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Kuma\War; Eudora 6.1; Fire 1.0

Sunday, May 23, 2004; Page F08


Kuma Reality Games

True-to-history war games -- whether they're set in the '40s, like Activision's Call of Duty, or the '60s, like Electronic Arts' Battlefield: Vietnam -- have conquered a sizable chunk of the video-game market. Kuma\War, a new online-only, broadband-required game, takes things a step further by allowing its subscribers to relive actual missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and other trouble spots, often only weeks or months after they have occurred.

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The service offers a free seven-day trial and then costs $10 a month, with two new missions released each month. The current selection includes "Uday and Qusay Hussein's Last Stand in Mosul," "Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan," "Samarra Bank Heist" and "Fallujah Police Station Raid." (The latest mission, however, re-creates the 1980 attempt to rescue the 53 American hostages in Iran.)

New York-based Kuma touts the way its creation weaves real war footage, newspaper clippings and other current-events material into each pre-mission briefing. But the company doesn't seem to have put nearly as much effort into creating the game's environments and animating its action: Poor graphics, dimwitted artificial intelligence and such basic game-play failures as the inability to peek around corners in firefights combine to make Kuma\War frustrating and unrealistic. In a single-player mode, you lead a squad of four soldiers through hostile terrain, only to find that this hapless crew can't even file out of an alley or aim properly under the computer's direction. The only way to complete a mission is to manage all your troops directly, switching control from one to the next as needed.

Kuma\War's multi-player mode takes the horrible AI out of the picture but doesn't fix any of its other flaws. When games such as THQ's Full Spectrum Warrior and Ubisoft's Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon franchises offer edge-of-your-seat action and graphics just this side of CNN, there's no excuse for this kind of a shoddy job. Those other games also don't suffer from Kuma\War's inherent creepiness; seeing this developer try to cash in the latest developments in Iraq with a new mission leaves me queasy. -- John Gaudiosi

Win 2000 or newer, $9.99/month at www.kumawar.com



Two cheers to Qualcomm for sticking with Eudora: This wireless-technology firm has few strategic reasons to keep developing this e-mail client, but it has just released a new upgrade anyway.

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