In the end after forces collide and the battle is an inferno. Only the strong shall survive, and the weak shall perish beneath OUR MACHINES .
So begins the latest offering from Isotope 244, Machines at War. Released on July 10, Machines at War is a real-time strategy game in which you must build and command an army of machines which you will use to wage war against neighboring armies in an attempt to conquer the world. In order to win this war, however, you must effectively distribute your limited resources in order to build the biggest and strongest army of machines. Fail to utilize your resources in the most effective manner, and it will be back to the scrap heap for you and your army.
Installation and Registration: The demo consists of a separately downloadable file which is time limited and offers only certain buildings and units to be constructed. Once the trial expires, you will almost certainly want to purchase the full game to complete your conquest. After purchasing the game, you will be sent a separate file containing the full version of the game and a registration code via email. The first time you run the full version of Machines at War, you will need to submit to Isotope 244′s unpopular and controversial online activation procedure (as part of the online activation you will also be asked for the registration code). It is unfortunate that thieves and hackers have pushed the market toward such intrusive and unpopular means of registering a game. I have spoken with far too many users who will miss out on a lot of great programs, including this one, because they object to this form of activation. I can’t blame the developers, however, they are simply trying to protect their investment. Still, it is an unfortunate predicament that these measures are made necessary by dishonest hoodlums lurking throughout our online community.
One final note, once the game is installed, it will take a minimum of 13 MB of Program Memory to run. In other words, it is going to use almost every available resource on your Pocket OC. I had numerous instances in which it would not run because I did not have enough memory free. If this happens, simply close any open programs and try again.
Overview and Gameplay: Machines at War is a strategy game, in which the goal is nothing short of total world domination! You start with a headquarters, from which you may begin construction of units, buildings and vehicles. Construct your machine army. Take a defensive posture and slowly expand your territory; or go for the gusto with a full offensive assault.
When the game begins, you will only be able to see a portion of the map surrounding your immediate vicinity. As you trek across the land, you will slowly reveal the remainder of the map as you discover it, ultimately uncovering the enemy and his army. To win the game, all you have to do is destroy the enemy army.
Interface: The screen is divided into five sections:
- The main area of the screen is a window into the world of Machines at War. This is the main playing "surface", which depicts a bird’s eye view of the map. When the game begins, it will be centered on your headquarters. As you construct buildings and units, however, the visible portions of the map which are available to you will continue to grow accordingly.
- The minimap is a small map which displays a snapshot view of the entire map. The display in the minimap resembles the radar screen from ancient games such as Defender for the Apple II+. Essentially, it shows the land which you have discovered and a colored square for each of your units, as well as colored squares for each enemy unit which has entered the visible portion of the map (within a particular radius of one of your structures or units). Click on any portion of the minimap to move your view on the main screen.
- The status section of the screen is located immediately below the main screen. It displays the number of credits you have accumulated, the amount of power at your disposal, and the total population of your forces. More on these resources in a moment.
- The command section is located immediately below the status section. It contains a series of clickable icons, which allow you to construct buildings and units. These icons will change based upon your selections. Although I did like this interface, I had a little trouble with it. If you inadvertently select a structure or unit, there is no way to cancel that selection. Often, I would run my stylus over an icon just to see what it represented and how much it would cost, only to find that I had selected to build it and could not cancel that selection. It would be nice to be able to get more information about your options without selecting them.
- The shortcuts are located vertically along the right hand side. These allow you to group forces, view headquarters, access the tutorial, or exit the game.
Resources: Resources are the lifeblood of your army. You will need to accumulate as many as you can as quickly as possible. Every unit or structure you build requires a certain amount power and credits.
You can build your power reserves by building power generators, and later, more advanced reactors. Every structure and unit requires power, so you will constantly find yourself in need of more generators.
Increasing your credits is slightly more complicated. Scattered about the map are deposits of valuable ore. Use scavengers (which can be built from your headquarters) to mine the ore. The ore can then be returned to your headquarters or a remote storage facility where it will be exchanged for credits.
They say that an army is only as strong as its supply chain, and that rings absolutely true in this game. Make sure you have an ample supply of both power and credits at all times or your army will be quickly overcome with no cavalry in sight when it is engaged by the enemy.
Building An Army: Obviously, your primary goal in this game is to annihilate the opposing army or armies. To do this, you will need an army of your own. So, let’s take a look at how you can accomplish this.
When you begin the game, as I mentioned, you will have a headquarters, but no other buildings in your base. From the headquarters, you can build scouts, which will explore the terrain; and scavengers which will collect ore for you to convert into credits.
In order to build an offensive force, you will first need to construct buildings. Each building has a variety of units which can be built from it, or other tasks which can be performed. There are ten main buildings which you can construct, giving you a dozens of offensive and defensive units, as well as other skills and abilities. Many of the buildings require that certain prerequisites be met, so you will want to be careful when you are planning your strategy. The ten buildings at your disposal include (from left to right, top row first in the screen shot above):
- The Garage is the first building you will want to construct. It is the most basic building which offers offensive capabilities.
- The Factory allows you to build defensive turrets and certain specialized vehicles.
- The Airport allows you to dominate the skies by launching aircraft and helicopters.
- The Fortress is the largest structure available in the game. It gives you massive defensive firepower from four mounted long range cannons.
- The Extractor will mine ore from deep within the ground. This allows you to earn credits faster and more efficiently.
- Headquarters is the center of your command post. You will start each new game with a Headquarters. If your headquarters is destroyed, you will be unable to construct anything until you build a new one. From here, you can deploy scouts and scavengers, but no offensive weapons.
- A Lab allows you to research new skills and technologies. This can lead to advances in you offensive abilities or defensive abilities. Once you build a lab, you will have access to the technology tree, from which you may determine which skills you will research.
- A Radar Tower allows you to detect enemy locations from almost anywhere on the map.
- A Refinery provides a remote location for Scavengers to deposit their ore once it has been mined. This can be useful if you find an ore deposit which is not located in close proximity to your headquarters.
- The Processor is an upgraded Refinery, which include several mini guns and a better view range to protect against an attack.
In order to place units, simply tap on the building and you will be presented with an icon list of units available from that structure (usually two to three per building.) Tap the appropriate icon, and construction of the unit will begin.
Additionally, some buildings, such as the Factory will also increase your defensive capabilities by allowing you to build stationary cannons and guns. To access these, simply tap on an empty space in the map to access the main command screen, and tap the units tab.
Finally, you will have several engineering options, which are helpful but provide neither direct offensive or defensive support. These include walls, gates, power cells, advanced power reactors and generators, mines, and outposts.
I have played a lot of strategy games like this one in the past, and usually they ease you into things. A typical game might begin by offering a few basic structures and tasks to let you get a feel for the game and how things work, and then build up to actually engaging the enemy. Not Machines at War. From the beginning of the game, the only limitation on what you can do or construct is you credits, power cells, and imagination. Oh yeah, and you had better build fast because you should start seeing the enemy within minutes of firing up the game.
Be careful how you build though, because there is a population limit. Each unit you create will count against this limit. Once you have reached it, you will have to destroy units in order to build more. The population limit increases in segments of 25 units from 25 to 125.
Moving and Attacking: Moving your units, either offensively or defensively is the most important part of the game. In order to move a unit, simply tap it and then tap the point on the map where you want it to go. Similarly, to attack, just tap your unit and then tap the enemy you want to attack.
You can also group units together in order to coordinate an attack. There are two ways to do so, you can double tap a unit, which will select all of that specific type of unit (for example, if you double tap a Scavenger, then all Scavengers will be selected.) Additionally, you can create a group by selecting multiple units. Once you have selected the units, tap the "S" button on the shortcuts bar, and then select one of the numbers 1-4. This will create a group which will be selected any time you tap that number. The group can then move or attack as a single unit.
Researching: Once you have constructed a Lab, you can begin conducting research. There are several different research trees from which you may choose. Research can be used to increase your defenses options, offensive capabilities, and other skills in the game. Be careful, however, you only have a limited amount of resources with which to conduct research, so make sure you take the time to learn about each of the research paths before you make a selection. Once you run out of research resources, you won’t be able to earn more.
Graphics: This is Isotope 244′s fourth game, and the third I have reviewed. In every review, I have noted that the graphics in these games are simply astounding. It is clear that this is a company which prides itself on artwork, and with each new game my expectations increase. Fortunately, I found that the graphics in Machines At War are stunningly rendered. From the several different landscapes and climates, to the dozens of buildings and units, each game is truly a unique experience.
The animation in Machines at War is also stunning. The level of detail takes you all the way down to individualized treadmarks left by the vehicles as they trumble across the landscape. On several occasions, I used these treadmarks to backtrack and find their headquarters. Each unit is individually animated, and you will even see complex explosions and black smoke following an explosion. To be honest, I think I lost this game a lot more often than I should have because I was so entranced by the detailed animation that I forgot I was supposed to be playing as well.
Audio: Oftentimes, I have found that strategy games will pay incredible attention to the graphics, while leaving music and audio as an afterthought. Not so with Machines at War, which features a multitrack soundtrack. This includes several instrumental background songs, as well as unique sound effects for each of the different units, buildings, and battles.
I should warn you, however, that in order to conserve storage space on your device, Isotope 244 did use an extremely low sampling rate. If you have over 25 MB of storage available, however, you can upgrade this by downloading the desktop audio files. Instructions for doing so are included in the game.
Game Settings: Machines at War is fully customizable, meaning you have complete control over your experience with the game. You can control the level of detail of the graphics, how and when the audio and sound effects will be heard, and how the game begins.
Difficulty: There are two factors which affect the difficulty level of the game, making it exciting both for newcomers to this genre and hardcore gamers. First, you can set the level of difficulty to any of the six difficulty settings (for purposes of this review, I pretty much stuck with Newbie level). Additionally, you can also control the number of armies on the map. There is a minimum of two armies at the beginning of each game (yourself and an opponent), however, you can increase that to four armies, meaning that you could be attacked by up to three enemy armies at the same time.
Map: One of the things I really liked about this game was that I never saw the same terrain twice. To begin with, there are seven different landscape options and three different climates. I set both to Random, meaning there was a possibility of 21 different environments each time I started a new game. Additionally, there are also five different map sizes. Multiply this by the 21 different environments, and you have 105 unique maps, before you even begin the game.
You can also affect the progress of your game by changing the reveal map settings. Set this to visible mode, and the whole world will be laid out at the beginning of the game. Set it to discovered mode, and you will only be able to see the portions of the landscape which you have already found. The best way to quickly uncover large portions of the map are to unleash several scouts at a time.
Tutorial: Machines At War includes an excellent in-game tutorial. On the shortcut bar, simply double tap the "?" icon to access the tutorial. I found this to be extremely useful when I was learning the game. Additionally, a more comprehensive help file is also included with the game and will be installed on your device.
Saving: Frequent readers know that I always appreciate a safe and easy saving procedure, which will allow me to quickly and easily save my game at any time. Machines at War offers four save slots. You can save your game at any time, regardless of the action on the screen by simply tapping the "X" button in the shortcuts bar. This will bring up the close menu. Simply select save and choose one of the four save slots. My only complaint here is that the slots provide no information as to whether another game has already been saved there. As such, you have no way of knowing whether you are overwriting an important saved game. Additionally, there is an autosave feature which will automatically save your game when you exit and resume it when you start again.
Conclusion: I was "blown away" by Machines at War…I mean literally, the first time I played the game, my headquarters was destroyed in about five minutes. OK, bad pun, I admit. Seriously, I have loved every game Isotope 244 has published, so I had high expectations when I learned of Machines at War. I am please and excited to report that my expectations were met and exceeded. The phenomenal graphics and animation in this game, coupled with the myriad of customization options and complicated audio effects makes this a game which could easily have been found on any desktop platform. Isotope 244 has shown what it can do with the Pocket PC, taking it to levels of detailed graphics and audio which have traditionally been left to PC games. The only question remaining is how will other developers in this field respond to the challenge this game creates…and how will Isotope 244 follow up this extraordinary offering.
Name: Machines at War
Platform: WM6 and WM 2003SE
Also Available: WM5, WM2003SE, Smartphone, Windows XP and Vista. Coming soon for Mac OS X
Developer: Isotope 244.
Available From: Isotope 244