A few years ago, when my daughter was 7, we went to a local county fair. My little thrill-seeker took one look at a midway ride called "The Zipper" and proclaimed that she just HAD to ride that ride. Well, she got her wish. We let her ride it with a neighbor boy acting as chaperone. After the ride, she really didn't have much to say. On our way out of the fairgrounds a few hours later, she looked at The Zipper and said, "You know, that's one of those rides that looks like it would be fun, but it isn't!"
That's how I would describe Kuma\War.
The underlying idea is very intriguing:
"From the headlines to your PC! Kuma\War puts players in the frontlines of international conflict with real-world missions based on breaking news. First-person tactical and vehicle-based games are updated weekly, and automatically downloaded to the subscriber’s computer to reflect unfolding events as they occur. Players will be briefed with real world news reporting, KH-11 satellite imagery, and expansive intelligence provided by a decorated team of military experts, preparing gamers for actual missions based on real-world conflicts."
Wow! After having gotten a feel for what WWII combat must have been like from Call of Duty, I was very excited about the prospect of getting a better insight into what our troops are experiencing in Iraq. The idea of updating the maps and missions with real-world current events promises to keep the game fresh and interesting for quite awhile, adding incredible staying power and variety. No messing around with trying to find and install various mods, just launch the game, run the update, and face the same challenges our troops are facing on a weekly basis.
The experience started out promisingly enough. The briefings for the missions are well done, and do a great job of creating the appropriate atmosphere. There's a live news ticker scrolling across the bottom of the briefing page containing real-world events, there's a downloadable briefing movie, and plenty of other intelligence items that all add to the realism.
It's 2004. My expectations for the in-game action/sounds/graphics/physics/AI have been set by Call of Duty, Full Spectrum Warrior, and Rogue Spear. Kuma\War does not come close to meeting even the least of my expectations.
The maps seem bland and lifeless. This may be because of the almost complete lack of ambient sound, other than very repetitive background music. Or, it could be because there are very, very few ‘people’ moving around. It could be the lack of a visible weapon in my hands in 1st person view. For whatever reasons, I never got the feeling of immersion in the locale that I get from the examples above. I never got the feeling of being almost overwhelmed by events that I got in Call of Duty. I never got the feeling of a cohesive team/squad that I got from Full Spectrum Warrior. Single player is essentially just a matter of following the trail and shooting practically motionless enemy AI players along the way.
Not that that’s easy, mind you. An extremely frustrating weakness is the lack of a ‘lean’ feature. You can’t lean around corners to see what’s there before going around them. This removes any possibility of using stealth-like tactics. So, in the single player mode, you’re basically left with “run & gun,” albeit against very weak opponents.
I suspect Kuma\War will end up being similar to the Battlefield 1942 type of game: almost useless for single player, but pretty popular for multiplayer. Unfortunately, I could only find a single server and one other player to try it out, and that server was configured for co-op play. When you think about it, co-op play pretty much requires a good single player mode to be successful, so my multiplayer experience was almost identical to my single player experience (with the embarrassing exception of me having managed to kill the only other player on the server in a friendly fire incident – sorry Kuma\Jay!). Without good enemy AI, you need human opponents to have any meaningful challenge at all. Still, I think there is hope here if a large enough group is available to play against.
Will that happen? Possibly, if this was a $20 - $30 game. With Kuma\War, however, that is not the case. According to the review materials provided by Kuma, Kuma\War will be subscription based. The proposed cost is the almost ubiquitous rate of $9.99 per month. I’m afraid that with the competition in the market being what it is, not many people are going to want to spend that for a pretty average game. That said, those that ARE willing to spend that will probably take their gaming pretty seriously, which should cut down the frustrations of trying to play against opponents that are just there to screw around. In other words, there may be some benefit to the exclusivity that will result from the pricing.
While Kuma\War is a great idea the actual execution falls short.