Joint Task Force Review (PC)

Welcome to the Joint Task Force, where you will struggle to keep on the good side of world opinion and complete your missions with finite resources, well thought-out strategies, and any hardware you can requisition from the streets or your enemies.

Time for a joy-ride. In JTF style. Kill them. Kill them all. Yes. All of them!

Joint Task Force sets itself aside from the rest of the RTS genre, well most of it anyway, by eliminating resource management which is the traditional limiting factor in RTS games, preventing you from growing too strong too quickly and making the game a challenge. Rather than limiting your forces with a need to gather some arbitrary resources from sites around the map, Joint Task Force rewards you for completing objectives, taking out enemies, and avoiding the unnecessary death of civilians.

Although your resources in Joint Task Force are often quite limited you can utilize many aspects to your advantage. Not only is every civilian vehicle on the map drivable to either provide cover for, or transport your soldiers but you can take cover behind many objects and inside almost every building. If that wasn't enough it is also possible to commandeer enemy vehicles and mounted weapons to further your cause. For example I was having a little trouble with enemy soldiers hiding in a nearby building, but I had just happened to commandeer some enemy artillery, a little quick and merciless thinking and the enemies cover was reduced to a pile of rubble. As for drivable civilian vehicles; if you find your units under fire with no cover, you can jump into one and make a break for safer ground. JTF also offers "direct control" which means you can select a particular vehicle and drive it around with the arrow keys GTA-style; this is a great way to use your superior driving skills to get out of a sticky situation as all the vehicles in JTF have reasonably realistic turning circles making the AI often a little inept at maneuvering them. Suffice to say, it's awful at parallel parking! Also, if you're feeling particularly sadistic, you can use direct control to run over exposed enemy troops with the nearest vehicle at hand.

Troops are the single most important asset in JTF, most vehicles have a crew which can leave and enter the vehicle at your command letting you reassign vehicle crews between your vehicles, civilian vehicles, and commandeered enemy vehicles. There are plenty of armored transport options available for your troops, but the troops are still immensely important for engaging the enemy. In this way JTF very closely mirrors a more strategic style of game-play than your average RTS, and also has a distinct FPS feel to it. You will find yourself having to deliver troops to key locations in APCs, and then order them into nearby cover to begin the process of taking ground from the enemy with tank and artillery support if you can muster it. Troops are, in fact, so important in JTF that they are all individually upgradable and can even switch weapons with ones picked up on the battlefield from defeated enemies.

There's nothing like a juicy explosion to remind you where the war's at I have a hunch we're about to see a dramatic rise in car insurance claims

Second to troops and the vast array of military hardware at your disposal JTF also has the typical support options, which are somewhat like Command & Conquers nuclear strikes, air support drops and so on. In one particular example I had fought my way to the enemy commanders front door only to be confronted by a tank that I frankly could not be bothered wasting the time to engage, JTF let me simply stand back and order the enemy one delicious cruise missile served hot and fiery. These also proved useful for leveling buildings that could potentially provide cover for enemy troops and, well, blowing stuff up is fun!

Now I've touched briefly upon the strategy I have used in JTF from time to time thus far, but have not really taken the time to emphasize how important it is. Even if you manage to muster a significant force of troops and tanks it simply takes a few well covered enemy troops to send you running home with your tail firmly between your legs. Trying to sneak unarmed transports of civilians through hostile territory to safety is also a decidedly bad idea, as is trying to rush through any aspect of JTFs missions. Taking things slowly, taking advantage of the available cover, and ensuring you have the right units available for any given situation is of utmost importance in making it safely through a mission, and remembering that your units are incredibly expensive and most definitely not disposable is essential. Unlike Command & Conquer or Starcraft it's not an amass-as-many-units-as-you-can-and-storm-the-enemies-base RTS, but places a good amount of emphasis on the strategy and in many ways comes close to being a military simulation.

JTF boasts some varied and incredibly detailed levels with everything from city streets to open terrain. They are all carefully crafted and remind me of those from Act of War. They re-create in a more FPS-like level of detail the sorts of environments you would actually expect to be fighting in and fighting for, making JTF a sort of top-down Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.

Missions are interspersed with cut scenes which play out the story behind your actions in JTF, a completed objective may trigger a cut scene, and the occasional news report will play out in the corner of the screen keeping you up to date. The missions also have cinematic openings which set the scene and show off just what the JTF engine can do. Like Company of Heros, JTF is another great example of just how far RTS games are coming and reinstate my hope that one day the RTS/FPS genre blend will be nailed with perfection as many of the current strategy FPS titles are far too FPS focussed. If only JTF allowed true first person control of a single unit!

Bring on the big boys' toys Time to stop and admire the local architecture

Top game moment: Realizing that a risky engagement with a tank could be avoided with a delicious cruise missile.

Overall JTF is a very interesting, complex and strategic RTS that bridges the strategy gap between all out action RTS games and turn based strategy fests. The ability to drive everything and anything combined with the detailed levels and highly flexible units makes it a very realistic experience for an RTS and it's not far off being the modern-warfare version of Company of Heros.