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.