Titans of Steel: Warring Suns18 Dec 2003 0
Strapping on a few towering tons of walking armored death and destruction has been a dream of many ever since we saw AT-AT's lumber out of the icy fog of planet Hoth on the big screen. Since then, the PC gaming genre has allowed us to experience this in our cyber-lives, with well-known titles like BattleTech, MechWarrior and MechCommander. Publisher Matrix Games and developer Vicious Byte have constructed what I think is a titanium solid addition to this prestigious list with Titans of Steel: Warring Suns.
Amidst the popular camouflaged FPS's storming the store shelves this year comes Titans of Steel, a sci-fi turn-based strategy game, that is as deep as an Assault Titan is tall, and just as engaging. Elements of strategy, role-playing, business management and engineering all piece together to make for a serious thinking man's game. While the learning curve may be hard to grasp at first for the rest of us, the fun factor more than makes up for it once learned.
In the future...
The futuristic story behind Titans of Steel is a bit wobbly, telling a loose tale of an inter-galactic war that almost completely used up available resources, and drained commerce systems dry. When it was realized that war could not be waged like this, all the empires turned to a new way by creating the Titan Attack Tech, or Titan-AT. There's no mention how war was fought until then, or by whom, or why.
Now, one would think these new machines stalking the battlefields would bring about a quick end to the war. Not so. The game manual says the war "expanded and raged on for years." The outlying systems were cut off from the core systems, developed their own governments and set their own order. One thing they held on to from the old worlds was their Titans.
Rather than mothball these expensive behemoths, these systems decided they could be used to settle disputes, gladiator-style. Jock pilot training schools began popping up all around the galaxy once the news reached them about these Titan arenas. Now, (presumably) these metallic machines duke it out in front of an audience. The fighting is no longer political, or all about survival; it's motivated by money.
Titans of Steel's major game play takes place on hex-mapped battlefields of various terrains. The player's view is fixed overhead, looking down on his spritely 2-D Titan warriors. There are very tweak-able battle options, so a player may set up terrain, battlefield (map) size, fog-of-war, and even enemy size and skill levels to his liking. These may be created randomly by the computer, which makes for a very high replay factor. Yes, there is a campaign mode, consisting of four different story lines stretching over twenty-six maps, and four set skill level-dependent mission maps a squad can take on for money. Enough to keep players' gaming attention to the point of battle fatigue, and then throwing in the multiplayer option on top of that.
When not in action, players can recruit jocks, train them for a specific combat role, or dismiss them from the squad. Besides money, jocks gain experience points during battles, which are to be allocated to attributes and skills. It is possible to train a jock to a certain Titan, pick a Titan that's already suited to a jock, or build a Titan from the ground up that's geared to fit the skills of an existing jock. Players can take this time to repair any Titans damaged in recent combat, or to make changes in its weapons and other equipment. It's also possible to assign a new jock to a Titan to see if he's better suited for it, recruit a new jock, or transfer one from another squad. There's just as much strategy involved between fights as there are during one, and that's a huge plus for Titans of Steel.
Of course, to what degree a player is able to do any of the above all depends on how much money a squad has bankrolled. Each squad begins with an initial investment of $500,000. With recruiting costs at $25,000 per jock, and AT's starting at around $90,000, this won't last very long at all. For this reason, it's very tempting for a player to jump port right into battle unlearned. I did, and got chewed up and spit back out. However, I was able to squeeze out four jocks and four off-the-shelf Titans in one of my squads. More on this later.