Summary: We're opening our thought-out E3 coverage with what we consider to be the surprise publisher of the show, 1C Company, from Russia. Featuring a very strong World War II theme (seriously), 1C is also offering an interesting Privateer-style game called Parkan II and a Vietnam War helicopter simulation that is not only accurate, but doesn't have the player lonewolfing as he did in Jane's Longbow. Did we mention the 98 screenshots?
Two of the most impressive World War II titles we saw this year were RTS games from 1C. These are not the traditional base-building strategy titles, but are more oriented towards tactical combat. Unlike a game like Codename: Panzers however, both titles from 1C are deeply realistic and offer the player a multitude of tactical opportunities related to the environment, their enemies, and so on.
The first of the games we were shown at 1C was the rather obviously named "World War II Real Time Strategy". WW2RTS is of course a tactical game, fitting in at about the company level - at least in terms of tanks. The game is running on a modified IL-2 Sturmovik engine, which looks quite good and was quite adept at portraying ground battles in the demo we were shown.
WW2RTS offers a vast selection of accurately modeled units which are playable across 70 missions. Not only are these missions historically accurate, but so is the interaction between the units themselves. An M3 or M5 Stuart tank, for example, has no chance of destroying a Tiger or Panther frontally, but it can be used to distract its attention while a heavy anti-tank gun is being towed into place. Like in Combat Mission, all vehicles have crew. The crewmembers have morale and skill ratings, which affect both their willingness to do the job and ability to do it efficiently. Crew can be injured, panicked or killed outright. A tank without a loader isn't much better than a tank without a gunner.
Of course, it's not all about tanks. There are artillery units, trucks, anti-tank guns and of course infantry. Above them all are aircraft, which aren't directly controllable but can be called in to bomb or strafe particularly difficult targets. Since the missions are historically accurate, aircraft aren't always available nor are you guaranteed historic performance from them (which can be a good or bad thing, depending on how they really did).
But really, the appeal of WW2RTS comes down to the same appeal that Combat Mission has: an almost asinine level of detail. Later German tanks are not only camouflaged accurately and equipped historically, but are coated with Zimmerit anti-magnetic paste to stop magnetic tank mines. The Zimmerit isn't just coded into the game, it's actually visible on the vehicles. As are other options, like armored side skirts for certain Panzer and StuG tank variants, which are there to reduce the effectiveness of shape-charge (HEAT) weapons.
World War II RTS is expected to be available in Q4 2005 and is being developed in-house by 1C.
Outfront, unlike WW2RTS, focuses more on squad tactics than the larger scale company battles. Thus, most of the improvements have been aimed at making infantry combat more interesting. Most of the work seems to have been spent on improving the AI of the units. Outfront doesn't force the player to find cover for his men individually after ordering them to move - they do it by themselves. They react intelligently to threats and respond appropriately. The player can adjust their individual courses of action, like ordering them to pick up an enemy's weapon or to steal a tank.
Vehicles are quite prominent in Outfront and the game makes allowances for crew skill and numbers. Taking over a tank with less than the optimal number of crew will result in reduced performance, but not just in a generic way. A single crew member can drive the tank, and if needed, he can switch to the loader position to load a shot, then to the gunner's seat and fire it, and can move back to the driver's spot to drive again. All this is simulated in the game engine - as is his abandonment of the vehicle if it's damaged, assuming he survives.
The smaller, more intimate scale of battle than in World War II RTS allows soldiers to swap equipment between each other and from fallen foes. An enemy's helmet may be picked up, and it will show on the character, as will different types and numbers of grenades on his belt. Thanks to the new physics system, the environment reacts appropriately as well. Pistol shots may not punch through a fence but a rifle will, while a flamethrower will light it on fire and a grenade demolish it entirely. Vehicles and buildings are destroyed in a convincing fashion, walls collapsing, turrets popping off and engines flaming. Crew can even catch fire while inside a vehicle and escape only to continue burning to death on the outside. This is a highly realistic if somewhat macabre touch - death by fire was the most common way for tankers to perish then and remains so now.
Outfront uses an interesting art style that isn't completely realistic but isn't aiming for a cartoonish impression. Rather, the somewhat flatter color palette resembles illustrations of vehicles and uniforms that are used by modelers and history buffs. The effect isn't impressive in the Unreal 3 way, but feels very appropriate to the game.
If you're interested in either World War II RTS or Outfront, we'd also recommend you also investigate Blitzkrieg II from CDV.
Combat is rather similar to most space combat games, resembling duels between space fighters more than battleship slug fests. The interior of the player's ship is fully navigable and actually part of the gameplay, which is where the robot guards come in. The on-ship and on-planet expeditions have the lead character running around in a suit of powered armor, either fending off attackers or seizing control of an enemy facility. The suit is upgradeable, like the ship. The galaxy is huge, with over 500 star systems, with several planets per system on occasion.
You Are Empty
You Are Empty is a strange title for a first-person shooter, but apparently in the original Russian it makes sense. In English, it requires a bit more explanation; the implication being that 'You Are Empty' means you have no ammunition and are in deep shit.
You Are Empty is a first-person shooter with a rather attractive game engine that the presentation team likened to Half-Life 2. The comparison is actually somewhat apt in the graphics department, though the gameplay seems quite different. You Are Empty feels like almost a survival horror game, but with more action than mere running away.
Whirlwind of Vietnam
Whirlwind of Vietnam tries to do something few simulations attempt - helicopters. The game obviously focuses on the Vietnam war and puts the player in the cockpit of a Huey or Cobra, in a realistic fire support simulation.
The player flies sorties with his air cavalry comrades, providing close air support while men are being dropped off in their landing zone. The helicopters themselves are done in full 3D, complete with detailed cockpits and working gauges. The player has the option of piloting the vehicle itself or switching to a co-pilot or gunner position. Since the game engine is based off Il-2 Sturmovik's, presumably there will be a myriad of realism options on top of all that as well.
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