By Nate Adcock on Fri, 05/28/2010
I love RTS (real-time strategy) games, especially when they provide a brigade of options, smart enemies, and adaptive play. I hate reviewing them, however, because it requires a ton of screens and mucho things to describe (hint: skip to the end and watch the embedded video). When I found out LASW from Isotope244 hit the App store, I knew I would just have to suck it up, and review it. It was a rewarding effort… If you’ve played games like Stratego, Risk, or Age of Empires, you will love this amazingly immersive RTS that owes more than a few props to it’s mobile predecessor (the award-winning Machines at War)…
Install and Setup
You can grab the game here. I downloaded it directly on my 2nd gen iPod (running 3.1.3 OS version) using the App Store app. The download is around 19M, so not too hefty for an OTA (over-the-air) install. Remember to reset your device after adding new software to help minimize problems. You have to be running OS version 2.0 or later to use LASW. LASW is a tough and high-speed RTS game, requiring you to constantly move between screens, keep tabs on your enemies, field units, and home base, all while building and updating your forces, so it isn’t a bad idea to familiarize yourself with the options (of which, there are many), game modes and controls. The game is up to 4 1/2 stars when I last checked the iTunes ratings, and I back that up to the hilt.
After a brief splash screen, the main menu screen appears. Here you can set game options, and start a single (against computer enemy) or multiplayer game (multiple opponents or a mix of enemies/allies). You can just jump right in if you think you are up to the challenge. The default AI is set to an adaptive mode, which I soundly beat in the first game, and then got my clock cleaned by in game 2. It does not appear there are any on-line and/or social aspects to LASW (leader boards, awards, head-2-head via Bluetooth), so it’s basically you versus the computer (or allied with the computer if you choose multiple players on your team). Maybe we can expect some of these features in a future release.
The game starts by displaying your main ore processing plant centered on a 2-D aerial-view of the terrain around you. You can pan around using finger swipes, but you will notice you cannot see much. As you do not yet have any recon forces or observation/radar facilities, your vision is limited to the area immediately around your home base.
Use the LASW tutorial to familiarize yourself with the concepts and features of the game (select the tiny “?” icon at any point to bring it back on-screen). I highly recommend you read the entire help text shown in the main screen before starting for the first engagement. Your goal is to build-out manufacturing facilities in a quest to weaponize, expand and protect your ore processing capability. The more ore you are bringing in, the more you can expand and fortify. The ultimate goal is to engage and destroy your enemy, because though you cannot yet see them (on the thumbnail map in the upper-right corner), they are out there somewhere… Building, mining and expanding, and soon…they will be coming for you!
At first, you have a limited number of options--you have to crawl before you can fight, of course. Specifically, you must power-up your installation, and start adding industry to produce the fighting forces you will need to conquer. The first selections are in the way of power-ups and fortifications: wind turbines, generators, storage for your mining ops, etc.
You can add barriers to slow down enemy land forces, or siege guns to blast enemy scouts that might snoop out your location. Bottom line, if the enemy builds out faster and more advanced tech than you, it will not be long before you find your newly minted installation being overrun (by land, air and sea). So you must build! And quickly. Select the power unit you wish to add, a grid will display and tap where you would like to place it (preferably close to perimeter defenses).
Factories come in 3 basic flavors in the early stages of the game so that you can create a balance of forces (land, air, and sea). Once you select a type, you tap in a green area on the screen to place it. The attacks on your installation come with ferocious intensity once your enemy has built-up his strength, so after adding adequate power-ups and storage to run your operations (or even in parallel to getting there), you must start adding the plants required to produce advanced aircraft, armored vehicles, ships, subs and other sea-faring craft (over 100 types of units altogether).
A very cool aspect is that after building your tech base, you can upgrade it as you build up ore and power. This unlocks new weapons systems, including ICBM missiles, laser and electric shock weapons. Most of the early weapons systems are of a pretty conventional ballistic nature, so if you want more destructive firepower (called Mega Units), you must go out and get it by expanding your operation.
Once you have built factories and have a basic perimeter established, you can then start building and moving your units out into the field. You can select a unit individually or in groups (see strategy section for more on grouping). Once selected, you can simply tap somewhere (even in undiscovered territory) to move your units to that location.
The options for this game are really too numerous to index here, but I’ll try to summarize some of the more impressive features. You can set this game to autoplay and sit back and watch the AI go at it (which was fun actually). I set up a 3 player game with 2 allied AIs taking down a third AI. Pretty cool, huh? Then they waged all out war on each other!
The terrain is random, so that you might never run out of unique obstacles and land features to strategize over, but you can also select from a range of landscape configurations. Let’s see: there is Fortress mode whereby everyone is on a single island (I call it cage match), or each force is on it’s own island, or say a big ocean with land on the edges, etc. You can select mutated modes of game play that allow for only certain types of forces to be used (land forces, for example). The amount of game customization is staggering. You can choose different modes of determining victory (first player to get a nuke, or assassination mode where your leader is on a craft that must be destroyed). Traitor mode let’s allies turn on each other after defeating a common enemy…
My strategy is usually the sledgehammer approach of attrition--build out huge conventional forces and layered defenses to stop and then possibly overwhelm the enemy--which admittedly doesn’t always work. LASW will auto group your units into main types (land, air and sea) which is helpful in moving them all at once, but it is also useful to customize the groupings. Some weapon types are faster or slower in getting to a target, so it is important to be able to control them separately. Obviously slower units need to start moving towards their objective before faster ones do, especially if you want to maximize their punch upon arrival. Ground units typically convoy in a single file over great distances, making them vulnerable to air attack and lessening their effectiveness.
It is good thing to have air or sea cover in combat. The key in LASW like in real warfare is the art of mass and maneuver. When you reach an objective, it is smart to re-deploy your groups to bring all your firepower to bear against the enemy.
Often the fastest way is to select the little * symbol in the lower left corner of your thumbnail map, which let’s you multi-select units by swiping. You can add to one of the group selectors by holding down on the group selector you want to assign. You can also double-tap a unit to select all of that type...
If you tarry too long building up simple fortifications and defenses in this game, you will find it a difficult task to keep up with the attacks once they start. I liken LASW to manufacturing on an assembly line from hell, as you must churn out more and more units to stave off the ever-intensifying enemy waves coming at you--all the while hearing the dying screams of your forces being destroyed in the process…nice touch, that! Get forces out of the plant and into the field in a coordinated fashion as quickly as you can after the game starts! Upgrade your tech, power and storage base quickly as well. Once you have the firepower to do so, you can toy with the enemy later, but if the computer gets the edge…well…nice knowin ya…
I played this game both on the PC in demo mode, and on the iPhone, and still play Machines at War on my Pocket PC. I love them all. The LASW PC game is frankly awesome, mostly because it’s so much better to control and enjoy the graphics on your computer screen. The backing music is also fantastic on the full PC game. I am interested to see how the experience is on the iPad. I’m guessing the same but with a bigger display. The iPod touch experience is at least as good as MAW is on WinMo, and then some better as the new title has mucho cool features. The screen layout and and graphics are very good. No backing music on the iPhone version is a small minus, but then you can simply play your own music if you wish. I had a couple of minor gripes. One, the main menu system is similar to the old MAW WinMo version, and the taps are not always responsive or too tight between selections. Getting screenshots when tons of activity is ongoing can be hit/miss (trouble for a reviewer mostly), and scrolling around an area with a bunch of units engaging in combat activity can be a tad jerky once in a while. I don’t like that I can’t seem to build a line of multiple power generators or barriers in a single long swipe (which can be done in MAW or PC version). These are very minor issues indeed for an immersive version 1.0 game... The MAW legacy shows in the evolution of LASW. MAW was great when it came out (and still is), like LASW is today. Bottom line: This game is the SimCity of strategy war games…go get it now! iTunes link below, and a YT video...