With 1C Company’s newest addition to the Theatre of War series, they change the setting from the highly overused battles of World War II to the Korean War, something that hasn’t seen a lot of representation in the video game industry. Theatre of War 3: Korea, like the past entries in the series, is a real time strategy game where you control a multitude of units at once in order to win a battle.
Korea’s gameplay is very much like most of the other historical RTS games out there, but does turn out to be a lot deeper than most as well. Korea has a few different games modes available to it. First off are the two campaigns, one featuring the North Korean forces initial attack and the other that takes place afterwards that features the United States counterattack. Instead of giving you a linear progression of missions, Korea gives you a free-form map to play on where you move units around and conduct battles whenever the two forces’ paths intersect. You can move each group of units once per turn but cannot have more than one group on any single area. At first glance this may seem to give more freedom to the player with choice, however the campaigns end up feeling a bit hollow, and drag on quite a bit after a while of play. To make matters worse, there is only a total of nine maps to play on in the game. While these maps are substantially large in scope, it can become tiring once you have played a map multiple times. Luckily, in addition to the two campaigns there is also a campaign, mission builder, and multiplayer which are nice additions that add on to the play time of the game overall. One thing very interesting about the custom scenarios is the addition of an alternate Soviet Union force, allowing you to play out a “what if” scenario.
Theatre of War 3: Korea is definitely a game for a specific niche of gamers. It is far more complex than something like Company of Heroes and takes a substantial amount of time to sink into it before you really get the feel for the systems. The bare bones tutorial barely gives you enough information to start playing in the first place. In battle you control multiple squads of soldiers, as well as vehicles like tanks, armored cars, heavy machine guns, mortars, helicopters, and other equipment used in the Korean war. In your squads you can take control of single soldiers in order to do things like set anti-tank mines at a strategic spot. Korea also does a good job of building realistic groups of units, with detailed stats on things like rate of fire and armor thickness as well as ammunition levels and even morale. In addition to taking control of units, you also have support that you can call in for things like air strikes or mortars. To use these though you must accumulate points which you get through battle.
Controls are overall pretty fluid, with the only annoyances popping up when trying to get soldiers to do things like take control of a vehicle. The interface works well enough in Korea, with your basic map and other features as well as a pause, half speed, and double speed for the battle. The real problem is in the formations and the routes that vehicles sometimes move. Formations have seemingly no difference on how your soldiers fight and only end up providing you with awkward groups of soldiers. The three formations are that of a line, a column, and a ‘v’, but these turn out to be useless since soldiers do not hold the formations while moving. Vehicles also sometimes have trouble with path finding, occasionally going over ditches and getting themselves stuck in the process. The biggest problem with the gameplay though, would have to be the dumb-as-nails AI. The enemy rarely puts up a fight and many of the battles in the game can be won by ordering your units to locations at the start and just waiting. Korea seems like one of the most realistic war games ever, but its little annnoyances like these that bring you out of the experience.
The graphics in Korea aren’t outstanding but they are at least pretty to look at. Units look well enough, and the environments and sweeping hills of Korea are really quite beautiful. The game isn’t too graphically demanding, but to run it on the highest setting you will need a decent machine. Even then, problems do occur though. In some of the larger battles the entire game freezes for a few seconds. Although these don’t occur regularly, it is something to mention. Something else that needs mentioning is the long load times. It can take as long as a minute and a half to two minutes for a battle to load, which some could find annoying.
Sound design in Korea is actually one of the better areas. Voice acting and music are scarce but fill their roles. The sound effects on the other hand are really well done. The sounds of war are incredibly realistic, and do a better job of pulling you in than anything else in the game.
In the end, Theatre of War 3 isn’t a bad game but it does come out feeling a bit dated. Fun can be found and battles are large in scale and fun to watch as the two forces battle it out. Hardcore RTS gamers looking for a realistic war experience may get more enjoyment out of it more than anyone else, but the multiplayer and scenario editors give it decent legs that will last a while.
*1C Company provided SlimGamer.com with a promo code for a review copy.