21 is the newest release from Red Storm Entertainment. Its predecessors, Rainbow Six and
(more recently) Rogue Spear, have been thought-provoking Special Forces action games.
Force 21 thrusts you to the forefront of one of the largest military conflicts in human
history, World War III in the year 2015. Its up to you to determine the fate of the
world. Will you be the aggressive commander of the Chinese forces, bent on world
domination? Or will you be the American commander trying to contain the Chinese push into
the former Soviet Union?
Whatever side you decide to play, this game has some incredible strong points. Unfortunately, it also seems to have a number of Achilles heels that can seriously hinder game play. This is an excellent war / strategy game, with an interface similar to classics like WarCraft II, Command and Conquer, Star Craft, and more recently Mech Commander. The difference in Force 21, aside from its awesome 3D graphics and killer sound effects, is that there is NO micro management. This is a huge bonus if you hated having to deal with all of the little problems like destroyed bases and aimlessly wandering grunts, but it can mean incredibly short missions if youre not careful!
Prior to each sortie you are allotted a certain number of vehicles to carry out your designated mission. Anything from tanks, jeeps, planes and choppers could be placed at your disposal - you can even use a bridge layer (which took me back to the good old days of G.I. Joe cartoons every morning). Just about anything that you saw on the news during Desert Storm is available at some point, plus there are lots of cool Chinese vehicles that are more than willing to go head-to-head with just anything the Americans can put in their way. This game is ill-suited for those of you who want to have the responsibility of vehicle selection on your shoulders. You dont have any choice in what vehicles you will take on each mission. You get what they give you, and if it doesnt work out for you then you will just have to do it again.
However, the mission briefings are great! Everything is spoken; there are 3 different people that will break down your mission, prior to jumping into the heat of battle. You begin with a mission briefing, and can then enter setup where you can select field commanders to command each platoon and also check out the various vehicles that will soon be at your disposal. Lastly, you should check out the intelligence briefing. This is where you will find out the most up to date information about enemy movements on the battlefield. After you have heard all of the mission info and selected your field commanders, you are ready to lead your forces to victory on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, almost all of the missions require you, the player, to seek out and destroy certain targets. The maps change, but the missions just stay the same. Some of the maps are enormous, especially when you are trying to get a force of tanks from one side of the map to the other. There are also no difficulty settings to alter if you hit a snag. If you cant do it their way, its back to the drawing board for you. Another thing: dont expect to be able to direct much movement in advance. There were a number of occasions where I was trying to send in a few platoons of helicopters as a first strike while my tanks brought up the rear, with the idea that the tanks would come from behind and finish everything off. After directing each platoon to their various points on the map I switched to my choppers view to watch them lay waste to the enemy. Unfortunately for me, American reinforcements arrived and wiped out my choppers. When I finally tore myself away from the carnage and sought out my ground troops, I found one platoon still moving and the other two were apparently stuck--moving forward a few feet then stopping, spinning around and advancing again, etc. I left them for dead and watched while they were swept away by a sea of screaming steel that came crashing though the perimeter, and I started again.
The audio effects are something that deserve mention, though. Aside from the mission briefings, which are sweet, the in game-audio is very impressive. All of the platoon commanders call out their progress as they advance into the unknown. They also call out any enemy contacts that they come across in their travels. It always seemed to be too little too late for me, though; by they time they spotted an enemy contact and I selected that platoon, half of the troops in that group were dead and those remaining were about to join their fallen comrades. Of course, a good audio effects kudo would have to mean that the sound effects are good as well - and they are. From tank fire to helicopter noise everything sounds great, (especially after I piped it through my stereo and let it rip). There really is no better feeling then to sneak up on an unsuspecting enemy position with a healthy-sized attack force, popping up long enough to launch a barrage of anti-tank missiles and tank shells and to then listen to your commanders call out each enemy kill. It was music to my ears.
Unlike the audio, the graphics were not at all what I was expecting. Graphics seem to have only been a priority when it came to making the vehicles look realistic, which is fine until you have to do anything other then move your troops around. When your tanks fire it looks like they are shooting monitors out the barrels. The end of the tank barrel belches a huge white square that lingers for a few moments, the same is true for the missiles mounted on the back of attack trucks and helicopters. And you dont even want to know about the weather. When it snows you will think that you have entered a hidden Tetris zone. I have never seen square snowflakes the size of a small econo-car, but maybe there are some strange weather anomalies in the year 2015. Another thing that kind of bothered me about the graphics was the lack of damage that I was able to inflict on the environment. I mean, I dont know anyone that could possibly play this game and not "accidentally" blow up a barn or office building here or there. Not this time, the buildings blacken a bit when fired upon but thats about it. And dont even think about trying to crash a platoon full of tanks through that barn - they buildem tough in Russia in 2015.
On the other hand, the multiplayer aspect of this game is pretty good. If you want to play this against real people I have to say that the MSN Gaming-Zone is the only way to go. Everything works extremely well and you have the opportunity to test your skills against people from all over the world, not just your next door neighbor. Dont forget to download the MSN software and be sure to check for any patches for the game before you try to play. If there is a patch out and you dont have it you wont be able to play on the Zone. If in doubt just ask someone in the java chat widow, someone there should know.
Overall, I would have to give this game a three star rating. It really wants to be a great game, but it seems to fall a little short. A definite rental or maybe steal it from a friend, but for sure, play it before you buy it!
(But if you do run out and pick this up here are a few things that I feel I should pass along to you. I learned a lot from the nice gentleman that I spoke to at Red Storm tech-support when the game wouldnt run on my system. It seems that there are a few bugs that can cause the game to go from an almost ready to go "I am loading your mission now, sir" screen to your boring old desktop. One of these problems, as was in my case, can be blamed on the device picker. This is part of the software that identifies and controls the audio and video devices in the machine for use in the game. According to the gentleman on the phone, the game has been known to go out looking for a sound and video card and come back with your modem and Ethernet / network card. As I am sure you can guess, this can cause fatal errors while trying to run the game. To remedy this you must select the device picker and manually select the video and sound card for the game.)