Back in the days when Stalin was the enemy and the Soviets fielded Hinds and heavy armor, the Red Alert universe was believable. It was a mix of retro-futuristic weapons and what happens when you mess with history. There were Mig fighters and attack dogs alongside more exotic weapons, like the Tesla Coil and Chronotanks.
And then the expansion packs came along, and the game passed from believable to absurd. Allied troopers battling giant fire-breathing ants? Okay, yeah sure. This set the tone for the next game, Red Alert 2, which featured Yuri, giants squids, lasers with sonic weapons (Dr. Evil would have preferred lasers), and even UFOs.
Then World in Conflict came along.
This sleeper of a hit threw every Cold War RTS right out the windows and back to their mommas. It had Abrams and T90 tanks. There were airdrops, ugly urban battles and massive B52 bombing raids. Heck, it even featured the destruction of the Superdome and the nuclear obliteration of Seattle.
Now THIS is believable stuff.
Instead of going for the traditional base-building and mining-for-resources route, World in Conflict plays like a real war should. At the start of the battle, you choose what units you want, and wait for them to be airdropped to the theatre by C-5 Galaxies or Antonovs. Instead of resources, you have tickets: the more enemies you kill and strategic points you hold, the more units you can call upon.
And boy, are the units realistic. No floating Japanese schoolgirls with telekinesis here: each unit hails from a real life counterpart. There are medium tanks like the M60 Patton, and heavy armor like the Abrams. The US fields the MLRS artillery, Apache gunships and Kiowa scout helicopters. On the Soviet side, you get BTR personnel carriers, T72 and T90 tanks, and the dreaded Hind.
Sure, the units are essentially rebadged and remodeled versions for both sides, but it’s the classifications that make them authentic. You have infantry scurrying along the field, alongside hulking tanks and infantry fighting vehicles. You have jets screaming along the sky, raining a searing line of napalm. And all the while, you have a dynamic environment that transforms according to the battle — houses on fire, downtown office buildings crumbling down from cannon fire, and even huge craters as a result of a tactical nuclear strike.
World in Conflict did for RTS games what the light gun did for hunting games: it revolutionized the genre.
So get out your patriotic shirt and your VHS copy of Red Dawn. It’s time to kick the commies out of Seattle.