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Join The Interactive Army

Attempting to woo computer-savvy young people, the U.S. Army will release on July 4 the first installment of an ambitious new computer game that will let players experience military life digitally.

The game, which will be free on many gaming Web sites and, lets a player assume the role of a new recruit on an Army team pitted in an online battle against terrorists.

While it is meant to be fun, the two-game set also was designed as a recruitment tool.

"With this game we hope to educate young Americans and present them with a realistic, engaging view of today's modern Army and its opportunities," said Lt. Col. Casey Wardynski, head of the Office of Economic & Manpower Analysis at West Point and the originator of the game.

The full project, called "America's Army," will be available this fall. The July 4 release is a scaled-down version of the "Operations" half of the game, a tactical combat game that will be familiar to fans of popular titles like "Quake" and "Half-Life."

Players will be able to undergo basic training and fight in 10 multiplayer missions, including one to defend an Alaskan pipeline. More missions will be released until the full release of the game. Officials said they want a slow rollout to make sure their server computers can handle the traffic.

Army game developers visited 19 installations to interview soldiers and take photographs of everything from tanks to the texture of bricks on building walls.

The other half of the game, called "Soldier," involves role playing similar to the popular game "The Sims." Players pick one of about 20 Army careers and learn new skills in order to try to earn the rank of sergeant.

Players will learn military tactics, Army values and more about careers like military police, infantry, and even avionics repair -- but don't expect to learn how to fix an Apache helicopter.

"The perspective here isn't to get into the final level of detail, like wiring up an engine," said Army spokesman Paul Boyce. "It's to give you a feeling of the procedures of the Army."

The game was developed over two years for about $6.3 million, Boyce said, similar to the cost of other professional games. It will be available for download as well as on CDs packaged with popular game magazines and in Army recruitment centers.

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