Theatre of War 3: Korea

Review

posted 5/5/2011 by Tom Bitterman
other articles by Tom Bitterman
One Page Platforms: PC
The Korean War gets no respect.  When was the last time you played a Korean War-themed game, let alone a good one?  Or heard about the war on TV, or read a good book about it?  Even the most famous TV show about the Korean War, MASH, was really about Vietnam.

This is too bad, really, as the Korean War straddled an important divide in military history.  On the one hand, it was the last of the “modern” wars - in the mold of WW1 and WW2 – in that the armies formed up into lines, wore uniforms, and fought over territory.  On the other hand it was the first of the “postmodern” wars, where overwhelming force and technological advantage were not the keys to victory.  There is a lot to examine in this conflict.


Into this void steps “Theatre of War 3: Korea” (ToWK).  Unfortunately, in this case stepping into a void means doing a faceplant.  There is precious little to like in this game, and what there is is buried beneath bland graphics, bad interface design, slow speed, questionable game mechanics, and general bugginess.

The overall play of ToWK is divided into strategic and tactical modes.  This is not a new idea, and is gaining popularity as a way to merge a turn-based strategic mode with a real-time tactical mode within the same game.  When done well (rare) both modes enhance the other – strategic decisions impact tactical situations (e.g. by choosing favorable battlefields) and tactical outcomes shape what strategic decisions are available.  “The King's Crusade” is a good example of a recent attempt at this game design.

The strategic map has limited options (place your units in this sector or that) and makes for a simple game: if you place your units where there are no enemy units, you automatically capture the sector.  If there are enemy units there, prepare to enter the tactical map.


As in most of these hybrid TBS-RTS games, the tactical map is where most of the action happens.  The basic gameplay on the tactical map will come as no surprise to anybody who has played an RTS before.  ToWK has all the usual Korean-War-era suspects - infantry, tanks, and helicopters – along with the crowd-pleasing air strikes and mortar barrages.  The modeling of these units is the highlight of the game.  Units are modeled down to the individual soldier and stats are kept for such details as ammunition level, rate of fire, range, armor thickness and morale, among many others.  Although it is hard to tell from looking, the entire setup gives the impression that combat and its surrounding factors have been realistically modeled.

The problem is not in the realism, however, but in the problems a player will have in actually playing the game, and the enjoyment derived therefrom.  To start, the interface is complex.  There are at least 13 different basic actions an individual infantryman can take, some of which have sub-actions.  None of these actions are clearly presented in the interface, leaving the player to hunt around the screen like they lost their glasses until the whole mess can be memorized.
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