War, the Game Review
5.6our score

What a peculiar endeavour this is.

The title alone flags up some of my problems with it. War, the Game sounds rather like nobody has ever made a computer game about war before. The website blurb claims it “puts the strategy back into real time strategy” games. Big words. It raises an expectation of something groundbreaking, something never-before-seen. Something other than this distinctly average modern wartime RTS.

Hello yourself.

Hello yourself.

The introductory levels give you some tired guff about how someone has created an incredible interface that allows you to handle all the decisions of nowadays war from the safety of your own computer. The speeches explaining this are made by a synth-voiced, pixel-headed AI construct that looks distinctly 80s, all glowing green voxel lines and weird twitchy movements. It’s like having Max Headroom explain the concept of Command’n’Conquer to you. And again, it’s way too grandiose for the actual gameplay.

Blocks of infantry, tanks, ships and planes can be pushed around the map to fight each other and capture cities. Fine. This is done on the same charmingly retro pixel map, and that’s fine too. There’s a slightly blurry realtime/turn-based thing going on, where you can hit a key to speed up time until the next day. Something like the way time operates in games like X-Com, really, and again, it’s fine. The UI is quite pretty, actually – a zoomed-out, computerised view of the world as it spins, complete with grainy weather systems and a day/night cycle.

I say, looks like Taipei is in for some rough weather. Oh yes, and some kind of military invasion backed by Chinese troops. How quaint. More tea, dear?

I say, looks like Taipei is in for some rough weather. Oh yes, and some kind of military invasion backed by Chinese troops. How quaint. More tea, dear?

Although the interface may look simple, control is muddy, with confusing combinations of different lengths of left and right clicks needed to select or give commands to your troops. Not hard, exactly, just annoyingly idiosyncratic. Battles are resolved on the simple mechanic of whoever has the most there. Fighters weigh the same as infantry and tanks. Infantry count double when defending a city. Cities build new troops, capture your opponent’s to win.

The main deciding factor is who manages to maintain the upper hand in terms of numbers. This boils down to movement speeds (tanks are faster than men, planes faster still), and there is some tactical joy to be had in making sure your troops turn up together at the right place to lever this mechanic. Again, fine, but very unsatisfying, unsalted in an age where your strategy game crisps come in a huge smorgasbord of deep and savoury flavours.

Various free browser games I’ve played reply on the same ‘numbers win’ mechanic. Boiled down, this is not that different to (picking randomly from many examples) Tentacle Rush, basically. Timing your rush is all.

So whichever army is the biggest will always win? What thrilling tactical narratives that will lead to.

So whichever army is the biggest will always win? What thrilling tactical narratives that will lead to.

Fine, fine, fine. It’s all perfectly fine, I suppose. The game doesn’t seem bugged and has a large campaign of single player operations. These begin with America defending/invading Kuwait after some Iraqi aggression. For something dealing with a war very much still in living memory, it’s rather bloodless, apolitical stuff. Your tank outlines rush across the featureless terrain to counter the square blocks of enemy infantry, numbers tick down on a readout at the side of the screen, one side wins. A triumphant feeling of ‘meh’ emerges – there’s so little attempt at a story or anything to involve you with the realities of war (quite the opposite, really) that I found it almost impossible to care about what was happening.

A general caveat: there are many cheap games around right now, almost all from indie developers and definitely all making big claims. Don’t be fooled. Paying a few quids here and there can quickly add up, and you’ll generally be paying for something that’s maybe fun for an evening at best. After that, it’s just another empty BK wrapper in your collection of fast food games.

Oh they haven't, have they? How jolly rotten of them. Best wipe their country off the map, then. Come on chaps.

Oh they haven’t, have they? How jolly rotten of them. Best wipe their country off the map, then. Come on chaps.

Here’s a game saying it offers you the whole of modern warfare, all its horror and glory and knife-edge decisions, in one simple platter. I don’t think it remotely delivers anything new or interesting. It’s such a clinical game; there’s very little involvement with what you’re doing. Maybe this is deliberate, a developer’s trick to make you examine the more dubious side of using a computer to remotely simulate militarised murder. I doubt it – this isn’t simple so much as simplistic. I’m not at all sure this merits having a price, even a low one.

If you’re on a super-tight budget and desperate for something to play, well, I suppose it will fill the void for a few hours. Otherwise, ignore the hyperbolic claims and glowing snippets from other reviewers. This is extremely average, and if I can’t fault its delivery or packaging, I can’t find much to praise either. Save your scanty pence and wait for something worthwhile.

Pros:

  • Simple
  • Cheap
  • Does what it says on the tin
Cons:

  • Does what it says on the tin to the barest of minimums
  • Cold, clinical and minimalist to the point of uninteresting
  • Not cheap enough when you can experience effectively identical gameplay elsewhere for free

the author

Used to be a Doctor (Dr). Now is an actor (Ar), writer (Wr) and gamer (Gr), and would like to get all these abbreviations into general usage, because GrArWr is a much more interesting title to have on your bank card.