Overblown American hysteria comes to a head in Act of War: Direct Action, a RTS where the US is under attack by everything from hippies to Arabs, Russians, peace protesters, and those evil, evil "tree-huggers" (direct quote). Yep, they all join forces as one super terrorist organisation, and America must stop them. We truly hope this game is a parody, and not a celebration, of US politics.
Think Command & Conquer, and you'll get the gist of how Act of War plays. Just replace Tiberium with oil (that's right; you roll in to the desert, "liberate" the enemy to smithereens, and start reappropriating other people's resources) and many of the differences are simply aesthetic. Some might say that it's a rip-off of the recent C&C games, and although we wouldn't go that far, it does seem like Act of War is hoping for the same kind of mass success that C&C saw when it was first released in the '90s.
Surprisingly, the gameplay is actually pretty good for a strategy title that's basically a run of the mill, mainstream affair. Act of War tried for a realistic approach in terms of military equipment and methods, and did a good job - although it does end up crossing one-too-many lines in the interests of user-friendly action. Still, there are some very nice features, like house-to-house fighting, using buildings as firing positions, destructible terrain, large cityscapes, taking prisoners, hostage rescues, and the ability to ambush the enemy. And for once, infantry units are actually useful alongside vehicles, since you'll need them to raid buildings, capture enemy personnel, and quickly take out anti-tank and anti-aircraft soldiers.
Act of War sets itself apart by allowing for urban settings that work seamlessly with the action, something that hasn't been as successfully achieved until now. Although the cities are devoid of any life other than you or the enemy, they've been recreated impressively well, and those who've been to places like London, San Francisco, and Washington DC will recognise familiar streets and landmarks. Importantly though, and aside from the superb graphics and effects, Act of War just feels cool to play. Admittedly, there's not a great amount of depth involved as far as strategic considerations go, but Act of War clearly isn't really aiming itself at hardcore strategy buffs anyway.
Overall, it's hard to ignore the fact that Act of War is an impressively well-designed RTS that has barely any of the recurring annoyances of other strategy titles, despite the hate-inducing attempt at a typical gung-ho American narrative. A fair amount of money has obviously been spent making the cut scenes, which feature real actors and some decent directing. The quality is almost on par with regular US theme-based TV shows (so quite bad), and even though the story was apparently concocted by "New York Times best-selling author" Dale Brown, the acting and dialogue is mostly dreadful, obscuring whatever positive input Brown might've added, if any. However, as far as action-oriented RTS games go, this is definitely top-shelf material.
Visuals: Superb graphics and effects.
Audio: Cheesy dialogue, nice background music.
Gameplay: US chest-thumping and cut scenes aside, there's a well-designed RTS in here.
Developer: Eugen Systems