It was, of course, only a matter of time before the first strategy game based on the new terrorist threat rumbled onto the shelves, and to show how contemporary Monte Cristo wants it to feel, the developers have set the action in the immediate future.
The theory is that various terrorist groups have now amalgamated into one united enemy and, after one spectacular failure, the forces of 'good' are now trying to mobilise themselves into an effective opposition. You have the choice of joining one of three armies - World Forces (broadly speaking, America and its allies), The Order (i.e. the terrorists) or China - and you then fight through 26 missions.
To get you up to speed you have to work your way through the tutorial before you're allowed a crack at the single-player campaign, although you can head straight for the Skirmish or Multiplayer modes if you don't want to waste time. But the tutorial highlights several of the in-built flaws in the game, not least of which is the necessity of completing it before you can start campaigning.
Initially you have to rescue some hostages on Alcatraz and the first thing you'll notice is that there's no resource gathering and no base building. Instead you have a set squad which can later be reinforced once a drop zone has been captured. What sort of equipment, transport and firepower you can acquire depends on how many experience points you gain from completing missions or destroying units.
Several units have specialist skills, ranging from attack, defence and detection to stealth, repair and heal, so it's handy to have a medic in your troop and the occasional mine layer. There is a sincere attempt to balance up the forces, but too often you follow a predetermined path and the enemy jumps out and starts blasting away, whether or not yours is the superior force.
The pathfinding is so wayward that instead of allowing you to choose the shortest distance between two points, you have to follow the convoluted long way round, killing every foe on the way and moving at a frustratingly slow pace. Woe betide you if any adversaries are left alive; again, you won't be allowed to finish the level. In addition, vehicles and units have a habit of stalling or stopping completely even when the road is broad and there are no obstacles.
One area where the game does score highly, though, is on the graphics, where a tremendous amount of detail is revealed on soldiers, tanks and buildings when you zoom in. On the other hand, the camera work is highly sensitive and a rock-steady hand is needed on the mouse to stop you panning or tilting uncontrollably off the action. The drop-down and pop-up menus also obscure large chunks of the screen, even if the locations are often beautifully rendered.
Monte Cristo - War on Terror features - Verdict
What could have been a fascinating new angle on real-time strategy wargaming is a lacklustre affair bedevilled by technical glitches, unstable camera angles and lack of imagination. The graphics are very impressive but that probably won't be enough to drag you to the shops.