Review: Legion of the Damned27 Apr 2012 0
Review: Legion of the Damned
Released 21 Sep 2012
What's it going to take to get some more hex wargames onto the App Store? Right here in your hands you've got the ultimate wargaming device, and the pickings are slim. There's Battle Academy, which is absolutely lovely - but lies somewhere between a casual beer-and-pretzels wargame and a hardcore hexes-and-counters game. And I'm still smarting from the mendacious Total War Battles: Shogun, whose prominent inclusion of hexes turned out to be a red herring. Matrix Games has promised us Panzer Corps for iPad but that remains months away.
For the moment, there's Legion of the Damned for iPhone. The debut offering from Offworld Games, LotD appeared on the App Store back in December and didn't make much of a splash - it got as high as #894 in Finland, and then vanished from the charts. That is criminal, because right now there's no better hex-based wargame on a mobile device - Legion of the Damned is a true hidden gem.
Legion of the Damned is a sci-fi themed turn-based strategy game with quite a lot to offer. The game features a single-player campaign (a tough one, at that), skirmish mode, online multiplayer, and a map editor. For much of the single-player campaign you control the Legion of the Damned, an interstellar fighting force composed entirely of executed criminals and other untouchables of future Earth. The game is set in the eponymous series of books by William C. Dietz.
If that name rings a bell, it's because the author achieved internet infamy this year when fans eviscerated his Mass Effect novel for it's apparent raft of continuity errors and inconsistencies. If Dietz is mostly remembered for setting off a notable bout of fanboy clothes-rending and self-immolation, it will be quite unfair to the man - he's been a prolific writer of popular science fiction for ages and has dozens of books to his name.
Dietz's setting is an intriguing one, but the game doesn't quite make the most of it. Legion of the Damned's missions are wrapped in storyboard animatics featuring some pretty decent art and voice-acting. The story doesn't quite achieve the level of immersion that it's after, but it succeeds at pouring on the atmosphere and giving you a sense of place. World War II wargames and their ilk can lean on the historical knowledge that you take into the game with you - sci-fi games have to work harder to orient you in their universe, and Legion of the Damned gets an A for effort in that regard. Fans of the Dietz novels will certainly take more from the narrative.
Everywhere you look in Legion of the Damned you're bowled over by the amount of effort that's been put into it. There's so many assets packed into the game: I've rarely seen the same main menu splash screen twice, and every single-player map has it's own music. There's three different armies to choose from in multiplayer - each supporting a very different playing style but well-balanced against one another. The AI is brutally tough, and even a pretty good wargamer (such as, ahem, yours truly) will find it challenging but not repetitive.
There's so much to like in Legion of the Damned, you're rooting for it even as you start to notice all the places it falls short. If you've got an iPad or a retina display iPhone, it won't take you long to spot the first short-coming: there's no retina or HD assets in the game. As charming as the art is and as well as the game plays on the 2x settings on iPad, there's no escaping that the game looks like you've fired up a Super Nintendo emulator. I asked Offworld about it and they told me that retina assets were in the works, but maybe we shouldn't hold our collective breath about a significant update coming to five-month-old game.
There are a couple of questionable UI decisions that could do with updating as well. Pinch-to-zoom, for example, is replaced by an on-screen skeuomorphic whatsit that occasionally gets in the way of unit selection, which is over-engineering by anyone's standards. The unit animations are fairly basic and don't change based on the unit's orientation.
But beggars can't be choosers - and in the App Store right now, the man who wants a hex wargame is a down-on-his-luck hobo. Even once there's more options to choose from, Legion of the Damned will stand up on its own as a challenging wargame in a unique setting. I'll keep my fingers crossed for that HD update.