Act of War: Direct Action, a set of two DVD-ROMs in English by Atari, distributed by Atari-Israel, requires Windows XP and a 1.5 Ghz PC or better, for ages 13 through adult, NIS 230. Rating: ***** A real-time strategy game set in the not-too-distant future that depicts the free world's war against global terror, the near-destruction of whole cities and the rise of a gallon of gasoline to $7 might have seemed imaginary a decade or two ago. But after al-Qaida and the World Trade Center, New Orleans and the flood, and the present skyrocketing of the price of a barrel of oil, none of these scenarios sounds at all ludicrous. Nevertheless, Act of War which combines specially filmed and authentic-looking cut scenes to accompany your participation in the action is a very welcome piece of software. It is somewhat reminiscent of Command & Conquer: Generals but it goes beyond it in conception and quality. Even while you install the fast-paced game on your hard disk, you are kept occupied by watching a filmed introductory movie in the form of a fictional TV news broadcast about terrorists taking over. It could also almost be Haim Yavin, Yonit Levy or Shelley Yehimovich presenting the news. The cities that become urban battlefields include Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Moscow, London and Houston, with famous landmarks like Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square, gardens and traffic signs perfectly detailed. Best-selling author Dale Brown, who wrote a book of the same name, was brought in by Atari's game developers to give depth to the story, and he succeeds. Over a dozen different missions in the single-player version and more in the multiplayer, you spend much of the time manipulating your forces while you view the scenes from above, as the bat-like Stealth bomber zooms about. But there is a small window that opens up on the top lefthand side of the screen that presents down-to-earth, blue-tinged action during the most critical seconds of your mission. Authenticity is also bolstered by the excellent sound quality that can be enjoyed with maximum effect if you attach earphones instead of just listening to what emanates from your PC's speakers. The US Army and Task Force Talon are the good guys. The Consortium are the bad guys battling to take over the world by controlling raw petroleum supplies and using a band of terrorists to advance their cause by promoting public panic. The fact that you cannot play the role of the Consortium in the single-player mode might anger some who like to represent the baddies, but for me, this limitation simplified things and was a relief. Your alter ego is Major Jason Richter, the commander of the task force, which is an elite unit with state-of-the-art, hi-tech weapons. He starts by leading his forces against a terrorist training camp in the desert, but much of the game focuses on urban settings in world capital. Early in the game, terrorists based in Egypt wipe out most of San Francisco, and later on, the American capital is besieged. Your collection of weaponry, which gets upgraded as you go along, does not stop at helicopters, Abrams tanks or Apache gunships; you can even resort to nuclear weapons dispatched from space. Maneuvering these keeps you busy enough, so fortunately you don't have to collect objects of value or other goods to bolster your position. When your own troops are wounded on the battlefield, fly them by helicopter to the nearest medical center for treatment, during which they will be incapacitated, but if they recover they can be returned to the battlefield if they haven't been taken hostage by the other side. Unlike most real-time strategy games, you don't have to kill enemy troops to win every round; you can also take them prisoner and wait for a bounty payment. Money is the currency of power in Act of War, and it can be amassed in a variety of ways from using your infantry forces to capture and incarcerate as many prisoners as you can to building oil refineries and taking over state buildings. It's amazing how much trouble and expense the developers went to hire actors who represent the President of the United States, members of the National Security Council and others in the cut scenes, which are dexterously integrated with computer-generated action so you feel as if you've been incorporated into an interactive film. Although the acting isn't always good or on the level of a cinema movie, it is way above what gamers have come to expect in war games. This piece of software will appeal to fans of the genre who like to micromanage battlefields. And it will probably keep them away from watching the TV news, whose headlines rebound on the computer screen.