This Week in Wargaming Episode 34 8-9-09

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MINIATURES AND BOARDGAMES

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Privateer Press Announces Preview of “The Next Big Thing” for Warmachine during Gencon

Meeples and Miniatures doing weekly video review of Historical Miniatures Releases

Fantasy Flight Games launches video preview of Warhammer, Chaos in the Old world

Forge World Siege of Vraks 3 available for pre order

Arcane Legions Box Art Previews for Romans and Egyptians

Army Builder 3.2 available

Battlestar Galactica Pegasus Expansion, Rules Posted

Tumbleweed Tank Preview for AE WWII
And the 1936 Popular Science Article it is based on

AE WWII Occult concept art for SS Vampire

COMPUTER GAMES

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Empire Total War

MEDIA

GI JOE—-

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Sorry, but I could not help at least touching on this film as it released this weekend to tepid but not terrible reviews.

The Reviews

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Dawn of War 2, Multiplayer Beta ready for action!!!

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Here is a nice set of screenshots of the new Dawn of War 2 multiplayer beta along with an excellent early review of the Beta gameplay from Ixal on  The Escapist

Since a few days the Dawn of War 2 multiplayer beta is online and open to all Soulstorm buyers and a few people lucky enough, that includes me, who managed to get an beta key.
Read here my impressions of the game after a few days of gaming both against bots and human.

Dawn of War 2 continues the tradition of small scale RTS games which Relic is known for. Other than in games like Red Alert you don’t mass produce hundreds of units and mindlessly send them against the enemy. Instead you only produce a dozen squads and/or vehicles and try to outflank the enemy to gain a tactical advantage.

People who have played Down of War 1 might at first be a bit confused when starting with DoW 2, as this game is much closer to Company of Heroes than DoW 1. It includes many features known from CoH like its cover system, rear hits on vehicles and suppression which is even more deadly than in CoH.
But it is not a simple CoH clone with new textures. Many elements were tweaked for a even more action packed gaming experience. DoW 2 is more of a blend of DoW 1 and CoH with a mixture of tweaks and improvements.

The game has two multiplayer game modes, both known from CoH. Victory points, where you have to capture certain points to drain the enemies 500 VP to 0 , or annihilation where you have to destroy the base of the enemy.
All this games can be played either 1 vs 1 or 3 vs 3. You can of course only play a 2 vs 2 by closing two player slots, but that are the matches the maps are optimized for. And the focus is clearly on 3 vs 3 games, something a few people are not happy with as finding other competent people to play with is not always that easy. Also when one player has a bad machine he will lag the game for everyone.

Before you start you have to select your race and your hero. Each race has three heroes to choose from which represents a techtree or doctrine for the CoH players. Different heroes have different personal abilities, slightly different global abilities and can be equipped with different weapons.
As you can see the choice of your hero has a big impact of the game. But that does not mean that your hero is a army slaying killing machine. You still need the rest of your army and even offensive heroes should not attack superior forces alone.

The biggest change compared to both DoW 1 and CoH is that there is no base building at all with a few exceptions. Some heroes can build turrets on the map, and you can build power generators at some fixed locations to increase your resources. Also, some global abilities can create buildings with certain abilities like teleporter gates.
But other than that there is no base building. All your units come from the same building and your tech level doesn’t increase by building new barracks, but simply by clicking on the “Next tech level” button.

Some people don’t like this, but personally I don’t see why this is bad. It frees you from stopping the combat just to place another farm or other in itself useless building. And if you really want to build something, play a hero who can build turrets. Those are the important buildings anyway.

When the game starts you have your base, your hero and your scout squad, meaning the weakest combat squad available to you. The first thing you should do is to start capturing points as there is where your resources come from. The points you can capture are requisition points which increases your requisition rate. Requisition is your primary resource which is used by every unit and some global power. You already start with a nice income of it. Capturing extra points increases this income by a small amount.
The second type of points are power nodes. This nodes alone give you a tiny amount of power which is used for high tech units and upgrades. To increase the power output of a point you first have to activate the power point which costs requisition. And then you can buy additional power generators for even more requisition which increase the power output by quite a bit. Be aware that when the enemy captures the power point he also gets the benefit of all generators attached to that point for no cost. So think before you buy generators if you can hold the point or not. If you are attacking, you can also destroy enemy generators instead of capturing them
If you play with victory points enabled then those are your third type of point available. Each map features 3 victory points and when you control more VP than your enemy then the enemy looses ticks.
Be aware that you can’t build listening posts on points to protect them. Requisition and Victory points can be captured back by every wandering enemy infantry unit. Power points first have to be deactivated (with damage), but then can be captured. Its on you to protect your points from the enemy.

There is also a third resource in the game which is gained by killing enemies. Depending on the race this resource has a different name, but the use stays the same. It is used to power global abilities. These abilities are different for every race and hero and can be activated anywhere on the map as long as you can see the point. This global abilities can heal units, give them short duration buffs, summon units or activate the races big explosion like power, for example an orbital bombardment of an small area.

Unlike other RTS games you don’t build hundreds of units sending them wave after wave against the enemy. At most you command two dozen units and have to play tactically to outflank the enemy.
People who have played CoH should already know the cover system. Cover comes in two grades, yellow and green (the latter being the better) and a unit in cover can hold of two or more units of equal power easily. So having cover and denying the enemy the use of cover is very important. A different form of cover are buildings which can be garrisoned. Those buildings act as 360° cover and units in them are very well protected. But don’t worry, on the maps in the beta buildings, are not placed so that they allow total map control. They are useful, but not game breaking.
CoH players might also be familiar with suppression When a unit is out of cover and under fire by a heavy weapon it quickly becomes suppressed. That means it moves slower and takes even more damage, likely being destroyed in seconds.
That makes it very important that you flank the heavy weapons, which typically have a limited arc of fire, as frontal assaults are destined to fail (unless you have vehicles or special abilities).

All this is already known from CoH. What DoW brings to the party (besides heroes) are melee troops. Some troops are not very good in ranged combat (or able to fire at range at all), but are very dangerous in close combat. Also, when a unit is in close combat it can’t fire their ranged weapons. So a all ranged army seldom leads to victory.
Another new thing are jump troops. They provide an additional way to flank a heavy weapon, not by going around, but by going over (or under) it. And they are needed because otherwise heavy weapons might be a bit too strong, especially as those weapons are rather cheap.
One should also mention what DoW 2 lacks, and that is artillery. There are no mortars or higher forms of artillery in the game except for the highly expensive final global ability. That means that if you want to hurt the enemy you must do it up close and can’t spam artillery.
Another big equalizer are vehicles. Weapons which are good against infantry are normally very bad against any vehicle. So even the best defense against infantry crumbles when a vehicle appears. So a good mix of units is needed to stay competetive and it is impossible to have all required units on all choke points all the time.

So how does the game play? In my opinion very well. Its fast paced, but not too fast to become unattractive for non pros, and requires a good, but not overwhelming amount of micro. Units move a bit slower than some people are used to it, but that gives you a nice little breathing time between the combats. Just the game browser could use a little work as it has no filters.
An interesting feature is the revive countdown. When you loose your hero you can revive him by paying requisition. The amount of requisition depends on his level and is quite highe at first and counts down. When you wait long enough the price gets lower and lower till it reaches the bottom where it costs only 250 points to revive him.

Should you buy the game? Most likely. But better download steam and participate in the open beta which starts on January 28th.

Check back here often as I might later add a description of the different races. I will also answer question, so ask away. (I am also happy about every non question comment).

Update 1: Races

On to the races.

There are a total of 4 races in the game, each with 3 heroes.
Note that when I talk about special abilities, I mean those abilities which are activated by using the third resource. Each hero also has personal abilities like being able to heal others.

Space Marines

The races you also play in single player. They are the defenders of mankind and interstellar knights mutated by implants to be super humans and wear huge power armours.
Space Marines are the strongest soldiers in the galaxy. As such their units tend to be very strong, but also rather expensive.

Their global abilities include calling a drop pod with tactical marines, teleporting in a squad of terminators and bombarding an area from space.

Their heroes are:
Force Commander
The leader of the army. He is a tough close combat fighter which can be equipped with better weapons and armour or even turned into an terminator. His special abilities are calling close combat assault terminators and a war cry which increases a units defences.

Apothecary
A healer, the only one in the game as far as I know. Otherwise you have to heal at your HQ. He can be equipped with either items which increase his healing power or increase the abilities of other soldiers. The exceptions are his weapons. The Apothecary can become a rather fearsome close combat fighter.
His special abilities are reviving all heroes on the map at once and making all infantry invulnerable for a short time.

Tech Marine
A Tech Marine focuses on vehicles. He is not a very good fighter, but he can build turrets, teleporters and, with the right equipment, lay mines. His special abilities are repairing all vehicles on the map and calling down a Venerable Dreadnought which is stronger than the normal version.

Space marines have a small unit list. Generally they will have less troops than other races but those units are quite powerful. Most of their troops are specialized anti infantry or anti vehicle, but some can be equipped to deal with either threat like their expensive tactical marines.

Orkz (Yes, that’s how they are written)

Orkz are a comic relieve race who speak very funny. But that doesn’t mean that they are any less dangerous on the battlefield. Their global abilities are reinforcing the squads around the commander . Also nearly every infantry unit have the Waaagh ability which increases the strength of all nearby units. And this ability stack, so 5 units each using Waaagh makes all of them five times stronger (ok, not exactly, but you know what I mean).

Warboss
The biggest ork around. He is a fearsome close combat fighter who can have very effective weapons. His special abilities are a war cry making a squad harder to damage and increasing the close combat power of a squad

Kommando Nob (That’s also written that way)
A stealth hero which can sneak around invisible and debuf the enemy. His equipment is centred around this and can increase his sneaking time etc.
As special abilities he can make a squad invisible and call a squad of Kommandos

Mekboy
The tech marine of the Orkz. He can also place turrets and Waagh Banners which make orkz near them fight harder. He can also teleport.
Special abilities are increasing the firing speed of a squad or making a vehicle faster.

Orkz are a close combat race. Their ranged squads aren’t the strongest and all of them die easily. That is countered by orkz being generally cheap. They have a nice variety of units with upgrades. Generally as ork player you are always short on requisition, even more than others

Eldar
Eldar are the speed race. Their warriors are a bit weaker than others, but they are fast and use hit and run tactics. Their global abilities are creating portals and creating a psychic storm which damages everything in the area.

Heroes are:

Warlock
A close combat specialist who focuses on doing damage. Slice enemies up with a sword? Check. Shoot psychic blasts? Check. His special abilities are reducing the incoming ranged damage to a squad and making all squads move faster.

Warp Spider Exarch
The Exarch can teleport himself and others around the map and is equipped with a mediocre gun. Still, he can appear everywhere and vanish again as soon as he gets in trouble.
As special abilities he can summon a squad of Warp Spiders and increase the ranged attack of a squad.

Farseer
The Farseer is more of a supporting hero who disrupts the enemy rather than combats directly. As special abilities she can turn of the fog of war in an area for a short time and summon the unique Seer Council which is a close combat squad.

Eldar troops are fragile and rely on speed to get into cover from who they can destroy the enemy. The term glass cannons fits nicely.

Tyranids.
The only race not available in DoW 1. They are invaders from an other galaxy who absorb biomass to add them to their forces.
Their global abilities are instantly creating more troops at their base and terraforming a small part of the map which damages enemies and increases the abilities of Tyranids

Heroes are:

Hive Tyrant
An awesome close combat fighter, probably the best from all the heroes. But he is rather slow. His special abilities are placing nests which allow Tyranids to reinforce and creating spores which can create troops.

Ravener Alpha
He can create tunnels which allow for instant travel. As Special abilities he can detonate other Tyranids which damage enemies and call in Spore Mines which are a suicide unit.

Liktor Alpha
A very fun hero to play with. He is a good melee fighter and has a really long tongue which he can use to grab other units and pull them towards him. As special abilities he can reveal the location of all enemy heroes and. Like the Hive Tyrant create spores which produce units, just a different kind

Tyranids also rely on masses. Their units are very specialized and have very few upgrade options, if at all. Their high level units are rather strong.

How balanced are the races? Its too early to tell, really. I haven’t even met someone who plays Tyranids yet.

Sins of a Solar Empire Review

Reviewed on 2/13/08    Updated on: 2/13/08    Release date: 2/4/08    There’s a blissful nirvana strategy gamers yearn for, even though experiencing it usually involves a considerable loss of sleep along with a steep drop in productivity for days on end. Sins of a Solar Empire is one of those rare games that can deliver an incredibly addictive experience that devours a healthy chunk of your life, and you won’t mind a bit. Not bad for a debut game from a relatively small developer. Ironclad and publisher Stardock should be proud, because they’ve delivered one of the most original, compelling strategy games in recent years.

Let’s get this clear: Sins isn’t anything like a typical turn-based space strategy game such as Galactic Civilizations or the granddaddy of the genre, Master of Orion. Instead, this is a real-time game–but don’t let that make you think that it’s Command & Conquer in space. Though it’s in real time, Sins unfolds at such a leisurely pace and can happen on such a gigantic scale that you’ll easily manage five or six gigantic fleets at a time as you battle across multiple star systems that contain dozens of worlds.

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This medium-sized map comprises only a single star system. Larger maps in the game contain up to five, linked together by wormholes.

The game is set in a distant future where the Trader Emergency Coalition–an alliance of various human worlds–bands together in the face of two threats. The first is the Advent, an offshoot of humanity that has embraced an alien philosophy and has come looking to spread the word by force. Even direr is the Vasari, a mysterious alien race that seeks the annihilation of both factions. Sins lets you play from the perspective of any of the three factions, which are approximate mirrors of one another.

Like many space strategy games, the action begins with you in control of a single planet, and from there you must explore the rest of the system worlds, locating planets to colonize, as well as resources that you can exploit to fuel your research and ship-building needs. Sins isn’t as ambitious as other space strategy games that task you with taking over a galaxy; instead, the action is limited to a maximum of five local stars, each with a network of planets around it. Travel among planets is limited via strict space lanes, so some planets are natural choke points. Planets themselves come in four varieties. Terran and desert planets can be colonized easily, but to settle ice and volcano planets you must research the appropriate technology first. Asteroids can also be colonized, but they’re so small that they can support only tiny populations, making them ideal for outposts.

To support your expansion, you’ll have to build a plethora of vessels. Scouts explore the planetary systems, locating ideal worlds to colonize with colony ships, as well as providing advance warning on incoming enemy fleets. Warships come in three classes. The smallest are frigates, and they include frontline combatants, siege vessels that can pummel planets with nuclear weapons, and missile platforms. Then there are larger cruiser-class vessels, such as escort carriers that can deploy squadrons of fighters and bombers to heavier warships. The crème de la crème, though, are the capital ships, which you can build only a handful of. Capital ships are huge, expensive, and powerful, but they’re also like the characters in a role-playing game in that they can level up as they gain experience, making them more powerful and unlocking unique and potent abilities. The ability to gain experience creates a powerful dynamic, as you want to get your capital ships into fights so they can level up, but you also want to protect them from danger, because the loss of them can be devastating. However, if you get a task force of high-level capital ships and smaller vessels together, you’ll have a force to be reckoned with.

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Like characters in a role-playing game, capital ships become more powerful as they level up.

Good strategy games force you to constantly make decisions about where to allocate your resources, and Sins does an exceptional job of this, mainly because you’ll usually find yourself having to juggle where to invest your precious resources. There are three resources in the game: money, metal, and crystal. Money is generated by having large planetary populations or by building trade stations. Metal and crystal can only be harvested on small asteroids. Building warships or structures, making planetary improvements, and conducting research consumes large amounts of these resources, and usually you’ll have a shortage of at least one of them, which forces you to make some difficult decisions.

It’s also possible to engage in a bit of diplomacy, though Sins takes a different tack than a lot of other strategy games. You can do the standard diplomatic maneuvers like declaring a nonaggression pact or forming an alliance with someone, but to do so, you’ve got to prove your worth to that faction by pursuing missions it puts toward you. For example, one faction might task you with destroying a certain number of defensive structures of another faction. Successfully completing the mission will earn you favor, though not completing the mission will earn disfavor. In order to form an alliance with any faction, you’ll have to complete several missions for it.

Sins of a Solar Empire Review of Sins of a Solar Empire (PC)

Then there’s the pirate system, which is a brilliant way of waging war by proxy. The pirates are third-party raiders who launch attacks periodically. You can influence whom they attack by raising the bounty on one of your opponent’s heads. However, this creates an eBay-like bidding war, where factions are trying to either get the bounties off of their heads or put them on opponents they really need attacked. The danger is that when you bid, you actually put money into the pot that you can’t withdraw, even if you lose. That means that if you get into an astronomical bidding war and win, the bad news is that in the next round, the opponent already has a mountain of money in the auction that you have to overcome. The other danger is that the more money there is in the bidding, the bigger the pirate attack will be. It’s a pretty slick system, though its one flaw is that it requires you to babysit each auction when it happens, a process that takes a minute or two. Given that attacks happen every 10 or 15 minutes, this is an activity that takes away from the overall pace of the game.

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The tech tree will demand your attention, as you can research better weapons, armor, new ship classes, and much more.

All of this sounds like it might be a handful to handle in real time, but Sins unfolds at a stately, almost leisurely, pace. The action is fast enough that you’re constantly busy making decisions, but it’s rarely frenetic to the point where you’re overwhelmed. To help you manage a huge empire, there’s an innovative empire tree on the side of the screen that gives you an outline of all of your planets, fleets, and factories. Let’s say you have a fleet battling in a distant system and taking losses. Without zooming away from the battle, you can select a nearby shipyard and start ordering up replacement ships that can automatically join the fleet. With the empire tree, it’s relatively easy to manage multiple fleets consisting of dozens of warships each.

If Sins has a downside, it’s that larger-scale games will easily take hours upon hours to resolve. Medium-size maps will chew up six to eight hours, often to the point where you will be looking at the clock and wondering just how effective you’re going to be the next day on about three or four hours of sleep. Larger games can take even longer at the default speed settings. Things would end a lot faster if there were alternate victory conditions or if the artificial intelligence would surrender after it clearly has no chance of winning. Instead, you have to pulverize each enemy position before the game ends, a process that can take a while. One thing that you can do while you’re finishing someone off, though, is to work on accomplishing achievements. The game has its own achievement system that rewards you for remarkable performance, such as wiping out a certain number of enemy capital ships or settling a pirate base. One dastardly achievement challenges you to win without researching a single military technology.

The game features random maps and scenarios, but one thing that’s missing is a campaign. Still, Sins of a Solar Empire is an excellent single-player game and one that translates well into the multiplayer realm, especially since it’s a lot harder to beat a human opponent than it is a machine. The built-in server browser connects to Ironclad Online, where it’s easy to create a multiplayer game or join up with others. The one thing to keep in mind is that, for the sake of brevity, it’s usually best to go with small maps in order for the game to resolve in one sitting. Though it’s possible to save a multiplayer game, it will take a considerable amount of dedication and scheduling by all parties involved to tackle a huge game.

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Did someone say achievements? If you want to go for 100 percent, you can try pursuing some of these challenging tasks.

Finally, the game’s visual presentation is excellent. It’s not a graphically flashy game, but it works on many levels. The ship designs look cool up close, and watching fleets slug it out is always fun. Pull the camera back, and ships and squadrons are replaced by distinctive icons, giving you the big picture even when you’ve zoomed out and are looking at a solar system as a whole. The interface is also quite elegant, and it scales nicely to a wide variety of display sizes. The audio and sound effects aren’t quite as distinctive, and the music provides some decent sonic wallpaper.

In sum, Sins of a Solar Empire is an absolute must-have if you enjoy strategy games. It’s an addictive, deep game that elevates space strategy to new levels. At the same time, it provides a fresh, original take on one of the oldest and most revered subgenres in all of strategy gaming.

Video Game Review: World In Conflict

Title: World In Conflict

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Format: Multiplatform: XBOX 360, PC

Developer: Massive Entertainment

Publisher: Sierra Entertainment

Metacritic Score: 84

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It has almost become a cliché when reviewing World in Conflict to reference the mid 80’s Regan Era neo propaganda film Red Dawn. The film posited the Soviet invasion of the United States that had long haunted the dreams of paranoid militia members across the country. Despite the rather dramatic lack of plausibility, the film was a fun exercise in ‘what if’. World in Conflict indulges itself with a similar scenario. Set in the late 80’s the designers ask us to wonder what would have happened if Glasnost had failed and the hard line communists had regained control of the dying Soviet State. In their scenario the Russians first attack Europe, then follow with an even more unlikely attack on Washington State. Plausibility aside, this does lead to a marginally entertaining plot for the single player campaign, and justification for the cold war era clash of the superpowers.

The game itself shows it’s lineage in several ways. Massive, creators of the Ground Control series of RTS games, had previously shown a preference for tactical games that ignored the conventions of resource gathering so much a staple in the genre. The lack of resource camping, escorting your gatherers and managing one or more resources allows the player to focus purely on the battle itself. This style leads to some very frenetic and fast paced battles. Unlike Ground Control, however, the player does have access to reinforcements during the game. In a model similar to more modern games like Company of Heroes, and Dawn of War, the player receives reinforcement points for purchasing units, and tactical aid points based on capturing battlefield objectives and destroying enemy units. These points are capped at a pre-determined level for each scenario, limiting the forces available.

Each scenario begins with the purchase of your initial force, which parachutes into the battlefield via transport planes apparently capable of warp speed ( it takes only 20 seconds from request to touchdown ). The points refill automatically up to the scenario limit as your units are destroyed, the delay in this refill provides the penalty for dying and rewards players able to keep units alive long enough to max out their force at once.

The available units are divided into four categories; infantry, armor, support and air. The player controls only helicopters in the game but may call in air strikes using the tactical aid points which I will discuss in detail in a moment. In the multilayer game the player must choose a primary role, these units can be purchased without restriction and at the standard cost. A limited selection of each other role’s units can also be used but only at a much higher cost. The units interact with each other in the same kind of rock, paper, scissors dynamic used in almost all RTS games.

Infantry units are cheap and fragile, but can hide in buildings and woods. The ground troops can be selected in anti-armor or anti-infantry flavors as well as snipers and trucks. Armor comes in heavy, medium and light tanks as well as apc’s and amphibious assault vehicles. The air arm allows the choice of tank killing assault helicopters, anti air medium helicopters, transport birds and observation aircraft. Support units included two flavors of mobile anti-aircraft vehicles, heavy and light artillery as well as the ubiquitous repair tank ( somehow capable of repairing helicopters while in flight ).

The various unit types are all terribly vulnerable to their opposite. This requires players in the single player campaign to quickly master using all unit types together in order to mask the weaknesses of each unit. In the multi player game this feature almost demands teamwork for any level of success. The problem with this is that the matching system frequently throws players of varying skill levels on each team and has not been able to prevent team stacking as of yet. In this game team stacking leads to quick and devastatingly one sided battles that can be very frustrating for the losing side.

When the teams are even, however, this game really shines and provides some absolutely fantastic and dramatic games. The visuals are good on any system and simply amazing on a system with the horsepower to really run the game at maximum settings. The thing that makes the game so visually amazing is the previously mentioned tactical aid system.

Each player gains tactical aid points for capturing objectives, fortifying them and for killing enemy units. These points allow the player to access anything from light airborne reinforcement troops that can come outside of the usual reinforcement queue, to artillery and air strikes all the way up to spectacularly destructive tactical nukes. The tactical aid effects are devastatingly effective and once one side begins to gain an advantage the map clearing effects of daisy cutters and tactical nukes can quickly turn the game into a route. The visuals of the smoke and explosions can be truly impressive, with the entire battlefield sometimes erupting in flames as buildings collapse to ruble and forests burn to ash.

The single player game is very heavily scripted and linear with very little options to change the mission path or the path strategies within the missions. The story is also predictable and shallow to the point that only a child of the cold war like myself could really get into it. The acting is passable for a video game but the story is just to thin. It really seems as though the single player campaign was included more as a tutorial for multi player than as a major feature in and of itself. The multiplayer however, is well worth the purchase price, even with its flaws. The lack of variety in play style may mean the game does not stay on your hard drive as long as a masterpiece of the genre like Company of Heroes, but the ride you will have will be a thriller while it lasts.