surprisingly, is a bit skimpy and repetitive, but the multiplayer mode via the Internet will keep you breathless for many hours and is suitable for both amateur and veteran gamers. Participants in on-line games must first select a specialization - infantry, armor, air or support, which can be altered when your forces are not being deployed.
Even after 9/11, Americans may be startled to see their West Coast go up in smoke, but the fictitious plot might give a little bit of satisfaction to those who think the US sticks its nose into too many conflicts and should better worry about its own backyard.
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