Joint Task Force ReviewCain Dornan
Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Starcraft... The number of real-time strategy games to grace the PC is nothing short of staggering, although the gradual decay of the genre has seen a slight drop in the number of new franchises to take a bout at the genre over recent years. Following the fairly successful revival of the Age of Empires series, we are now seeing a revival in the genre. A new installment in the famed Command & Conquer series is on the way, and it was only weeks ago that Company of Heroes and Faces of War hit retail shelves. Diving into the fray is Vivendi Games with Joint Task Force: a modern military RTS sporting detailed visuals and promising gameplay. Unfortunately, the game also suffers from several disappointments that hamper an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Set in the year 2008, players take control of the Joint Task Force: the latest peacekeeping force formed by the western countries to keep peace and resolve disputes stemming from terrorist activities in troubled spots throughout the world. Operating on a tight budget with limited personnel to deploy, you must make use of a fairly small team of units against the ever-increasingly large insurgents. JTF is essentially like most other RTS games to hit the market, requiring you to move your units around a map from a top-down view. One difference that sets it apart from many classic RTS games is how you never build your own base of operations. There's no construction to be had; no building barracks, factories, bunkers, etc. Instead, the game tries to focus more on the action elements of gameplay, rather than focusing heavily on micromanagement, by equipping you with units that you must guide through a mission, although you can call in reinforcement drops via choppers.
This does work to some degree, as there is no need to mess around with constructing and managing your own base. Unfortunately, the limited number of units at your disposal results in any small loss costing your force considerably, so you need to try and plan your advancements and attacks carefully to minimize any casualties. Given the small number of units and the often-challenging difficulty of your opponents, you'll need to make full use of the medics and repair trucks to keep your small number of units in tip-top condition. This sees you sending your troops into battle for short bursts, before retreating them behind the attack lines to seek refuge and re-healing from your medical units. Either this, or you'll find yourself stopping and restarting sections of the mission after you suffer a heavy loss. It can quickly become frustrating when you are forced to re-attempt missions time and time again. Given that most missions take around an hour or more to complete, this is not a pleasant task. The occasionally difficult and repetitive nature of the game doesn't deem it unplayable, but it is likely to quickly turn gamers away from the game.
As previously mentioned, JTF's missions are usually fairly lengthy, often requiring upwards of an hour to complete. The missions usually consists of the standard RTS fare: move from one side of the map to the other, destroying enemy units that fall in your path until you reach your destination. From here, you're usually required to wipeout all enemy units within the vacinity, clear out an enemy base, aid a UN convoy in rescuing some civilians, or destroy a specific target. There's nothing special in the way of missions, as it's all been done countless times before in other games.
There's a fair variety of different units that you'll take control of, ranging from foot soldiers equipped with a variety of weapons from rocket launchers through to machine guns and sniper rifles. Vehicles range from tanks, armoured transports, jeeps, buggies, repair vehicles, assault helicopters and so on. It's not the largest array of vehicles to be seen in a game yet, but the offering that is on hand is definitely pleasing to say the least. As one would suspect, each vehicle offers their own strength and weaknesses, making it essential to use each vehicle in the right situations to avoid causing any unneeded casualties.
Since you never construct your own base and go searching for resources to fund your army, the game has incorporated an alternative source of funds for use to call in additional reinforcements or further materials. You'll begin missions with a limited availability of funds, with further funds becoming available to you as you complete tasks within a mission, such as destroying an important target or aiding a UN convoy of civilians. Since the game focuses heavily on strategy and the careful use of the small forces available to you, don't expect to be flooded with plenty of cash. Each mission will see your scraping every last cent to keep your forces equipped.
The media do play a part in how you carry out your missions. Throughout some levels you'll find media vans recording your every move; if you suffer heavy casualties or kill innocent civilians, the media will be quick to pick up on your mistakes and cause added trouble for you, namely through lowering the funds that are available to you during missions. While a great idea in theory, the media affect the game very little; apart from the occasional news report that is shown in a small box to the right of the screen during missions, the media very rarely have any affect on the actual gameplay itself.
Outside of the single player campaign, you can take the fight into the multiplayer realm through co-operative play with the single player missions or deathmatch/zone controlling type multiplayer modes that can be played both via LAN or over the internet. You can also participate in a straight-out skirmish mode if your not in the mood for campaign or multiplayer gaming. Online multiplayer play can prove to be difficult with the very small number of players online during our playtest of the game.
Possibly the most impressive aspect of JTF are the visuals. The game looks great to witness in action; vehicles and units offer great detail and animation, complete with bodies and debris being flung through the air during explosions. Terrain and environmental detail looks great; buildings crumble realistically when under fire or knocked over by a tank driving through them. Occasional slow-down during high action sections is a little disappointing, but isn't bad enough to subtract from the gameplay experience.
As an opposite to the game's visuals, the sound on offer leaves plenty to be desired. While the standard explosions and gun sounds sound solid, the audio experience is dampened with some horrible and annoying voiceover work. Characters, in particular the general that briefs you on your missions, sounds forced and unnatural, as do the in-game comments made by your soldiers. They simply sound out-of-place and unnatural, and would have benefited the game more by not including them at all.
Joint Task Force is a decent attempt at producing a modern military warfare game in the classic RTS genre. Unfortunately, the sometimes unforgiving difficulty and the need to constantly restart missions due to the zero space for mistakes lowers the enjoyment that can be gained. There isn't anything notably new here, either, but it does offer a solid RTS experience and makes use of various ideas that have popped up in other RTS games in the past that is, if you can deal with its shortcomings.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.