Syrian Warfare : When is Too Soon?

Dan Carlin opens up one of his best Hardcore History Podcasts talking about the hatemail he gets whenever he covers a modern story. When he covers Nazi Germany there’s still people who can look down at the numbered tattoos on their arms and remember. It’s tough to speak when the memories are fresh, even 70 years later. You don’t get that from some ancient war. The cultures are too far gone.

So when I saw the game Syrian Warfare I kind of cringed a little bit. If 70 years isn’t long enough, how about something that’s still going on? What does it say about the conflict that there’s been enough time to come up with the idea, Steam Greenlight it, code it, and release it. And this war still continues.

This is a game I had to check out.

Edit : This has been getting lots of traffic and comments. Here’s my TL;DR version : If we took this out of the Syrian theater and instead stuck it in, I don’t know, Korea 1952, or Berlin 1945, it’d be a forgettable game. It fills a spot beyond what an average RTS player might want and not what a more hardcore strategy gamer likes. It’s not a bad game, it’s just not terribly good. Mechanically the game is lacking from what I desire in a strategy game and the context isn’t done in a tactful manner. Even if it was I’m not sure I’d have any interest in it. It’s just not my thing. But it still makes you think, and for that I have to give it some credit.

Syrian Warfare : Choices

“What kind of Arab would i be if i didn’t have a RPG buried in my yard”…

This game can go three ways.

  1. The Ultra-simulation route : Think CMANO except on a Syrian map. Or CM:BS. They did this with the Command Live scenario Old Grudges Never Die. It’s clinical. There’s not much ambiguity on mission even if there is ambiguity about the outcome. At the end you feel rather detached. The focus is more on the powder keg of relations than anything else. Or on the simulation and technology used.
  2. The cheesy route : Think Red Alert with jingoistic Syrian, Russians and ISIS forces. This would be an ultra cartoonish version of any already horrible situation. It would be beyond tacky.
  3. The Story Route : Think the opener of Company of Heroes. The game is a vessel for a story to help you, the player, become immersed in the narrative.

The game itself is definitely an RTS. This is not a Graviteam style game or a Battlefront game. It’s not Combat Mission. It’s a step above a generic RTS as it does have ammo types, some rudimentary supply, and terrain. But that’s about where the good stuff ends.

If we took this out of the Syrian theater and instead stuck it in, I don’t know, Korea 1952, or Berlin 1945, it’d be a forgettable game. It fills a spot beyond what an average RTS player might want and not what a more hardcore strategy gamer likes.

We really have to look at it outside of the context of the Syrian conflict. We’ll get to that in a minute. It’s short range. Generic LOS. With a very basic vehicle system. The trucks and armored vehicles have a few destructible points but it doesn’t model hits like Graviteam or Battlefront does. In the few missions I played supply was more of a hindrance than an interesting tactical choice. All I had to do was cycle my guys into the supply truck, count to 5, and bring them out.

The acting is a bit on the cheesy side. The accents range from distinctive Syrian all the way to kitschy British theater actor.

The first mission opens up with you, the protagonist, returning from a months vacation in Lebanon. Two minutes later Al Nusra shoots your boss, the police chief, and you run back to town and fight off the incoming hostiles. Eventually you get some reinforcements and it all feels pretty basic.

Then the bus arrives to take out the survivors. Then the suicide bombers arrive.

Yah. The suicide bombers.

It was at this moment that things started to get uncomfortable for me. I have no issue playing a historical conflict. I draw the line at the 1991 Iraq War. Anything after that is treading into a place where people I know might have served. Current wars are problems to be solved, negotiated, ended. Not to have games made out of them.

If it had the feel like This War of Mine I might be able to forgive the game. But it’s not. It walks an uneasy line between #2 and #3 above. The quote above about the Arab with an RPG buried in his yard immediately caught me off guard. I stuck with the scenario, finished it out, but couldn’t find much more to keep me drawn to the game. The moment the suicide bombers came in was the moment that sealed it for me.

It’s too soon. I can’t in good conscience play a game where the events could be happening at this very moment. Regardless of your politics no one wants to see a war continue and tear a country, or entire region apart. This is a conflict that has to end one way or the other. I’m not going to stick with a game about it and wonder which faction I’ll get to play next.

I’m not going to say don’t play it. That’s your choice. But I draw the line at a certain place and I won’t be playing it anymore. If the game wasn’t set in Syria I wouldn’t be playing it. If it was a great game in Syria then I wouldn’t be playing it either.

If it was a fictional conflict in some fictional country would it make it easier to play? Oddly enough, yes. The context is now different. Look at ARMA where the conflict is set on some fictional Mediterranean island. It’s now no longer something from CNN or Fox but instead a videogame conflict.

This brings up an interesting question about how modern conflicts are handled. In Combat Mission Black Sea there are no civilians. In War in the East we don’t see the refugees fleeing the front. In Graviteam our units don’t stumble upon civilians seeking shelter from the conflict. How do you handle this in a game? Is it right to simply ignore it? One could argue that we, as strategy gamers, are more interested in the strategic and tactical problems. There’s a part of us that’s interested in war, even fascinated by it, but still revolted by the carnage and destruction.

If I have little regard for my pixel troopers in a game how much regard would I have for pixel civilians? Would making it a victory condition for one side to protect the civilians mean the other player has to kill civilians in order to win?

Does it make this game any better or worse because it includes uncomfortable things? No, I don’t think so. Mechanically the game is lacking from what I desire in a strategy game and the context isn’t done in a tactful manner. Even if it was I’m not sure I’d have any interest in it. It’s just not my thing. But it still makes you think, and for that I have to give it some credit.

 

 

 

 

 

Gamer, Author, Engineer, Dad.

8 Comments

  1. Marco

    I understand the difficult to play a modern war. I play in a latin american comunity of ARMA and since 2012, when it was founded, we have simulated all these conflicts, from WW2 to Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and even Mali, from both sides. Some missions have come from things that happen one or two weeks before. For some there is no difference from kill a bot with syrian, american or vietnamise uniform, but for most of us, it have something odd when the conflict come close to our times or our region.

    I straight don’t like missions that are positioned in Colombia, where I’m from, since I know the weight that come from every death even if it’s just a virtual one, because you can relate it with someone you know or something that you hear about it.

    Also the point of view of the designer team is quit difficult, when we made our missions we try to put some weight on every side, trying to put the talibans not as the all bloodthirsty medieval-minded terrorist or the americans as torturers from Abu Ghraib (I know that was in Iraq, but serves the purpose here to make the hyperbole of the characters), from our perspective on the relative outside. This game is from a russian developer so I have some doubts about the light that they are going to put on the midly-moderate rebels or the kurds.

    PS: Nice intro from Dan Carlin, that podcast is the blast.

    • Casey

      Thanks Marco!

      I tried to leave the nationality of the designer out of the review but yes, it was on my mind as an issue. Normally I like games developed outside of the NA/EU as they look at different conflicts and in a very unique way. Graviteam covering Angola is a good example. But ultimately this just isn’t a good game, or at least not the type of RTS that I enjoy.

      I really should get more involved with ARMA but I’m so incredibly bad at it…

  2. Leo

    No one cared when some other companies published games about wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan…. why is this any different?

    • Casey

      It’s unfortunate Leo, but I’d feel the same way if the game was made during the Siege of Sarajevo in 1994 or Kosovo 1999. It’s one thing to look back through the lens of history, it’s another thing entirely to have a game like this while everything is happening. Bohemia Interactive played around the issue with Arma 3 occurring on a militarized island called Stratis. No civilians, no ambiguity, just OPFOR-BLUFOR.

  3. Michael

    I remember pro-american games released during the afghanistan and iraq wars with provoking names such as “terrorist takedown” and there were mainstream titles also like command & conquer: generals. I guess it wasn’t “too soon” back then because they catered to the western taste.

    • Casey

      Bad taste is bad taste. I’m just as likely to play an FPS called “Terrorist Takedown” as I am one about the Insane Clown Posse. It’s just not going to happen.

  4. Taras

    Crap review filled with personal feelings rather than genuinely objective criticism. It was fine when C&C Generals came out where GLA has a unit literally made out of citizens (Angry Mob) which you can burn, kill, etc… Ohhh but the USA is the good guy there so nobody give a shit.

    Stop reviewing games if you are going to insert your political correctness views in genuinely good game reviews.

    • Casey

      I stand by my original comments. Take it out of this theater and put it somewhere else and it’s still a not-good game. It’s just not a game I’m going to play as it feels too arcadey. The setting just sealed the deal for me.

      Don’t paint me as going along with every game ever made just because I don’t have a review on it. If something is a jingoistic piece of shit, that’s in my niche, I’ll damn well tell you.

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