Friday, August 15, 2008

Age of War

Age of War is a game which reminds me most of all of the Mac classic Armor Alley, except without the most important part -- the part where the main battle isn't totally boring. In Age of War, you and you enemy each send out units from your bases at opposite sides of the battlefield; they meet and fight it out in the middle. Killing your enemy's units brings you gold, which you can use to buy more units, which you can use to kill more enemy units, and so forth.

The twist in Age of War is that you progress through five ages over the course of the battle: you start out at the Stone Age, with clubs, slingshots, and somewhat-anachronistic "Dino Riders", progress through several ages up to the current age, and then finally to a futuristic age. You can advance after accumulating the appropriate number of experience points, which you get both by defeating units and losing your own units, so you and your opponent tend to advance at nearly equal rates. In each age, you have one type of melee unit, one type of shooter unit (which is slightly more expensive, but of course are weaker in direct melee), and one super-expensive unit, which is also melee. You can also build three types of turrets, which are attached to your base and fire on any approaching enemies. You also from time to time get special attacks, which usually rain destruction of some form on your enemy.

The two shortcomings of this design become apparent very quickly. First of all, your units march out single file and always engage the enemy singly. So even if you try to do the obvious clever thing and intersperse melee units with shooter units, the melee units won't really protect the shooter units; as soon as the front melee unit goes down, the shooter will bravely march forward to take his turn (rather than, oh, say, letting the melee unit behind him step forward). This makes it very difficult to get an advantage in the unit combat. However, eventually you'll probably show that you're at least slightly cleverer than your opponent, at which point the second problem becomes painfully obvious: turrets are way overpowered. The first time you get within range of your enemy base, you'll immediately become severely outgunned; since your units and the enemy units tend to be pretty closely matched already, adding the turret makes the odds very strong against you. This makes it essentially impossible to mount a successful assault on the enemy base using your units alone in the early game -- with careful timing of your special attack and excellent unit selection, you might manage to do some damage, but killing the enemy base before you reach the last age is almost impossible.

This, naturally, opens up the degenerate strategy where you don't build any units at all, but just build a bunch of turrets, go off and have a cup of coffee, and return with hundreds of thousands of dollars in your coffer. And unless you manage to get lucky by sneaking into an age ahead of your opponent (which I did manage to pull off my first time through), this is the only way to win. (In the last age, you can build vastly more powerful super soldiers, and by building up your cash reserves you can finally overwhelm your enemy with these.) Needless to say, this is rather unsatisfying.

The graphics are average, but nothing special, as are the sounds. On the other hand, the music is excellent -- I really liked it. It had a very appropriate feel. On the other hand, the choice of units is quite ridiculous. The most egregious is in the "current" age, where the tanks are the super-powerful melee unit. This means that your tanks will roll straight up to an enemy and, apparently, attempt to poke them with their turret. Meanwhile, the enemy unit will most likely be attempting to attack the tank by stabbing it. (Or, more precisely, stabbing the air below the turret.) This doesn't quite make sense. The futuristic units are also a little disappointing -- where's the jet packs and laser rifles?

Anyway, this game has some fun features, and the trip through time is definitely a nice touch, but the basic strategy is so fundamentally flawed and unsatisfying that this really just isn't a very good game.

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