Enough about the story though, let's talk about how the game actually plays. Although being an RTS, Joint Task Force doesn't require you to build a base. Instead you are in charge of a task force with different troops depending on the mission you undertake.
The units are fairly predictable: soldiers, hummers, tanks and helicopters, however, this doesn't make the gameplay too linear. The soldiers are broken up into different varieties, for instance a ranger is able to fire rockets whilst a marksmen has a sniper rifle. Medics, engineers and pilots all perform self explanatory tasks; success in missions usually requires a balanced blend of these troops.
For those of you who might be a bit upset at the lack of being able to build a base don't fret too much. Developer Most Wanted
has come up with an ingenious way of giving you some control on what troops you have. Your commanding officer has cash which he can spend on bringing in reinforcements in most missions (some covert missions with commandos won't allow you to get reinforcements).
These reinforcements come in the shape of fresh troops, vehicles, supply drops, satellite scans of the map or cruise missiles. This may all sound a bit boring and a bit samey, and I would agree with you if it wasn't for the way the game decides on how much money you get to spend on troops – your actions, and the way they are represented by the media directly influence how much cash the government will give you to spend on more resources. Allow me to explain this in more detail.
As the missions run through, news flashes will pop up on your screen, filling you in on storylines and giving you an idea of how the press are publicising the ongoing war. You can influence the media's perception in a positive way by causing minimal civilian damage, by taking out the enemy terrorists in the most efficient manner possible. This creates quite difficult choices for the wannabe General to make on the fly: if the enemy are hiding on the other side of a building do you take the long, and potentially more dangerous route through winding streets to get to them? Or do you scream "yeehaw!", blow the building to smithereens and catch them unaware. If the sound of the second option appeals to you then chances are the media won't be your best mate.
That leads me nicely on to one of the most impressive features of the game, the destructible environments. Although not jaw dropping, there is a cool aspect to watching your tanks roll over trees, fences and whatever else gets in their way before blowing vehicles and buildings to rubble. Another cool aspect, especially in the built up city areas, is the fact that your units can jump in vehicles and drive off in them. It adds that extra level of interactivity with the environment that makes things seem a bit more realistic.
Big levels equals big fun
Making a good game is tough, making a good game that lasts a long time is even tougher. The single player campaign for Joint Task Force is certainly long, not only a lot of missions to play through in varied locations but the also the fact that each mission is pretty substantial in itself. Apart from the very early missions, the quickest I was able to complete one was about 45 minutes. For some this will be a bit of a turn off, equating long missions with boredom and methodical gameplay. I must admit I feared this before jumping into the command hot seat but I have to say the level design is pretty good and I rarely felt tired or bored.
What really helps the game is the ability to save whenever you like, this means gaming sessions can be broken up to suit your own time constraints. The other important factor is that many of the tasks you're required to complete are pretty tough and require some serious planning. I found this an enjoyable challenge rather than frustrating most of the time, that was primarily because I could reload quickly if things all went wrong such as getting your entire team killed by accident - "Oops, I could have sworn I targeted that cruise missile over there." The fact that you don't need to get to the next checkpoint to save the game is a real bonus and makes playing the game a far more relaxed, enjoyable experience.
As with Rome: Total War you can also control time, pausing when things are getting a bit hectic and out of control. Likewise you can speed things up when moving somewhere or waiting for the perfect time to strike. You generally feel the game has given you the best possible tools to come up with a plan to defeat the enemy. Another cool feature is by placing your cursor over the enemy you get to see how far they can see, this means you can keep your troops out of view right up till the point of the final attack.
Despite all these tools to make the game easier it could never be described as an easy game. Some of the bases you need to launch an attack on are defended by troops that hugely out-number you. The requirement of completing missions with the media watching usually means doing things slightly more dangerously and ending up with lots of guys dead after each engagement. The battles feel well-balanced and there were only a few occasions where the engine really made me grate my elbows.
The game's AI for path-finding can sometimes be absolutely abysmal. On a few occassions I was left in a less than happy mood after my meticulously planned strike fell by the wayside because my tank commander made the baffling decision to drive around in circles as the enemy fires grenades at him. This isn't limited to tanks either, at times your troops simply won't respond to commands – one can only assume out of cowardice, and if I had my way I'd have them shot for it WW1 style. These frustrations are usually remedied by regular saves and I can only hope that patches will be released that will address the issue.
The game has few other technical flaws; perhaps the night time missions are a little too dark (and look a little washed out when you increase the brightness). Perhaps some of the missions are a little bit repetitive but then again you'll be hard pushed to find any game, let alone an RTS, that lasts this long without repeating some of its tricks. Overall, the story, gameplay and new features are all good, yet the game doesn't have that special bit of magic to catapult it up there with the classics. I never felt really attached to the game despite the interesting plot, I always felt like a third party, rather than someone there fighting the battles with the troops.
That's not to say the game isn't any good, because it is. If you like RTS or war games then you could do a lot worse than Joint Task Force. Whether it's a question of lacking character, or that it just doesn't have that really unique feature that distinguishes it completely from the rest of the pack?. Simply put, this is a good RTS game that will appease the appetitie of RTS gamers, and is more than an adequate snack before Company of Heroes is released later this month.