It always pans out the same way. You turn up a bit late and slightly sweaty, because in East London every street looks the bloody same. You then get shown a Powerpoint presentation extolling the virtues of 'Big Shooter Next' multiplayer, and soon after you and your fellow journalists are herded next door where sixteen glowing screens are humming in darkness waiting for you.
It's great, not least because you often get free posh sandwiches, but because it's a perfect way to judge a multiplayer game's potential. Online gaming is about shared enjoyment - so when you hear the gasps, the shouts, the swearing and have someone level an accusatory finger at you then call you an arsehole, you know a game has potential.
Far Cry 3 is going all out to encourage those yelps. Everything about it is being built to encourage teamplay - to keep your side fighting the good fight together. For example, myself and my cohorts were at one stage approaching a Domination point - a lonely spot caught halfway between a wrecked submarine that sits in a murky green dock and the dark interior of a network of jungle caves.
The Sierra Entertainment fire sale continues. Ubisoft has bought the rights to real-time strategy game World In Conflict - and picked up its Swedish developer Massive Entertainment while it was about it.
Stop clowning around; it really is bastardly cold out there. Still, it's good for one thing: keeping my PC from overheating. All I have to do is wrap up warm and open my window, then pop in one of these festively fantastic frolics and laugh away merrily - probably with a vat of mulled wine close-by to ensure I am well and truly smashed. I'm only giving it serious consideration because there are some games worth seriously considering.
I'm giving very serious consideration to the idea of detonating a small nuclear device in a major American city. Now that I've successfully made Eurogamer flash up on the screens of a dozen top secret US intelligence agencies (Kristan may be spirited away to some officially-denied torture dungeon, but just think of the page views!) I should probably explain that, ho ho, I'm just talking about the latest real-time strategy game to set PC hearts a-flutter.
Of course, everybody already knew that since World in Conflict arrives under the considerable burden of being known as "that explosions game where you get to use nukes". While the astonishing pyrotechnics are certainly eye-catching, it'd be a shame if the game were to be remembered solely for its big bangs, luminous walls of flame and rolling banks of realistic smoke and ash. Take away the apocalyptic bluster, and World in Conflict is still one of the most indecently absorbing PC games of the year.
That doesn't mean, however, that it's particularly original or groundbreaking. In terms of features, there's little here that strategy fans won't have seen elsewhere - most notably in the sci-fi Ground Control series, where Swedish developer Massive first attracted praise. The high concept here, that Soviet forces invade the United States in 1989, adds an interesting alternate-history wrinkle to the tanks-and-infantry template but what really makes World in Conflict grab you by the mansacks is the execution. It's immediate. Streamlined. Visceral. It plays like a strategy game, but feels like an action game.
Massive CEO talks online. He can't be that big, surely?
World in Conflict (WiC) isn't like other RTS games, as developer Massive Entertainment has been at great pains to stress throughout its development. Set in an alternate reality where the Cold War went critical, the game purports to be the antithesis of Supreme Commander's mega-complexity. With a plot penned by Clancy cohort Larry Bond, the single-player game pits the player against a Soviet force on American soil, theoretically focusing on layering ease-of-use and bite-size gameplay over deep, fast-paced military strategy and the allure of tactical nukes.
While the full package releases for PC on 21st September (an Xbox 360 version's following at an unspecified date next year), you can now sign up for the open multiplayer beta. Which you should. Because we sat through a 20-minute demo of the tit-for-tat online play in LA last week and from what we saw there's every reason to expect World in Conflict to emerge as one of the PC games of the year. Sporting carpet bombs and an innovative resource-point reclamation system for bringing destroyed units back to the battlefield, Massive's pick-up-and-play ethic potentially belies what could be a sea-change for the genre's tried and tested staples: namely, in that you don't have to invest 400 hours of your life to be able to play it properly.
We took the opportunity to catch up with Massive Entertainment CEO Martin Walfisz for a bit of multiplayer chat. Check out our beta impressions in the article they're already calling World in Conflict Multiplayer Beta impressions.
The thing that most people are going to talk about - so I'll get it over right at the start - is the nuclear bomb going off. Yes, World In Conflict is the real-time strategy that has a mini nuke to set off on the battlefield. It actually only devastates a few hundred metres, rather than the several kilometres that would probably get baked in the real world, but the effect is nevertheless jaw-dropping. Blinding bright light, soaring mushroom cloud, probable victory. Between this, Defcon and the Russian Federal government, it seems like thermonuclear weapons really are back in vogue this year. (And yes, I'm just reading in the news that Cold War is back on. Is this another case of life imitating games? And should I really be joking about nuclear war? I just don't know/care).
Anyway, World In Conflict does much more than make plutonium ordnance entertaining, it delivers alternate-history 1980s conflict, with NATO going into a ground war against the Soviet Union and its allies. In multiplayer this means 8v8 battles for territory, which basically works by taking over various important locations in a sort of Battlefield-meets-Ground Control way. You have a drop zone on one side of the battlefield, into which tanks and troops are (quite spectacularly) parachuted, and then the towns, valleys and hills between you and the enemy team must be fought over in classic unit-to-unit RTS style.
In the mode of Battlefield, and unusually for an RTS, you choose a "class" for the multiplayer matches, either as Infantry, Armour, Support or Air units. The kind of units you select will dictate how you end up playing, and there's the potential for some fairly complex interactions between team-mates as the various elements of an army work together to secure their objectives.
In our time, no foreign army has ever occupied American soil. Until now.
World in Conflict started life two years ago as a multiplayer concept: specifically, it was born from the desire to recreate the accessibility of first person deathmatch games but in a real-time strategy game. The game's developer, Massive Entertainment, wanted to create an RTS title that's as easy to pick up and play as an FPS, and the key to doing that, it reckoned, was to emulate the respawn function that's a hallmark of most arena combat games. And it's this that gives the game its defining characteristic: when your units die, the credits they cost to produce are returned and can be used again to produce further reinforcements. Thus, every player has the same amount of resources and is competing on a totally level playing field.
Vivendi has refused to give a solid release date to next-gen PC RTS World in Conflict today, saying that "internal rejigging" of development schedules means "spring" is as specific as you're going to get right now.