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Left Behind: Tribulation Forces

Score: 60%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Left Behind Games
Developer: Left Behind Games
Media: CD/2
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Left Behind: Tribulation Forces feels like more of an expansion pack than a sequel. New units and forces are introduced, along with a series of minor gameplay tweaks and changes. However, the core gameplay and look remain relatively unchanged.

Tribulation Forces sports a few improvements over the original, though these aren't enough to offset the game's otherwise lackluster visuals. Even running with everything turned on and maxed out, Tribulation Forces never looks great, just okay. Characters are small and poorly drawn, so it can sometimes be hard to figure out who is who. Buildings are flat and, with the exception of the numerous, building-tall ads for the Armed Forces and Gamestop/ EB Games (apparently games will be around long after the rapture), are a blurry mess of textures. This is especially problematic during gameplay. Other than taking on a green overlay, buildings don't change much once you've acquired them. If buildings are close together (and most are - this is New York after all) it can be hard to tell where certain buildings are. On the plus side, this never becomes that big of an issue due to the slow pace of each mission.

The game's soundtrack, which you can listen to using a cool in-game music player, is probably the best thing going for Tribulation Forces on the audio side. There's a decent amount of voicework in each mission, ranging from the pre-mission setup to numerous shouts of your units. The voicework is solid enough, but unintentionally goofy in some areas. For example, one of your hero units, Steve, sounds like someone from Jersey trying to do an impression of John Travolta doing an impression of Harry Caray.


Left Behind: Tribulation Forces is a follow-up to last year's Left Behind: Eternal Forces, a game that gained more attention because of its content than its gameplay. Based on the series of books of the same name (and notoriety), the game takes place during the seven years bridging the Rapture and Armageddon. The premise is neat, if not solid, though the focus is more on spiritual combat, placing evangelical Christians against the forces of the Antichrist.

Tribulation Forces picks up with Buck and the newly founded Tribulation Force, which is sort of a ragtag rebel group of Christians, going up against the Global Community Peacekeepers, which are led by the Antichrist. If you're not up on the Eternal Forces plot, it is included and worth taking a look at if only for the cool opening movie.

Much has been said about the game's storyline, which has been the center of most of the controversy surrounding the game. Unless there's something here that I'm not seeing, I don't see what the big deal is. Sure, there's a lot of Biblical talk and heavy Christian themes, but the overall story seems to go out of its way to not offend people. I've played at least three games in the last month with some story tie to religion and, compared to those three, Tribulation Forces feels toothless. With the exception of units yelling out phrases like, "In His Name" to acknowledge orders and Bible scrolls as power-ups, the actual evangelism is mostly confined to an optional link found at the end of each mission. If anything, delegating unit roles to certain sexes (there are a few jobs only males can take) is more offensive than anything else the game throws your way.

From a pure gameplay standpoint, Tribulation Forces isn't that great of an RTS. The core gameplay is solid and should make for a fun game. Despite popular belief, the idea behind the game isn't to kill all non-believers. Yes, there's some combat involved, but the main idea is to convert people to your side. Everyone has a spiritual rating that needs to stay above 60; otherwise they become neutral or join the GCP forces. Once on your side, followers can take on various roles provided you have the right buildings. For example, you'll need to build a chapel to train musicians or a barracks to train soldiers. Problems begin to pile on once you begin to acquire buildings. Even with the Sims-styled "Turbo" button, which speeds up gameplay, it takes a long time before things start happening. The need for a "Turbo" button at all was enough for me to question the design. Why not just up the pacing for the entire game?

One of the bigger contributors to the slow pace is unit training. It doesn't take long to train units, but each building has a limit to the number of units it can train, so if you have to roll out a large number of units (something you almost always need to do), it can take a while. Worse yet, advanced units require that you ferry units between multiple structures.

Outside the main campaign, Tribulation Forces also includes a Skirmish Mode which supports games for two, four or eight players. Each player can play as one of the game's three factions and battle it out over appropriately-sized maps. A number of parameters can be set for each game, including enabling Hero units and setting time or point limits. Certain maps even include the option to start with a small starting army.


Left Behind: Tribulation Forces is hard mostly because it feels like you're spending more time fighting the game mechanics than you are the Antichrist. Although you can access your list of mission goals at any time, they are poorly worded and generally tedious. There's a bit of guesswork involved with some objectives. For example, the first mission asks you to train "a lot" of musicians rather than giving you a clear number.

Eternal Forces, but the overall mission design is generally pretty bland. Maps are still mostly giant city grids that all look alike, so it is easy to get lost - especially when buildings get in the way.

Selecting and commanding a unit goes against nearly every other RTS trend in the last few years. The pointer remains the same regardless of the selected command. This leads to both command miscues and confusing gameplay, especially when it comes to converting followers. Rather than just pressing a hotkey and clicking on a target, you instead need to click a combination of the two until your recruiter decides the neutral person is worth his time. You can fix this by setting the recruiter to "Auto," though doing so becomes a bit of a babysitting job since the recruiter will sometimes get lost.

Game Mechanics:

Many of Left Behind: Tribulation Forces' problems can be overlooked. For instance, if the game is running too slow, playing with the Turbo button speeds things up enough while keeping the game playable. What can't be overlooked, however, is the terrible interface, which heaps on loads of unneeded frustration.

If you've played an RTS recently, you've probably noticed that most trend towards refined interfaces that don't eat up too much of the screen. Tribulation Forces bucks this trend with an unnecessarily bulky interface. All total, the interface takes up at least 1/3 of the screen, magnifying the already claustrophobic feel. Even worse, most of the information it presents you with could easily be embedded into other tabs or left out completely.

On the technical side of things, Tribulation Forces isn't completely stable. I had to do two installs before the game would "take" to my machine and another once I downloaded the most recent update. Once I got the game running, I had to slowly increase each display meter, often times changing one thing then having to restart the game. I'm willing to give Vista credit for some problems, but when you consider the number of high-end games my machine is able to run without problems, I can't say it is entirely Vista's fault.

It is hard to recommend Left Behind: Tribulation Forces to anyone other than fans of Eternal Forces. The concept and gameplay concepts are interesting, though the RTS aspects never come together, resulting in a weaker game.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:

Windows XP SP2 or Higher; Pentium IV 2.0 GHz or Higher; 8x CD/DVD-ROM Drive; 512 MB RAM; 4 GB HDD space; 32MB Direct X9.0c compatible GeForce 4 or ATI Radeon 8500 video card; Direct X9.0c compatible sound card; TCP/IP LAN, 56 kbps modem for 2 player, cable/DSL modem for 3 - 8 player games; keyboard and mouse

Test System:

Windows Vista; 1.6 GHz Dual-Core processor; 2 Gig RAM; DVD drive; 120 GB HDD; GeForce Go7600

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