My introduction to the real-time strategy genre was due to my friend Sinclair, who loaned me Warcraft 2. Up until that point, I had been RTS ignorant, and after my combat christening I ended up devouring other games in the same vein. Over the years, many variations on a theme have come and gone. Some (like Total Annihilation and Battle for Middle Earth) have injected some fire into the industry, while others ended up being knock-offs. Machines at War 3, developed by Isotope 244 for the PC, is certainly not genre-changing; but it is a retro experience that is charming and fun.
Whether you choose to skirmish or play the surprisingly lengthy (and interesting) single-player campaign, Machines at War 3 is all about the basics: building and fighting. The construction of your base is almost like a game unto itself; the process is one that forces you to slow down and think about what your doing – all while the treat of enemy invasion looms overhead. In terms of resource management, you are required to deal with two basic elements: metal (created by your base) and energy (collected by special structures that you build). Metal is used in the construction of units and buildings; while the primary source of this material comes from your command structure, other buildings can be built later to enhance production (other ore can usually be found scattered about the map). Energy is generated by wind harvesters and other power-producing structures. As expected, energy is used by your various structures, requiring you to maintain a good balance between production and consumption. It is a good idea to load up the Tutorial, as it is very handy and quite extensive.
Lots of great writing has gone into some of the interactions.
Three types of buildings are available to construct at the beginning of each level: resource buildings (energy production and material storage), unit platforms (air, land and sea vehicle contruction), and defense (turrets and other sentry-type structures). As you proceed in the game, you will perform research and gather special resources from the map, which will open up more structures and units to build, as well as a fourth construction option. This last category is made up of “mega units” that can tip the balance and help you fortify your position on the map (if not allow you to pretty much steam-roll over your opponents).
Combat is well-balanced due to the fact that all sides in play have access to the same units (naval, air, infantry, ground). In a way, this is almost more challenging than struggling against opponents with different technology. Balancing opponents by limiting choice to a single faction makes the game one of pure skill, rather than Zerg-Rushism. With over 130 units and technologies, and the ability to have a massive number of units in battle1, there is definitely the capacity for epic warfare.
What sets this game apart from other, mode modern RTS titles is the retro graphics. While the game definitely resembles the sprite-based titles of yesteryear, there is something about it that really places it in a league of its own. Perhaps its the level of polish; amazing unit features and a detailed landscape make for an experience that brings back memories in a new way. Animations are right on the money – and there don’t appear to be any slow-downs. Audio is something that kicks major butt; with a powerful score2, great sound effects, and decent voice acting, the game has a lot of charm.
Unit descriptions are fairly detailed, with lots of stats.
Does Machines At War 3 bring anything new to the table? Not really. But what it does bring is a solid RTS experience. Easy-to-control, well-produced, and fun to play on your own or with up to 3 other people online, this game is truly about strategy – and forces you to think your way out of tense situations without the distraction of flashy, new gimmicks. For around twenty bucks, you’re getting a whole lot of RTS goodness that will make you weep a tear of joy if your roots in the genre began a long time ago.