Review: Front Armies18 Sep 2018 0
Review: Front Armies
Released 17 Apr 2018
Considering the massive popularity of real-time strategy on PCs, where StarCraft was the first game to gain such a following as to become a legitimate profession, it's a bit surprising that there are so few successful mobile RTS in the same vein. That combination of speed, precision, and strategy can be a heady brew, and one that's hard to distil to a handheld screen. Although you can find a lot of options in our most recent Best Of feature, Front Armies is one game that won't be joining the list.
At first glance, the game is attractive. The graphics are literally iconic. Each unit and building is represented by a front-facing (thus the title?) non-animated graphic. This is an unusual choice, but not one I'm wholly opposed to, especially since it makes identifying units easy at a distance. That's a smart choice for a mobile RTS, which too often crowd the screen with tiny little soldiers made of a handful of pixels. There's also less need for a minimap, since you can zoom in and out in a flash.
Likewise, the gameplay is utterly archetypal of an RTS. Minerals are collected and spent on new stuff, with power plants limiting the amount you can build and causing major slowdowns if you run out of power. There are production buildings for land, sea, and air units. Your basic units are a fast but weak buggy, a tough tank, and fragile but powerful artillery. Build a handful of buildings and you can get a few ships similar to the land units, as well as weak and quick flyers. At the top of the tech tree is a ballistic missile that blows a big crater in your opponent's base in a very satisfying way.
There's fog-of-war, but it only has one level, so once you reveal your opponent's base, you get to continue to see all of their plans (or lack thereof) until you muster your forces to crush them.
Control is pretty intuitive. Everything is handled with single taps to select, move, and attack. Buttons on the side let you select all units on the screen, or order construction of buildings or production of units. To select multiple units, you tap and hold to let an expanding circle encompass the group you want. That's okay, if a bit slow, as long as you're basically dealing with two groups at a distance. What's really missing is the ability to select all units of one type, which makes separating groups in your army a chore.
It's basic, but, in some ways, this is a game that I think people have been asking for. It has familiar RTS gameplay, with visuals that are attractive but simple enough to play well on a phone. Should be, if not a grand slam, at least a hit.
Unfortunately, Front Armies is missing the most important element of any game: somebody to play with.
There is no online play or matchmaking included in the game, so if you want to play multiplayer, you're stuck with LAN play. That leaves campaign mode or skirmishes against a computer player. Unfortunately, the AI for your own units and your opponents' is terribly primitive.
Your units are suicidal, rushing to get as close as possible to the enemy they are ordered to attack rather than waiting at a sensible distance. Thus, without careful maneuvering, your artillery and flyers are useless. They are easily separated from their group, taking bizarre looping paths to destinations. They also easily get boxed in if someone else is going the opposite direction. They sometimes don't react to nearby enemies until they are taking fire.
The opponent AI is no better. The computers build their bases haphazardly, overproducing structures they don't need which often block in their own units. They underproduce armies and throw them at you with no apparent strategy. Sometimes one or two units will trickle down from their base to spend themselves on your defensive wall. It's easy to draw their armies into a trap. If you care to spend the time, you can plink away at their defenses from a distance with artillery without drawing a response. But making use of speed or distance abilities in your units requires a lot of handholding. So why bother when you can easily make tanks twice as fast as your opponent and tank rush them before anyone hits the second level of the tech tree?
I tried a 2v2 team game with an AI teammate and found myself taking over all the responsibility for attack and defense for both of us—which wasn't even hard. There is only one level of AI competence, so the best way to challenge yourself is just to play against three or more at once.
The campaign makes up for this by stacking the deck against you. You get set scenarios with preplaced waves and groups of enemies to wipe out on maps built like corridors. It does a good job teaching you the basics, but sometimes you don't do what the game expects and get backed into an unwinnable corner.
If, at some point in the future, Front Armies adds some decent AI, it will be a solid recommendation for a mobile RTS. It's not innovative, but there's nothing wrong with the core gameplay and a lot to like. But, without an opponent, there's just nothing to play.