The intrepid web surfers among you probably heard about Syrian Warfare long before my interview with the devs or its mention in our Wargamer’s Guide and boy oh boy do I know how to pick them. I honestly think the kerfuffle around Syrian Warfare might be of more interesting than the actual game itself. Between the claims of exploiting the fresh wounds of a still ongoing conflict and the recent DMCA that took it down for several weeks Syrian Warfare has managed to make itself noticed at the very least.
Placing politics aside for the moment though, this is a RTT (Real Time Tactics) game in which players fight alongside Syrian government forces against groups like ISIS, Al-Nusra, and other western backed militias. I’ve heard many people make comparisons between Syrian Warfare and 1Cs popular Men of War series, but to be honest more often than not I got flashbacks to the 2007 RTT game World in Conflict (albeit this isn’t as polished).
Instead of controlling individual soldiers (like in Men of War) you control squads who move in groups and can’t be split up. Being RTT Syrian Warfare has no resource gathering or base building. You choose your forces at the start of each mission and must make do, though you do often get reinforcements. Units carry over from mission to mission and gain experience with each enemy they kill. Players earn points after every mission which they can use on purchasing more units for further missions.
Infantry and Tanks are Syrian Warfare’s bread and butter, the former being one of its weakest points and the latter arguably one of its strongest. The game doesn’t seem to have any kind of decent cover system for infantry units, so it doesn’t particularly matter if your men are crawling through waist high grass or sprinting across an open street. Infantry can occupy buildings, which grant them a cover bonus but that seems to be about it. Infantry unit AI can also be rather odd, for instance all of my RPG teams think that when I order them to shoot a tank they have to run up next to the damned thing and have a leisurely chat with the crew before doing their job.
Vehicles are a different kettle of fish. Each car, truck, tank etc. is modeled with differing damage models. Guns can be disabled or engines destroyed and depending on their type these systems can be repaired by crewmen. Before long however vehicles will reach a point where they’ve taken too much damage and must be abandoned. One good thing about the system however is that the crewmen are the ones who gain experience, not the vehicles themselves: If your super-veteran T-62 gets disabled all you have to do is keep the crew alive until they find a new tank to operate and all that experience is kept. Like infantry however vehicle AI could us some work. Wheeled vehicles often decide to conduct nine point turns instead of just reverse out of areas and tanks often have trouble with heavily urban environments which is rather frustrating since half the game is made up of those.
Syrian Warfare’s story is of course the main sticking point for most due its setting and the portrayal of said setting. The story is about what I’ve come to expect from the RTS genre in terms of writing and execution. Characters mainly exist to push the story forward and are largely devoid of any depth and were they to be simply wiped from the game all together the experience would remain largely the same. The voice acting is solid even if there are some lines such as “What kind of Arab would I be if I didn’t have an RPG buried in my backyard?” – This is probably meant to humorous, but seriously guys, not cool.
I played Syrian Warfare on the highest graphical settings throughout my testing and it is nice to look at if a little bland when it comes to colour palette. I’ve never been to Syria so I don’t know what the local fauna looks like but in the game even when you come across areas with a lot of vegetation they still look washed out and dull. Animations can also be a little floaty at times. I had the rather surreal experience of chuckling at a group of Al-Nusra affiliated fighters as they awkwardly bounded towards a building I’d taken possession of. Vehicles look pretty good on the other hand; everything from T-70s, to Toyota pickups or the occasional Su-25 looks like it has had a lot of effort put into creating the model. Explosions are big (probably a little too big for some vehicles) and a definitely fun to watch.
Syrian Warfare feels a lot like an RTS from the late 2000s and I’m not trying to be mean when I say that. For the price and the fact that it’s a low budget title Syrian Warfare accomplishes a fair amount. But it also manages to commit several sins that games of that era were known for. The camera neither zooms in close enough nor does it zoom out far enough for starters. Units will also always try to engage enemies in front of them regardless if a friendly unit is blocking their view. In one early mission I went to refuel and as I reached the spot it fired at some enemies in a house causing a massive explosion that took out it, the fuel truck and a squad of my soldiers nearby.
At and the end of the day Syrian Warfare falls into the same category as Postal 2, Hatred and other controversial titles. After the invisible battles lines in forums and across the web have melted away and the dust has settled people will look back and simply see an alright tactical wargame. There’s every chance it could improve as well, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. There is a fairly obvious pro-Russian/anti-west agenda it’s trying to push but then at the end of the day I played dozens of games back in the 2000s where I starred as Marine-Sergeant James Liberty traipsing around Not-Iraqistan dispensing justice and democracy to the Taliban an unnamed Muslim extremist group. What goes around, comes around.