Saturday, 9 January 2010

PC Game Review - AI War

AI War: Fleet Command is quite a difficult game to review (at least that's my excuse for not having done this review a lot earlier than now!). To me it's more of a game engine than a game, because there's no campaign mode - the mode I always play first in an RTS. However that shouldn't put you off the game if you're a fan of real time strategy games, because what we have here is an incredibly complex and versatile single or multi-player RTS that could keep you happy for months to come - in fact more likely years or maybe even decades to come.

There is a back story, about humans warring each other using AI systems that eventually turned against humanity. An interesting twist on this is the possibility of the AIs attacking humans for their own good - to help unite humanity. Anyway this is actually largely unimportant because the game itself will be exactly how you set it up to be. You can host or join multi-player games with up to 8 players each; there's no P2P, the humans have to work together against the AI. There are some novel features in the multi-player game to make it as seamless an experience as possible when not all players are online at the same time.

In terms of the actual AI, which is of course the main selling point in a game like this, you can set up your opponent(s) however you want. This includes everything from their overall "smartness" and the rate that they learn at to their behaviour type - expand and conquer, base defence, and a myriard other options. The way you play the game also has an influence on the AI - if you aggressively conquer their bases very quickly, for instance, the AI increases much more quickly. It's very clevely programmed and probably more like playing against other people than any AI I've encountered in two decades of gaming.

Graphically the game has had several updates in the past few months, and the various ships and structures you can build look very good. Though the graphics are 2D, there's a great feeling of depth as you can zoom in and out to quite an impressive magnitude. The music also deserves a mention - appropriately epic, sweeping compositions add a majestic quality to the massive starfields and planetary backdrops.

The games will typically take 8-12 hours to run their complete course, though you can make small game worlds, ridiculously easy (or difficult!) scenarios that will be much shorter, etc. There really is an endless scope to what you can do here, and the game is regularly updated with improved and new features.

If I were a true RTS purist, I'm sure I'd give this ten out of ten. However while I would list RTS among my top three game genres (after Adventure Games and more or less equal to RPGs), I'm often more interested in finding out what happens next in the storyline than the game itself, once I've got to a position where I should be able to win that game / mission. Therefore to me, AI War lacks something, even though it's an amazing game engine. For instance Battle for Middle Earth is a lot less versatile in terms of game play, but does have better graphics and a good storyline. For me, those two games come from different ends of the market; I'd rate them both about the same though, but AI War will disappoint casual RTS gamers while BfME would disappoint purists.

Therefore my rating is 8/10 with the recommendation that anyone who likes RTS games should try it, and anyone who considers themselves an RTS purist, especially if they have like-minded friends who will join them in saving humanity in this game, should consider AI War: Fleet Command to be an absolute must-have.

You might also want to read my Interview with Chris Park of Arcen Games, the creator of this game.

You can find more details, a downloadable demo and of course buy the game itself at the Arcen Website.

CaptainD's PC Gaming Blog

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