PC Game Review: Time of Fury
Once more unto the breach: can Time of Fury conquer new territory in the grand strategy genre?
Time of Fury is the newest entrant in the World War II grand strategy genre, asking players to take control of the "big picture" and lead their nations to victory in Europe. Plan productions, research technologies, deploy troops, air fleets and naval armadas. Bend the will of lesser nations to your clique. Do you have what it takes?
New Kid on the Block
Time of Fury is the spiritual successor and new-grown version of its predecessor, Time of Wrath. It is an upgrade in virtually every aspect from its older brother; graphics, AI, user interface, game scope and mechanics, and overall gameplay.
The obvious comparison for potential Time of Fury players is that of the Hearts of Iron series. Think of Time of Fury as HoI Lite; it offers many of the same gameplay features but not to the depth that HoI does. This will be a detriment to some players and be a attraction to those who feel items such as HoI's Civilization-on-steroids tech trees took away from their ability to wage war.
Another vast improvement over its older sibling is the incorporation of Slitherine's PBEM++ server for multiplayer action; theoretically, using this system, one player could play each member of the Allies, Axis and the Soviet Union, resulting in a game with dozens of players, each guiding their nations to victory or failure.
Time of Fury walks down a well-trodden path; World War II grand strategy games are not a new concept. Time of Fury, instead of trying to dig deeper to find more, flips that concept and goes for more of a streamlined approach, as mentioned regarding the tech trees, above. The same holds true for diplomacy and production as well; the game peers into these topics but not so deeply that a player feels pulled away from the central core of moving units, outflanking the enemy, and taking territory, and the streamlined approach, overall, works.
Units are built in the production screen, depending on the level of research the country possesses and how many production points it has to use, then deployed once they are completed after a set number of turns later. These same units can later be upgraded as research moves forward; upgrading technology becomes more and more important in the longer 200 and 300-turn scenarios such as the Grand Campaign; even in 1944, a fully armed and mobilized Red Army in KV-1s would have little success against the Tigers and Panthers of the Wehrmacht Kampfgruppes.
These units are represented at the organizational level of divisions and corps. Units can be merged or upgraded in organizational structure, but this takes precious turns and the unit must freeze in place while the reorganization occurs, often not realistic if duty calls or the lines are being sundered.
Besides land units, air fleets and naval vessels are also represented, and can valuable (if vulnerable) units in some situations. For the Allies, controlling the English Channel and the skies above it is an absolute must for any invasion of the mainland. Naval battles are overly simple, but the units serve their purpose: to either ferry troops from Point A to Point B or protect the ships that are doing so, and then provide bombardment support once the troops are ashore.
Air units are important for recon as well as providing air superiority, tactical air support, and strategic bombing functions. Having fewer -- or less advanced -- air units than an opponent will lead to army driving blindly forward, so conservation of air resources becomes extremely important.
Time of Fury also does a good job utilizing scripted events to give players choices during a scenario or campaign. For example, during the Overlord scenario, a pop-up window notifies players that Operation Anvil -- the Allied invasion of the south of France designed to pull reinforcements away from Normandy -- can either be launched or those units used in Overlord. Opting to use those units in Normandy may seem like a no-brainer, but when reserve panzer divisions begin arriving on the south edge of the map it becomes easy to second-guess that decision.
The View from Above
While Time of Fury won't win any awards for its graphics, they are on the whole above average. One feature to choose how units are displayed -- an array of counter types or sprites -- was a welcome addition. The same types of choices are available for map styles as well, and this customization of the game's look is one of its strong suits.
Other customization issues do not fare as well, however; for example, running the game in windowed mode results in a window with no scroll bars and the bottom two inches or so cut off, obviously a nonstarter.
The game utilizes the now-familiar expanding/contracting border to show which territory is owned by the player, which is useful in determining how much farther a unit needs to go to complete an encirclement or cut off an enemy army group. Supply is all-important in Time of Fury, and units without supply quickly go from robust units capable of taking on all comers to mere shells in very little time.
Patch 'n' Play
Time of Fury is a fun game to play; it's engaging, it draws you in to its "Hearts of Iron Lite" play concept, and it rewards your efforts with mostly sound game theory and mechanics. However, a slew of small problems have made it through testing that leads this reviewer to wish that the game had stayed in beta for maybe one more month, just to iron out these wrinkles.
For example, the game crashed to desktop a number of times while playing one of the larger campaigns. It's heartbreaking to spend half an hour working through the minutiae of moving and deploying every unit from Calais to Siberia only to have the game crash.
It has no effect on gameplay, but the opening movie also just showed as black and while the tutorial was easy to follow and use, it was loaded with typos and omits diplomacy altogether.
The good news is the developer, Poland's Wastelands Interactive, has been extremely diligent about leaping onto the patch train; at press time, they had already completed one patch and were working on the next.
Some of the issues with the game aren't fixable, in that they are gameplay choices, not errors or bugs. For example, enemy units can retreat into an attackers zone of control/controlled territory; a unit shouldn't have to be surrounded by six others if it is completely cut off in order to destroy it.
The AI in Time of Fury is relatively competent, especially on harder settings. It is quick to snap up understrength units and push forward when it can. Its weakness lies in its inability to marshal its strength and play defensively; it is prone to burning its strength out in pointless counterattacks or launching ill-timed amphibious invasions even as it is getting pummeled and clearly is on the defense. These could be decisions in scripting, however, and not a true indicator of the AI. The developers seem to be paying very close attention to the dynamics of the gameplay being reported on the Matrix Games and Slitherine forums and these types of behaviors by the AI will no doubt be addressed in a coming patch.
The game's sound effects are on the whole well done and professional. The music can be a bit booming and instead of maintaining mood can necessitate digging through the preferences to turn it down or off, but that may just be an issue of personal taste.
Players with a bend toward World War II grand strategy will no doubt enjoy Time of Fury. Its "beer and pretzels" approach will also attract and hook players who are approaching the genre for the first time, as it is not overly complicated and is very accessible.
New players and even old hats will enjoy working their way through the tutorial and then into shorter scenarios like Poland and Overlord before leaping into the fray of one of the grand campaigns. The game's accessibility and ease of play may not prove to have enough for hardcore gamers to chew on, but given the number of scenarios, the built-in editor, and the ability to play with any number of friends via the PBEM server system, even grognards should find plenty to sink their teeth into here.
There are a few annoying issues that hint toward a slightly premature release but these seem to be known and the developers are working hard to fix them, and shouldn't stop anyone interested in the game from buying it. Overall, the game is a solid effort.
Review written by: John Thompson, Staff Writer