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Joint Task Force (Sierra for PC)

By Michael Palisano

Sierra's latest release is an excellent real time strategy title called Joint Task Force, which differentiates itself from other titles on the market thanks to its incredible sense of realism. The game puts you in command of several different operations with different components that include artillery, ground forces and air strikes. Each vehicle is licensed from the actual manufacturers and performs as it should with both primary and secondary fire functions. JTF lets players control their forces to an unprecedented degree with individual soldiers and objects. Join us as we drop in and see what the game offers.

Set in the near future when the world's conflicts are escalating, Sierra's JTF: Joint Task Force includes more than 20 unique scenarios and missions set in a variety of realistic locales such as Bosnia, Iraq and Korea. Each level has tons of real world variables such as embedded media, insurgents and refugees which adds to the unpredictability of each mission's outscome. Adding to the realism is the officially licensed hardware that includes Apache helicopters, Abrams Tanks, and Black Hawks. Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Northrop-Grumman and, Sikorsky have all added their expertise to the game as well, giving it plenty of authentic hardware. Players must destroy all the enemy forces and defeat any rival forces in their path. The missions offer you plenty of ways to do this, and you can commandeer a variety of objects to do this. Players can call in reinforcements; change the camera perspective and much more on the fly. You are given complete command of all your units and can select which units to use, down to the actions of a single man. During the game, you can promote them through the ranks, give them new positions and abilities, which is really impressive. This approach is especially important, since the soldiers gain experience as you play through the game, making them more effective the longer you play. Each vehicle in the game is also manned by a number of soldiers, which allows you to use one two drive and the others to use their weapons. During each battle, you can decide the tactics you'll use and can call on a variety of different soldiers and forces, with air, ground and sea modes of attack. They attack together and usually don't get in each other's way thanks to JTF's advanced AI routines, which give the forces a remarkable degree of intelligence and independence.

You can also have the game's AI do some of the work for you. For example, if your soldiers come under fire, they'll automatically duck behind a car or building to take cover. The game's missions are somewhat open ended and you can use this to your advantage by implementing a variety of tactics. You don't always need to go straight through and can make other paths by either exploring or destroying objects in your path. JTF's environments are fuilly interactive which allows you to destroy any object on the screen and use these as well. You can take over enemy tanks and guns and use them against them, or you can call in air strike to eliminate any threats you might see on the horizon. Each map in the game takes you through different environments with snow, water, sand and dust at your disposal. This approach gives the player plenty of options throughout the game, with a simple, easy to understand interface used which allows you to focus on the mission, not the commands. Using the mouse allows you to spin the viewpoint around 360 degrees, which gives you a different perspective on the action. Using your helicopters allows you to deploy soldiers on the ground and clear out any rival forces. Additional forces and items can also be used to increase your chances during the missions. JTF includes a number of different items, such as health and med packs which you can use if your soldiers take some damage and get hurt. The game is relatively straightforward in single-player mode, but there are a number of multiplayer maps and modes you can play as well which allow you to extend the gameplay.

Joint Task Force's multiplayer online modes are mostly free and consist of three different factions: JTF, Dictator and terrorist forces. There are several different modes including standard games where you have to wipe out both opposing forces, plus Death Match, Domination, Battle Royale modes. You can also set your own rules using the customization menus, which makes for a robust, deep set of online modes. This definitely makes for some competitive, addictive gaming and since there's little lag, this is quite intense. Joint Task Force is an excellent RTS game that succeeds in a number of ways. The game's destructible and realistic environments, authentic physics and impressive weather effects add to the realism while the game structure itself is simple and straightforward, making it easy to play. An accessible interface, intelligent scenarios and superb presentation make Joint Task Force on of the better PC games of the year, making for a highly-polished, finely-tuned title that should appeal to military sim fans everywhere.

Grade: B

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