Machines of War 326 Jun 2013 0
In 1995, Command & Conquer appeared, launching a stream of RTS games that used tactical play to achieve strategic goals. The stream turned into a river that has created a huge pool of similar games. Parts of this pool are stagnant and gamers can step into a distasteful part. Hence a guide is needed to point out the elements of these games gamers might enjoy. Useful benchmarks for making purchase decisions can include originality of concept, variety of screens and units, user interface and scenario appeal. How does Isotope 244?s Machines of War 3 handle these elements?
This game should be a graphical Shangri-La. With over 130 combat units and buildings, thirteen landscapes ranging from oceanic to desert, and four environments including grasslands to volcanic, the number of situation permutations is impressive. Combat units include infantry, tanks, artillery, several kinds of helicopters, hovercraft, subs, cruisers, landing craft, ICBMs and the mysterious mega-units. Buildings with their shadows showing at their back are power plants, factories and defenses. The details of units, buildings and terrain seem detailed ? with emphasis on ?seem?. Details are clearly there in the units but one more level of zoom is needed to make them stand out. Players are tantalized but frustrated, wishing to see more. This problem is partially alleviated by setting the screen resolution through the game?s options to under 1000 Ghz. Low resolution has the disadvantage of moving some parts of information screens off the display but this nit doesn?t seem to affect play. In fact, the on-screen text information and the nice mini-map are easier for old eyes to use. Yet, a manual explaining this ability to increase detail would help players who might be easily frustrated.
Zooming out allows global views with units shown as silhouettes and buildings as rectangles marked with appropriate icons against a black grid. The icons are identified on a list appearing when view is zoomed out. Friendly units are blue with enemies in several different colors. Unfortunately, no terrain is shown until the tactical level is brought up. The zoomed out views are primarily for strategic overviews although orders can be given from them.
Animation is great, especially when combined with sound. Building construction comes with welding sparks and crackles. Copter blades twirl and turrets rotate. Ships and torpedoes create wakes. Weather such as rain is shown and can affect play. The shadows of buildings and units show movement. Of particular note are the bouncing shadows of the blimp-like wind turbines and floating defenses. Units move with appropriate noise and combat has the usual tracers, explosions and booms. Some of the voices from units are unnecessary and annoying but give a general hint about the situation. The clear voices warning of infrastructure problems are welcome. In the campaign game and the tutorial, pop-ups showing helpful information and instructions from ?Linda? the guide and troop commanders although these inserts must be closed manually, distracting players.
Moving and Building
Version 3 of Machines of War 3 introduces a very user-friendly interface as explained in the interactive tutorial. Selection, targeting and movement options include using left click only or doing the ?left-right? tango. Units can be grouped by type by double clicking one vehicle of that type. Units of different types can be grouped by a click-and-drag box and labeled with ?SHIFT +#?. These groups can be accessed by its number or its group icon on the left side of the screen. Using groups is vital as battles can involve as many as 5000 units. Keyboard controls are also an optiom.
The interface is made easier by buttons on the left side of the screen. One button adjusts game speed from 0.4 to 5.0 as opposed to the normal 1.0 speed. Other buttons include pause, a fast switch between zoom in / zoom out and easy access to unit groups. These features allow players to customize their play style.
The truly crucial on-screen buttons are the four on the right side. These buttons represent the four categories of building: engineering, factories, defense and mega-units. Engineering deals with infrastructure elements such as energy generators, storage units and walls. Factories buildings include facilities to manufacture air, land and sea units. Defenses are self-explanatory with static and floating weapon systems. Mega-units are huge, powerful machines requiring large quantities of resources, special minerals and advanced tech levels. Production depends on the landscape. For example, reactors can?t be built in the sea but tidal turbines are the oceanic equivalent. The three tech levels allow more powerful new units to be built. All facilities must be built in or near the base with acceptable spots marked blue.
The coins of the realm of production are ore and power. Ore comes from the base headquarters building that just keeps on pumping the stuff out. Special mines placed on minerals discovered by units enhance output and allows mega-units. Unused ore is accumulated in storage containers. Power, on the other hand, is not so simple. Each generator produces a static amount of power so, if a power cell produces 500 units of power, more cells must be built to increase the overall power level. Both ore and power supplies are temporarily drained when production occurs.
Researching tech levels is done at headquarters and is the key to victory. Tech levels not only require large amounts of ore and power but also having specific structures built, e.g., Tech One requires a factory to be built before research can begin.
Machines of War 3?s play comes in three parts: the solo campaign, skirmish where players can fashion their own scenarios and internet multi player. The campaign consists of 21 missions, each with three objectives, a bonus objective and a time limit. The story line has players trying to rescue a group of scientists from the Chinese. Each scenario is scripted for a good purpose. This campaign is actually a very long tutorial, introducing game concepts in dribs and drabs. The first two missions don?t even have a headquarters building; players must use units at hand. Base defense and factories are introduced in the third mission but only the first tech level is available. One of the first lessons learned is the importance of building a radar tower which shows enemy positions as blue circular globs. The end of the missions shows players? finesse in terms of gold stars and a series of charts depicting friendly and enemy achievements over time. Even though scripted, the AI is a challenge.
Solo players will have a ball with skirmish mode. Not only can they choose any combination of landscapes and climates but also from two to four AI opponents at one of five difficulty levels. Replay is virtually unlimited. On the Internet, players can choose to join a game or set one up as they would a skirmish. An option exists to unlock all units.
Unlike many RTS games, the ?bum?s rush? tactic of sending massive amounts of units at a target won?t work in this game. The AI will have its base defenses up and its own units out snooping around the map. A player that neglects early base defenses is a dead player. The enemy can win the game simply by destroying power generators, thus shutting down defense systems and factories. Players should build both land and air recon units early to intercept possible enemies and find special minerals. Unit tasks are easily given via a menu of ten orders such as attack, explore, engage, get repaired, and join a group. Attacks are then easier to control but the right mix of weapon systems must be used. Ground or sea attacks should have some anti-aircraft units along while bombers need fighter cover. Some weapons do more than blow things up; electro-magnetic pulse weapons can paralyze an area?s power grid, making the enemy meat on the table. The AI probably won?t roll over that easy and victory may go to the player who reaches and uses Tech Three first.
How does Machines of War 3 measure up to the benchmarks? While not bring anything significantly original to the table, this game combines so many elements that their quantity has a quality of its own, as Uncle Joe Stalin might say. The variety of units and screens cannot be beaten. The interface could not be made easier and the combinations of landscapes, environments, difficulty levels, weapons and buildings make any scenario challenging and attractive. Isotope 244 has climbed to the top of the RTS pyramid with this product.
About the Author
Jim Cobb has been playing board wargames since 1961 and computer wargames since 1982. He has been writing incessantly since 1993 to keep his mind off the drivel he dealt with as a bureaucrat. He has published in Wargamers Monthly, Computer Gaming World, Computer Games Magazine, Computer Games Online, CombatSim,Wargamer, Armchair General, Subsim, Strategyzone Online and Gamesquad.