It's funny how things work out. Soviet Assault, the add-on to 2007's excellent RTS World in Conflict, was supposed to be a standalone Christmas 2008 console game that included the entire WiC package, as well as a PC expansion. Really, we've got the original trailers on the site to prove it.
Then, in July last year, WiC was unceremoniously dumped by Activision Blizzard following the merger with Vivendi, and Swedish developer Massive Entertainment was put up for sale. WiC's future, at that stage, was in serious doubt. Luckily for PC gaming RTS fans, along came rival publisher Ubisoft, which strode in like a gaming white knight and saved the series from total annihilation, the kind of which WiC's fans will be used to causing with the game's spectacular air strikes. It bought Massive outright, put the brakes on Soviet Assault on consoles and slapped on a March release date for the PC. Really, we've got the new HD trailers to prove it.
So, we make a welcome return to WiC with Soviet Assault, a playable preview build of which popped into the VideoGamer.com PC disc drive earlier this week. What's new? Easy, tiger. First a refresher. You didn't think we'd steam straight in like a wet behind the ears recruit, did you?
WiC, which has been described by some fans as a real-time tactics game as opposed to a real-time strategy game on account of a distinct lack of base-building, resource gathering and tech trees, took the Cold War as its foundation and extrapolated based on a fictional "what if?" scenario. What if the Soviet Union went to war with the US in the late eighties? You get a world in conflict, is what you get. And lots of pretty explosions IN YOUR FACE.
In the original you took control of a small-time US army lieutenant called Parker who was frantically trying to fend off the Soviet invasion with scraps, the National Guard and the local police. What you never got to see though, was things from the Russian's point of view, or any build-up to the strike on US soil. You get both of those things with Soviet Assault's brand new single-player campaign.
In it you follow the assault from the initial covert attacks on US anti-air batteries in West Berlin (the game's first mission) to the invasion of American soil. What Massive has done, which is clever in many ways, is interwoven the Soviet missions into the original US campaign. So the game begins with a Soviet mission involving the "liberation" of West Berlin, then jumps to the US and picks up where the original game began. Then, after a couple of missions, you're back in control of the Soviets for mission four and five. It's an interesting approach, but some WiC fans are bound to feel that it makes Soviet Assault less like a "proper" expansion, in the way we're used to from other games in the genre, and more like a mission pack. They'd have a point.
If you're after an expansion along the lines of the many Dawn of War add-ons, forget it. Massive isn't tearing up the WiC gameplay rulebook PC gamers so enjoyed reading two years ago. Soviet Assault subtly adds to the WiC experience. It might even better be described as a Director's Cut. The capturing of Command Points and the completion of primary and secondary objectives once again provide the base from which the quick-fire action and superb explosions emerge. The combat is indeed intense and reminiscent of Relic Entertainment's wonderful Company of Heroes, another RTS that eschews those well-trodden genre characteristics in favour of micro-management and real-world strategy. Each unit has two special abilities, easily triggered with big buttons displayed in the bottom right of the screen. The Reinforcement Points system allows for the air-dropping of extra units, but the unit cap is tightly controlled. And Tactical Aid, perhaps the most satisfying, monitor-rocking attack WiC provided, proves to be the most satisfying, monitor-rocking attack Soviet Assault provides. Those heavenly nukes sure show off those lovely Masstech engine-powered destructible environments.
Soviet Assault's first dozen levels confirm Massive has refused to tinker with this dynamic. Indeed the Soviets feel like a mirror image of their bitter enemy, with little in the way of new units, special abilities or Tactical Aids. That playing as the Soviets won't give you a markedly different experience, sans plot and characters, to 2007's US campaign is our only concern at this point.
What doesn't concern are the superb cutscenes, in which wonderfully Russian-accented English voice-over work lends the quality dialogue an authentic-sounding twang. The motion-capture is great, too, and sprinkles proceedings with a dash of Hollywood magic dust most RTS games can only dream about. From the initial war plotting among Soviet commanders in East Berlin to the quips of the individual soldiers in your army, quality production runs through Soviet Assault like your Red Army tanks run through the pitiful capitalist dogs' defences.
Soviet Assault feels like fan service, and, as if in reward for your loyalty, Massive is prepping two methods of distribution: online download and retail. The copy you pick up in the shops will be called World in Conflict: Complete Edition, which will include the original game and Soviet Assault. The online download will come with the expansion only, and is obviously designed for fans who already have the original on their hard drive. And, so as not to divide the online community into those who own Soviet Assault and those who don't, all the new multiplayer maps and features will be available to download for free. Isn't Massive nice?
World in Conflict: Soviet Assault is due out for the PC in March.