Scene, Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Cold War is long over, but game developers still see a threat in Russia.

Several games that give history a grim twist were displayed at the E3 Media and Business Summit in Santa Monica, Calif., earlier this month. In each, Russians — or the Soviets — slug it out with the U.S. military.

The most anticipated is “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare,” created for Activision by Infinity Ward and due for release this fall on next-generation consoles and computers.

In the past, “Call of Duty” titles have focused on World War II. This time, gamers are thrown into a world where a Russian renegade has risen to power and cobbled together a dangerous alliance. As a result, this isn’t asymmetrical warfare. This is combat against a strong peer with the ability to call on high-tech weaponry similar to yours.

The first-person shooter is set in the very near future and incorporates equipment and tactics used by today’s servicemembers.

To ensure accuracy, developers spent time with U.S. Marines, observing small-unit tactics and live-fire drills. As a result, developers got the information they needed to create excellent and accurate animations — and the Marines got a strong presence in the game.

The graphics, the sound and the action were among the most impressive displayed at E3, making the game look like a worthy heir to the “Call of Duty” legacy.

Another first-person shooter that pits the United States and its allies against Russia and its allies is “Frontlines: Fuel of War.”

The game is set in the not-too-distant future, when oil reserves have dwindled to the point where vicious warfare has broken out over the remaining oil fields. The United States and Europe are up against Russia and China, so it’s another heavyweight slugfest.

The game was created for THQ by Kaos Studios and is set to be released early next year on next-generation consoles and computers.

In this case, some of the equipment and weapons might be a few steps beyond what’s available today, but the basics are familiar. The graphics and sound are good, but not quite as good as those in “Call of Duty.” However, the game play is fun — especially when equipped with drone aircraft.

A third game takes a few steps back in history — postulating what would have happened if the Berlin Wall hadn’t fallen in 1989. “World In Conflict” is a real-time strategy game for computers, created by Massive for Sierra and due out this fall.

In this version of reality, the Soviets have invaded the United States. The demo at E3 featured a battle around a small American town. The demo featured an online multiplayer game, but the title also offers a single-player mode.

Unlike most other strategy games, where players have to build a base and harvest resources before heading into combat, “World In Conflict” is a fast- paced fighting game that focuses on controlling your forces and using your surroundings and opportunities well.

In the single- player game, players are given units and must go to war with the forces they have. In the head-to-head mode, players receive a certain number of points that can be spent to select the units they’d like to go to war with. During the course of the battle, players earn points that can be spent on re-enforcements, or special kinds of attacks. These range all the way up to tactical nuclear strikes, which look quite impressive on the display monitor.

Overall, the graphics are spectacular — holding their details even when zooming from a view high over the battlefield to the ground level. The equipment depicted in the game will look familiar to today’s troops since much of it has changed very little in outward appearance since the end of the Cold War.

So, if gamers want a chilling view of what a war with Russia would be like, they can try the grunt’s-eye view in “Call of Duty 4” or “Frontlines,” or take command of a large force in “World In Conflict.”

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