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Joint Task Force Review

Joint Task Force pack shot
Developer:Mithis Entertainment
Official Site:http://www.jointtaskforce.com/
Release Date:September 15, 2006 (UK)
Reviewer:Duncan Lawson (Sinna01)
Buy now at Amazon.co.uk

Joint Task Force takes place in that ephemeral time 'In the Near Future' which as usual means 'Like Now, Just Worse' and puts you in the imperialist jackboots of the Commander of the newly formed Joint Strike Force, which is apparently like NATO with bigger teeth. You and your merry multi-national band will take in the sights of mysterious Somalia, happening Afghanistan, and cosmopolitan Bosnia, visiting local markets, absorbing the fascinating culture, partaking of the vibrant nightlife, and killing lots and lots of people. Interested? - Press your Red Button now.

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It has long been a good rule of thumb that its better to do something well than to do something new, which applies doubly so in the gaming world. There has of late been a rash of quite pared down gaming experiences that have concentrated on the fundamentals of its experience and blossomed for it. Far Cry, Dawn of War, Prey, Lego Star Wars, even Dr. Kawashimas' How Old is Your Brain? All had their moments of graphical window dressing or fun features, but underneath were pushing no envelopes and breaking no moulds. This obvious adherence to this dogma thus boded well for Sierras new real time strategy title Joint Task Force, released last week for the PC.

JTF, as well as aiming for the streamlined approach to RTS, is also going for a feel of tactical realism, with nearly all of it units and models being a loving reproduction of a real world counterpart. The game box itself boasts having acquired actual licenses from various merchants of death, such as Boeing and General Electric, but given your limited degree of control over each unit such nuance is mostly lost. This initial stab at realism with poor follow through or implementation is one of JTF's major undoing. If you're going to faff about with steely realism, individual armaments, bullet calibers, etc then its best to decide where in the scale of things you're going to aim for and make that level consistent throughout play, say in a sliding scale between Ghost Recon and Cannon Fodder.

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JTF's attempt at graphical realism is certainly excellent, probably the most detailed I've seen in an RTS - cars burn merrily, cut power lines flop and sizzle, wooden fences splinter, napalm smells in the morning. Pause the game and you can zoom in to peer at the pilot of a stealth bomber as it flits overhead. This makes JSF unusually system-hungry for an RTS, and really unnecessarily so: due to the disappointingly clumsy level of control, there is rarely any point in wanting to zoom in enough to admire ones troops' individual detailing. If, for example, capturing a building was an involved tactical experience as the game suggests then you'd want to line up all your little guys with fields of fire, mutual cover and such, but since it's either a case of run like buggery at it or shell from afar, you never need much more than 50% of the potential zoom. As suggested in the manual and proven when the shooting starts, the system behind combat is really the same old rock-paper-scissors approach used since we were chasing Kane around under a Tiberian Sun (i.e. 'A' is Strong against 'B', but Weak against 'C', 'B' is Strong against...etc). Again, this approach has been successful in the Lord of the Rings RTS series, Fallout, and deftly implemented in the excellent Dawn of War, but here the balance has simply been misjudged between gritty realism and fizzy action. Little details such as the impossibility of grouping armored units and infantry together for balance exacerbate the inequalities.

Joint Task Force does make some attempts at bringing out some snappy action, the best of which on paper is updating of the potentially tedious resource collection otherwise inherent to the RTS genre. JTF is built to discourage the player from engaging in Cold War style super-accumulation of tanks until a single thunderous charge across the map. A pretty good idea when you think back to the heyday of Command & Conquer, which, due to jealous protection and accumulation of resources, oft times resembled armed capitalism rather than an explodey war game. Done away with is the old standing armament factories as all units are now flown in, and instead of collecting crystals/minerals/nectar points, it is the JTF commander's popularity with the media that will determine how the requisition points roll in. This is the one big gimmick - in the top right hand corner there is the media opinion bar, and how many tanks and army men you get to play with depends on your image with the imbedded press. The behavior required to influence your rating is normally made fairly clear - will you help save the field hospital and evacuate the children, or will you start bulldozing civilian homes, misuse the womenfolk, and raise collateral damage to an art form?

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The Media Relations element is another fine example of Sierra's RTS baby missing the mark. The revolution may not be televised, but these days war most certainly is, and adding this element into the game is innovative and could have worked really well. Unfortunately, you will usually find yourself obligated to engage in side-missions to maintain your image which are rarely taxing but nearly always tedious. Escorting Red Cross trucks across a river in a captured ferry in a war zone sounds fairly thrilling, but in practice it turns out to be ten minutes of clicking on load and unload whilst the rest of your army looks bored. The system might even have some real meaning if committing the odd war atrocity had some appeal or use to the player - trading an immediate benefit for a future one but the reality is, the only ethnic cleansing you'll do is by accidentally not paying constant attention to your monomaniacal tank drivers who defiantly do not brake or swerve for villages in their path. If the tanks in Joint Strike Force are loyally modeled on the real thing, I hope to god the 'intelligence' driving them is not.

JTF is a bundle of various passably good ideas and directions that never quite pulls itself together. Overlooking the mechanical faults the game has despite already being on its first patch - such as 'QuickSave' handily also meaning 'QuickCrash' about one in five times, the resulting save forgetting to include certain things in it, such as your whole army - Joint Task Force is an essentially flawed title. It lacks the rip-roaring wargasm of the highly recommended Dawn of War, doesn't facilitate the tactical ninjitsu of Commandos or even Fallout 2. Comparison with the slightly disappointing C&C installments Generals and Generals: Zero Hour is inevitable, but JTF lacks even their cartoon violence and sly caricatures, and if you're absolutely desperate to prove yourself the hero of Baghdad, then I advise you stick to these precursors.


If military RTS is your thing, I strongly recommend you hang on a little while longer and pick up the new Dawn of War installment or C&C 3: Tiberian Wars. In fact, nearly anything else in the RTS genre - Total Annihilation costs a smile and a handshake these days, and will give you hours more fun.

The bottom line
5.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Enormous graphical detail & visual realism for an RTS
  • Innovative answer to tedious resource farming
  • Not particularly long
  • Voted game of the year by 'Military Hardware Fondler Weekly'

Not so good stuff

  • Not particularly stable
  • All style and little substance
  • Slow load times
  • No replayablility

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