Review: Iron Marines26 Sep 2017 4
Review: Iron Marines
Released 13 Sep 2017
When you know a developer for making one particular game, or one particular type of game, you can’t help but look to see what they do next and see the fingerprints of their work appear.
Kingdom Rush is massive. A tower defence game with multiple ports and expansions. It’s also excellent, with a finely-tuned balance in difficulty, appealing visuals and sparse but spot on vocal acting. In a market saturated with tower defence games that are minimal on gameplay but big on emptying your pockets, Ironhide Games stood out as doing something a bit special.
So we move onto Iron Marines, where the studio continues the high bar set with an incredible high quality in production: the game truly looks fantastic, with highly detailed characters, intuitive UI, and environmental design that you don’t see in even the big hitters that are front loaded on the app store.
The game is mission based - with you served to fight off an invading alien army. This is split into a number of objectives usually involving taking out aliens, defending bases and rescuing your team mates. At the end of the mission you’re giving screws (an in-game currency to level up the skill tree) and gold (an in-game currency to purchase consumable weapons and power-ups. There’s also a checklist of achievements that will reward you gold, such as completing missions, killing a number of enemies, use certain weapons a number of times and so on.
The big alarm bell ringing with this game’s release is the inclusion of IAPs on a premium priced app. You can either purchase gold or unlock individual characters (I did not look to see if these locked characters provided a different gameplay experience). Thankfully, its inclusion does not compromise game design, and even with the challenge the game provides you are rewarded with plenty of gold after each mission, plus you there is the option of watching thirty second adverts to acquire more. The game also plays nice by not throwing pop-up notifications about IAPs being available. With that said, I still find IAPs being included in a premium app to be quite the egregious choice and sincerely hope this does not become the trend.
In-game you have a variety of troops to pick from, with your standard grunts providing good support to large waves of smaller enemies, snipers working excellent from a distance and giant mechs destroying anything it’s path - they just take a while to get there. Selecting them through the UI is simple and well designed for a touchscreen interface. The level of freedom to pick the troops you need is welcome, though the flow of each level and the enemies you face has a linearity to them, but at least the game lets you decide how you want to go about facing the enemy.
Your main character (depending on who you choose) has their own abilities that work on a cool down time when activated. These are short temporary boosts and buffs that at times feel just like big shiny buttons to press more so than beneficial to the gameplay. To the right are the passive or consumable powers and weapons. You can select three before the start of the round and they can be used as and when needed (if you have any left). There’s a decent level of strategy in deciding what items to use: the airstrike is handy for clearing out a large area of goons but is also expensive, whereas the bouncer is cheap but the range is significantly smaller.
The transition from tower defense to RTS is not seamless. The aforementioned balance of difficulty found in prior work is sorely missing here. With a dependence to rely on consumable weapons coming early on and often. When the action gets heavy, particularly when the area of combat goes past what you can physically view on the screen, things get really problematic. I hit the grind early on to level up on the skill tree, and I was still clinging on for dear life by the fifth level. The fact that you certainly won’t be going from one level to another without a bit of grind will deter some. You will certainly notice the spike in difficulty with the challenge operations - unique single levels that will test your skills to the limit.
Another issue, which is likely unique to the mobile platform, is trying to gather a select number of your troops when they are all huddled together. Instead of picking the handful of troops needed the game will typically register the entire lot. Again, when the action picks up this can waste valuable seconds as your snipers on the other side of the map are being wasted.
As noted, the presentation is a joy to the eye. Environments pop with neon and colour in a way that you just don’t get with other RTS games and it really helps to make Iron Marines stand out. There’s just a ton of tiny details in the environment, the architecture, the aliens; Ironhide Games have some super talented artists under their hood and they really get to flex their muscles here. There’s a fair amount of experimentation to be had, with the game not going overly into detail about specific mechanics. It doesn’t matter too much here, as the early levels take less than ten minutes to complete, so poking and prodding at the game during this time feels welcome.
Iron Marines does not play nice, and failing twenty minutes into a mission can feel like a raw deal, but sometimes you just have to learn from your mistakes. But it does mean we’re dealing with a mobile game that isn’t made for short five minute bursts, though this should be expected with an RTS.