9 feet high and rising
In the simplest terms, there really isn’t a lot to War World at all. You’re initially treated to some intricate back-story involving a planet (War World itself) splintered into various city-states, governed by the Gathering of Leaders whose inhabitants work out their frustrations by staging regular battles in the Arena Combat Network. Rather than send in actual people, the battles are fought using 3-metre tall robots controlled by the player’s consciousness.
Of course very little of this actually matters, as upon starting the game you very quickly find that the background matters not one iota as there isn’t even a story mode to play through. Within 30 seconds of opening up the first arena you realise this is a good old simple arena deathmatch game, along the lines of Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 Arena. The aim? Get through 100 levels of against-the-odds battling. So far, so generic.
The science bit
My first couple of hours with War World were a tad forced. The graphics are nice enough and the levels are well crafted but the game’s just too darned fast for you to be able to appreciate any of this. Even though you’re only facing two or three enemies at a time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, even if the game does resort to using standard FPS controls.
What doesn’t help matters is the lack of a tutorial. There’s nothing too complex going on in the levels themselves, but before each round starts there’s an equipment selection area. Without having had any training or build-up at this point, it’s left up to you to decide whether miniguns will be a better choice than lasers, or whether you need to invest some cash into shields or mines. Luckily you soon find that you’re able to restart and select different weapons should things go pear shaped, but it takes a fair old while before you find your ideal combination.
As I said earlier, fights are a simple “deathmatch” affair, with you being very much on your own. Unlike Unreal Tournament and Quake 3 though, here there’s no in-fighting whatsoever. Everyone’s out to get you and you alone. A typical round may last only a couple of minutes, with you having to clear the arena of up to 4 or 5 enemies at a time. Dropships will bring in new waves periodically on the longer missions, whereas other levels will simply have one seriously tooled-up mech to defeat.
The weapons choices you made earlier will pay off here, as some guns will hold more ammunition/power than others. If you do run out of ammo mid-match, there are caches dotted around so a quick blast of your shield (which only works for a limited amount of time and prevents you from using weapons) will usually see you right whilst you locate your nearest supply point. Health is catered for by killing other mechs, where you’ll have to be sure that you pick up the energy supply they drop as they explode. A victory on the battlefield will take you out to the equipment selection area with a reward of 3,000 credits. As you can swap existing weapons and recoup their original asking price, it doesn’t take long before you can truly find your killer combo of lasers, miniguns, mines, rockets and shield.
I touched upon the graphics previously but I think it’s worthwhile pressing that they are very lovely indeed. The levels move from future industrial through desert via jungle ruins (looking very reminiscent of Thai temples) and because the arenas have been kept very small, the game moves at a cracking pace even with a relatively modest system. My system’s only a reasonably middling one in gaming terms and I still had the ability to throw on a good couple of levels of anti-aliasing whilst keeping the framerate well over 60FPS.
Unlike the graphics, the sound could only honestly be described as functional. Everything sounds fine and the positioning on a 5.1 system is good, but there’s nothing that lifts it above the crowd. Maybe it’s because I’ve been spoilt by the likes of FEAR recently, but I couldn’t help thinking it was an area that could still take a little work.
Old-timers apply here
Now you’d be forgiven for thinking that nothing mentioned above seems to ensure War World stands out, but it’s at this point that I’d ask anyone over 35 to pay attention: War World may appear to be a Q3A or UT clone, but in actuality it’s nothing more than Robotron or Smash TV in 3d. Some would think this isn’t an important statement, but as someone who’s piled hundreds of hours into the likes of Geometry Wars (the retro blast-em-up featured as an Easter egg in Project Gotham Racing 2). Mutant Storm and Llamatron (Jeff Minter’s seminal take on the Williams game Robotron) I feel it’s a deeply significant point, especially as it’s actually just as satisfying to pile a bit of spare time into.