Simplicity is the name of the game, well sort of. The ideology of the game is incredibly simple to get your head around: the game is just like any top down strategy game, only you don’t get to see how your opponent is moving. You both plan your moves at the same time, using the preview feature to try to anticipate your opponent’s moves. Often, when you hit the prime button, things don’t go exactly to plan, leaving you in a sticky situation to try and work out.
It truly is simple to understand yet hard to master. While there is a tutorial, it’s long and only teaches you the basics; throwing you in at the deep end; expecting you to fend for yourself. Trial and error is a large part of first getting into the game, as is losing. While it is a steep learning curve, it is a rewarding one. You should enter the first few games expecting to lose; you might just be surprised. Winning your first match, weather it is against the AI or a fellow human in the multiplayer mode does require you to fist pump and do a small joyous yelp after.
Each match is different; a randomly generated map plays host to each round. While equalling the playing field – attempting to give nobody the “home turf” advantage – it can sometimes have the opposite effect and put you at a massive disadvantage, or indeed advantage, throughout your game. Giving the other player an unfair amount of cover, for example, will leave you feeling there was nothing you could have done to win the game. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often.
Incompetent is what you will be feeling after you lose a match. Winning in hindsight is easy, but correctly judging and covering every opponent’s strategy, on maps that you have never seen before, requires practice and a deep understanding of each element the game has to offer.
There are 5 different types of task throughout the single player: Hostage Rescue, Disputed, Secure Extermination and Charge, with a Light and Dark mode each. Hostage rescue and Extermination are simple game modes, Hostage rescue requires you to either aid or stop escaping by any means. The latter is a mode where you strive to reduce your opposition’s team to rubble before he can do the same to yours.
Disputed, Secure and Charge are slightly more involved than the previous two I explained; they all have you securing different objectives before the opposing team can get to them. Disputed is where you have to battle it out to take control of small red squares, picking them up and extracting them at the edge of the map – do you defend one unit while he has all the squares or spread the squares around? It’s your tactical decision.
In Secure, you have to “bid” on the area that you can hold and secure, the person with the largest bid defends while you have to try to take control of their selected area. Finally, Charge has you defending a long map, stopping your rivals little figures passing a point on the map. Like the Secure mode, the highest bidder is forced to defend and kill all the enemies before they get into your territory. All of the modes are played in either Light or Dark; Light meaning you can see the AI and Dark meaning you have to have them in your unit’s line of sight to see them.
The 55 mission single player is held together by a text driven narrative. There is a lot of text, however. Thankfully, most of it is optional; you read the minimum sections of text just before each mission. They give just enough information to give reason to your engagement, yet leaving all of the heavy reading for the players who want to read up on specific elements of the story line. Another thing to note is that the Single Player is great practice for multiplayer adversaries. The single player experience is copied over into the multiplayer, minus the narrative – hence, I would advise to go through the single player first, getting a feel for each mode and working out what your strengths and weaknesses are. If you just want to practice a specific game mode, you can always hit the instant skirmish button, taking you straight to any game mode and difficulty of your choosing – handy for those new players.
While there weren’t many players on the server I’m connected to, only 100 or so at any given time, there was always a game found under 60 seconds, purely because any player can have as many games open as they can mentally manage. While in one game, you may be waiting for the opponent to place their moves and for the outcome to trigger, you can switch to another game and place moves there while you wait, keeping you in the tactical action for as long as possible.
While the game plays very well, it’s evident that the graphics are little more than functional – helping you to run the game on little more than 512mb of ram and an in-built graphics card. A permanent blue overcast fills the screen. It’s suffice to say your luminous Green units stand out from the background and there is no confusing them with your opponents bright Red units. The functionality continues outside of the games: the menus are well laid out and easy to navigate.
A unique twist on an old formula, one that works very well and brings the old and slow Real Time Strategy genre into a modern world, making it much more appealing for the more action orientated buyer. Something that should become part of your computer game library, even if you don’t have a gaming computer.