Review: Korea: Forgotten Conflict

By Will Trotter 24 Jan 2004 0

Introduction: The Reviewer Freely Admits His Bias

Let me be frank at the outset of this review.

I hated this game.

Now, "hate" is a mighty strong word to use on something as impersonal and innocuous as a computer game, and I cannot remember using it before in any of the other approximately 650 published reviews I've written since I got into this field in 1987.

But in this case, nothing less would describe my feelings. I'm sure the Czech developers meant no harm; in fact, they seem like nice guys. It is not my intention to inflict gratuitous pain upon them.

I'm generally not a hard-nosed critic. I've been on the receiving end of some pretty vicious book reviews, and I know that bad reviews can hurt. Even if I find major flaws, or evidence of gross stupidity, in a game design, I try to phrase my negative comments in a reasonable, civilized, tone. My primary job is to provide informed opinion that will help consumers decide which games are worth buying and which ones they would be well-advised to ignore. If I can do this with wit and verve, so much the better; reviewers who go out of their way to score cheap shots by larding their prose with epithets, trendy pop-culture slang, and ad hominem insults are taken seriously only by exactly the kind of immature audience they're pandering to.

Moreover, I am always willing to concede that, just because a certain game was not my cup of tea, it might well satisfy gamers who have different tastes, backgrounds, and priorities. Pure "objectivity" on the part of a critic is a fantasy, and when personal prejudices play a significant part in my treatment of a title, I generally try to let the reader know as much up-front, so he can factor that into his reaction to my opinions. And I've spent enough time hanging out with programmers to know how much brutally hard work goes into finishing even a bad product; very often, the development team knows when a project is flawed, or when some concept that sounded great when they discussed it turns out to be dog food when it's actually implemented; but they may be quite powerless to do much about these issues because they so often labor under constraints and marketing pressures over which they have no control.

But Korea: Forgotten Conflict is unique. I can't think of any other game that has rubbed me the wrong way so quickly, induced in me such a sustained mood of foul distemper, or managed to antagonize me in so many ways, before I had even finished the first tutorial.

I'm not just talking about that common, temporary, barrier of frustration we all experience when the learning curve seems steeper than we're in the mood to tackle with; more often than not, once we do become comfortable enough with the interface to relax and just play the game on its own terms, the struggle we went through to gain admission might be seen, in retrospect, as having been a function of an overall design that's "different", or complex for very good reasons: its creators were really striving to achieve something fresh and imaginative. Even if I decide, ultimately, that those goals were imperfectly realized and did not provide me with the intensely pleasurable gaming experience the designers hoped they had created, I try to shade the wording of my critique to show a modicum of respect for good intentions, touches of originality, and depth of game-play. Laudable qualities, all, and God knows they are rare enough at this stage in the evolution of electronic entertainment.

So I tried, Vicar, God knows I tried. I gave Korea: Forgotten Conflict every chance possible (forcing myself to spend many more hours hacking through its scenarios than were really necessary to write an informed review). I wanted to find something (other than the graphics, which I'll get to in a minute) that would enable to me to write: "I did not personally care for this title, but if you're a gamer who looks for (fill in the blanks), you might have a very different reaction."

Not this time, folks. I never found that redeeming scenario, incident, or narrative twist. The more I played this off-putting farrago, the more I loathed it, and the deeper became my resentment at being forced (well, let's say "obligated, because Shaun didn't hold a gun to my head and threaten me if I didn't keep playing) to put in the requisite hours needed to explore the whole game.

This goes beyond subjective issues of "taste" and "preferences". Honest to God, I cannot imagine ANYBODY voluntarily slogging through all ten scenarios except, perhaps, a masochist who has unlimited free time and actually enjoys having to start scenarios over from the beginning 40 or 50 times. Okay, I did what I'm paid to do; I put in the hours; I took notes; I only used the cheat codes when I needed to get to a good screen shot without wasting time, but every time I fired up this game, I did so with gritted teeth, clenched muscles, and a knotted stomach.

The bottom line: I cannot cite a single reason why anybody should spent money for this game.

If that's the main point readers look for in reviews, I've made it early, to save everyone some time, and they have my full permission to stop reading now.

But I hope readers don't.

After all, it can be very instructive to analyze a title that is a virtual textbook paradigm of bad game design. To better appreciate the good (or in this case, even the mediocre!), it is useful to have a benchmark specimen that defines the truly awful. Korea: Forgotten Conflict is such a uniquely failed and repellant piece of work that - like a two-headed calf or the rotting carcass of a giant squid - we might learn something by putting it on a laboratory slab under the bright surgical lights and studying its anatomy, in the cause of dispassionate intellectual inquiry.

Very well, then, if you'll all don your latex gloves and sterilized masks, let the dissection begin!

Editor's Note: Unfortunately, due to an archive error, this article is complete. Apologies for the inconvenience. 

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