When viewing the evening news - and in particular features on war-torn countries half-way across the globe, you often sit there feeling helpless. After all, one person can't change the course of world events, right? Well, with Joint Task Force, you can certainly lend a hand and take it to the forces of evil (or is that the axis of evil?)!
The premise of this game is that you command a joint task force that, in effect, is the iron hand of the UN. Composed of soldiers from around the world, your existence as a fighting force is dependent on how well you perform. This isn't just determined by the amount of kills or objectives achieved; it is also measured by how well you observe the rules of engagement. Kill too many civilians and you'll find that you either fail the mission or severely limit the amount of funding you receive.
JTF's economic model is based on dollars. As we've just mentioned, performance dictates how much money you are granted. Money is essential, as you need it to buy in reinforcements. These include infantry, supplies, armour, and air strikes. You begin each mission with a small basic force, which you can bolster, depending on funding and what's available to the mission. These reinforcements are delivered by helicopter (supplies, infantry and light armour); or if you have secured a landing strip a Hercules can drop off the big armour and artillery.
The units are taken striaght from the armouries of today's armies. You have access to the most of the premiere units of the US Army, including infantry, rangers, medics, marksmen, engineers etc. Each one packs a variety of weapons including scoped rifles, AT weapons, and grenade launchers. Armour consists of light humvees, Bradley fighting vehicles, M1A1 tanks, paladin mobile artillery, and a repair vehicle. All of these look very detailed and authentic. This authenticity also encompasses the engine and weapon sounds. In addition to the ground troops, you can also call on scout helicopters, attack helicopters, A10 tank killers, observation drones, and of course the cruise missile. Just as well, as you will be fighting against militia and terrorist cells armed with a wide variety of civilian vehicles and Soviet era heavy weapons and armour. Once again all of these are faithful representations of the actual vehicles.
Grouping commands for your troops are pretty much as you would expect in an RTS game, however the stances for the infantry are restricted to standing or lying down. Lying down in areas of undergrowth or cover renders you nearly invisible to the enemy. Movement commands usually affect whole units, however you can move individuals as well. Overall though, the movement system can be a bit clunky at times. If you are moving a group to an area of cover, only those that can fit behind the cover will move, while the rest will stand in full view. Sometimes, if you are not watching your men closely, one will take the longer route or not move at all if there is no clear path for him.
These movement issues become more prevalent when using vehicles. Turning or adjusting the facing of a unit can be annoying (although facing does not seem to affect the damage model for an armoured vehicle). Fortunately, the environment is largely destructible. Village fences and walls are a mere bump in the road for your armour. Careful though; needless casualties and damage can reduce that all-important funding.
The missions can best be described as 'evolving'. You might head out with a simple search and destroy mission, but once on the ground you will be directed to help out a UN convoy, take supplies to another village, capture an airfield etc. As you progress, more chunks of the mission area are opened up. The AI of the opposition is not too taxing; however they hit hard. It's very easy to lose units to enemy fire. You need to take a combined arms approach with infantry in close support of your armour, and combine this with good recon. The enemies' “technicals” or pick-ups can quickly devastate an unsupported group of infantry.
You need to keep you units in good supply. This particularly refers to AT weapons and grenade Launchers. They can quickly run out and leave you with very limited ability to respond to a vehicle attack. You can call in supplies in the form of a weapons crate, however this can be a real pain to set up. After it lands you need to unpack it, and then select each man in turn to pick up the supplies he needs. This level of micro management borders on irritating and does not add much to the game.
The sound effects are good while the music is spot-on for the missions and theatre of operations. It really helps to set the scenes, as does the occasional TV pop-up report. This helps drive the overall campaign storyline, which is extremely well done. Missions will have you fighting in some very familiar hot spots around the world and in some interesting locations. All of this is backed up with a great skirmish mode, where you can challenge the computer (which is no slug). The game also offers a co-operative mode and online multiplayer mode. All of these options offer a wide variety of maps, force combinations and gameplay challenges.
Overall this is a very tight game package that brings today's news onto the PC, where you can take charge and decide the outcome. The difficulty of some missions may prove disconcerting to casual players, and the mediocre tracking of units can be frustrating; nevertheless we can highly recommend Joint Task Force to RTS gamers everywhere.