Review: Machines at War 310 Oct 2013 0
Hey, dude, you ever think about how, like, weird real time strategy is? Like, just what is "real" "time" anyway, man? Kinda assumes that all "real" time is the same and, maybe this just me being an "agitator," but I think a certain Mister Al Eisenstein might have a thing or... several things to say about that. You dig?
That's why Machines at War 3 is such a groovy proposition, temporally speaking. An iOS port of a PC title that'll totally do you a solid and give you a chance to relax, catch your breath, and queue up a hundred or so little Navy SEAL dudes to blast your probably communist foe back into the first tech tree. Like, I might be a spacey, anachronistic stereotype of a reefer-head liberal, but I'm no peacenik, brothers and sisters. Which reminds me! I totally zoned out and forgot my ICBM was ready...
Sedate really is the word to describe MAW3 (Slack Ops).That's a good thing. Mostly. While there's no specific mechanical twist that lends this impression, the game's just overall a slower-paced affair than other RTS with their 60+ actions per minute and min/max-ing of worker supply lines. For this port--to a device which lacks the PC's precision and hot-keys-which-are-actually-keys--the tempo works.
The thing handles well, too, with the help of some simplifying improvements over other RTS. Resources are gathered automatically by your headquarters and other, special mining structures, without workers. Buildings and defenses need only be within range of some friendly unit to be constructed, again without the genre-standard workers. The most useful hot-keys are the basic land/sea/air groupings which are always available--though it's not too difficult to select and create more diverse squadrons, if you think you're friggin Hannibal or something.
Base planning is where this control scheme really shines, and where MAW3 (Snack Stops) reveals itself as somewhat unique among other RTS. Machines at War isn't just concerned with the economies of warfare--the frugal, impersonal spending of units and resources in exchange for a tactical advantage--but the economies of space.
Like most RTS, the game has multiple resources which restrict how players can develop their armies, the main two being ore and power. Power comes from generators. Lots of generators. If you want to set up an effective defense early on, or a multiple barracks-strong offense, you're going to want rows upon rows of inefficient starter generators (best placed, several at a time, by tapping two spots on the map with your pinkie and index finger, a Dio-esque devil horns of development which is the most ROCK way to thoughtfully build infrastructure.)
This crap takes up space. As do production facilities. And other mining facilities. And the turret defenses those places need and, oops, now we need like fifty more generators to advance tech level... You see where this is going? Machines at War in part subverts the idea of the singular, walled-off RTS home base by making it a logistical nightmare to achieve. It's possible (especially with the clever addition of floating generators and research areas, which more efficiently use space in the long-term in exchange for a higher short-term cost), but more likely than not you'll end up with an over-developed starting base surrounded by a sprawl of buildings and outposts whose growth is dictated by the geological particulars of the map generator.
This influences Machines at War's combat, as well. Static turrets are so easy to build and fortify (learn to love shield generators) that things slant towards the defensive by default. A good assault on an enemy position won't just involve a large force of varied units--anti-air, anti-sea, and so on--but the development of forward encampments and firebases. A strategy I employed successfully, several times, involved sending an infantry squad out to secure a position just outside an enemy encampment, then constructing a long-range artillery cannon on the spot to soften the perimeter in advance of a massed ground assault. Slow, yes, but damn dramatic, and satisfying.
Tactics like the above are essential when it comes to cracking the shell of a turtling foe--and the AI in Machines at War is good at turtling, if nothing else. While the game boasts multiple difficulty settings and a wide range of victory conditions for skirmish and multiplayer modes--sure to yield a challenge if fiddled with enough--the default challenge for solo campaigners is lacking. The computer opponent will throw a steady trickle of attackers at you, but doesn't often, or effectively, deploy those large focus-firing armies key to victory in so many RTS.
Tools such as the radar tower, which reveals all large enemy buildings and units on the minimap (and is available at the second tech level (really)); the ICBM silo; and the several "mega" units--big tanks and the like--really won't get a chance to shine until you jump into multiplayer. Setpiece campaign missions try to highlight these defining assets, but range from the "meh" (hey... destroy this base with... this big tank... because...) to the outright awful (ESCORT MISSION 'NUFF SAID). In a nice chance of pace, however, going off book and, say... totally getting said mega-tank blown up in a daft raid won't result in mission failure, just the need to go at things the conventional way. Which is more fun, actually.
It's tough to say just how well-balanced all the seemingly easy to exploit systems in MAW3 (Quack Flops) are. The fact that even the lame-duck AI is capable of hanging on past the point of feasibly winning a normal match by spamming cheap structures isn't a good sign, but, again, you don't really have to play the standard search and destroy mode, ever. There's plenty of other ways to play, and, hey, isn't a little gaming of the system a healthy part of any RTS?
Fact is those systems, modes, and units (oh gods, those units) are here, detailed and varied and many, dotted with clever design choices. Sea-land units that can traverse both terrain types, and appear in both the naval and terrestrial factories? Pretty smart. Here's Machines at War 3 in an instant: an assault helicopter above, exploding, and a little trooper in a teal jumpsuit parachuting out. Maybe a nice visual touch in another game. Here? Well, shucks to that 'copter. You've got another pair of boots on the ground and a forward position to secure.
Machines at War 3 was played on an iPad for this review.