On the back of the World in Conflict: Complete Edition box, Soviet Assault, which weaves a brand new Soviet campaign into the WWIII RTS' original US campaign, is described as a "new expansion". This isn't entirely true.
Soviet Assault would be better described as an add-on that makes the World in Conflict: Complete Edition a "Director's Cut". Don't take this as a negative, though. If you've never sampled the wonder that is calling a nuclear strike down on your enemy in World in Conflict, then this Director's Cut is unequivocally worth forking out your hard-earned cash for. Put simply, despite the game being a year-and-a-half old, it's still spectacularly good fun today.
When WiC was released at the back end of 2007, it wowed PC RTS fans with its compelling alternate history WWIII premise, action-packed strategy and spectacular explosions. The emphasis was on constantly shifting battle lines, destructible environments, gorgeous horizons, the micro-management of a small but solid army of tanks, helicopters, infantry and support vehicles and brilliant team-based multiplayer. The game dumped traditional RTS base-building for quick take and hold objective-based gameplay, with resource points spent on reinforcing your army with parachuted-in units, and incredibly satisfying, death from above tactical aids. Suffice it to say we loved it.
The addition of Soviet Assault does nothing to dampen our enthusiasm. Nothing has been tweaked to the point of ruin. Nothing has been tinkered with, tampered with, altered or re-imagined. World in Conflict is still World in Conflict. And it's still great.
For those new to the explosive party, allow us to bring you up to speed. In WiC you rarely control more than 10 or so units at any one time. On any given map a dozen or so AI skirmishes will be kicking off, coming together to form spectacular missions that rarely lose intensity. It all makes for a more frenetic, action-oriented RTS than some others in the genre. There's no harvesting Tiberium for resources or scrambling up a tech tree in order to get a hero unit out. Instead, the player is given a number of resource points with which to buy units and deploy them in ever changing drop zones dotted across the battlefield, from a drop down menu in the top right of the screen. Your resource points are replenished as your units perish, you complete objectives and capture strategic points on the battlefield (done by moving your units into white circles for long enough to fortify them with turrets), making it simple to quickly fill holes in defensive positions or set up a strike team with parachuting reinforcements.
You'll also find yourself paying a lot of attention to the tactical air strike drop down menu in the top left of the screen. Again used by spending points, these 'special moves' rain down the pain on your enemies. There's one for every situation, from non-destructive tactical aids like 'repair bridge' to devastating indiscriminate strikes like precision artillery, and all come in different degrees of power (and cost). These air strikes provide perhaps the prettiest pyrotechnics in the game, obliterating scores of buildings and razing dozens of trees in one vicious click of the mouse. Everything you see is fully destructible of course, with tanks rolling over fencing and street lights, and helicopters spinning out of control then crashing to the ground. There are funny moments too, with tanks sometimes flying across the screen when they've taken a particularly brutal hit. The background environments are as gorgeous as the explosions. At one point I ignored the carnage to gaze at an overrun Seattle, the sky red with parachuting troops, distant explosions and streams of fire reaching up into the heavens. As an aside, never before have burning trees looked so pretty. Go go napalm.
Gameplay quickly ebbs and flows between calling air strikes, reinforcing your force and making sure your units aren't getting their ass handed to them on a plate. Here, the game again excels, with simple, clean and effortless controls of your units, and some of the easiest micro management I've ever experienced in an RTS. The order palette is well designed, with each command easy to see. The two main buttons, one for offensive special abilities and one for defensive, are big enough not to be missed when the heat is on, but you'll probably simply press the E and R button and left click on the target instead. Re-supplying your infantry squads with reinforcement points is never a chore.
While the core gameplay is exactly the same a second time round, that's not to say there's nothing new. The game's plot follows an alternative history that asks the question: what would happen if the Cold War has actually kicked off? In the original, the game began in Christmas 1989 with a Soviet invasion of the US via Seattle. You took control of a small-time army lieutenant called Parker and frantically tried to fend off the Red Army's invasion. Soviet Assault adds brand new single-player missions that let you play as the Soviets. They're not tacked on in a jarring way, either. They're cleverly woven into the existing plot so that the action shifts between Soviet and US missions throughout the campaign. The game now begins with the initial covert attacks on US anti-air batteries in West Berlin. It then switches to the original opening mission that sees you defend the US from the Soviet invasion. The action switches throughout, so you get a shifting perspective of the escalating conflict. There are six new Soviet missions in total, and 10 new cinematics (which are, like the originals, authentically voice acted and realistically motion captured), which lends the Red Army narrative as much of an importance as the American.
As anyone who played World in Conflict when it was first released will know, the game's strength is in its role-based multiplayer. You begin by picking a side, USA or Nato, or the USSR, and then decide what type of role you will play on the battlefield: armour, air, infantry or support. While you'll have access to every single unit, if you want to reinforce with one outside your role, it will cost you a lot more points than normal. What this does is force a degree of communication with your team mates - you won't win without each player fulfilling their role. You'll find yourself embroiled in some seriously intense games, where you'll constantly be laying down tactical aids, reinforcing your troops and coordinating your efforts in a paper, scissors stone fashion. Soviet Assault brings with it two brand new multiplayer maps, but they're available as a free download (via Massgate.net) to World in Conflict owners; a nice touch that ensures players who don't care about the new single-player missions won't be left behind.
This is the crux, really. If World in Conflict is still sitting somewhere on your PC hard drive, then unless the idea of six new Soviet missions sounds like RTS bliss, there really isn't much reason to fork out the £10 or so it costs to download Soviet Assault. Compared to expansions for other RTS games, like Dawn of War, Company of Heroes, Command & Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3, it's positively bare bones. While the Soviets can be considered a new playable faction, the fact that they don't bring any new units means they play pretty much identically to their American enemies. This is perhaps Soviet Assault's biggest disappointment.
New publisher Ubisoft's (the game and Swedish developer Massive Entertainment were picked up by the French company following the dissolving of previous publisher Sierra) decision to release the "expansion" in two ways: as an online download (£9.99 on Steam) and bundled with the original game as the Complete Edition, almost vindicates this criticism. Is Soviet Assault worth £9.99? For avid fans of the original, probably. What's of more value is the total Complete Edition package, which, for WiC newcomers, is an absolutely essential PC RTS experience.