Monday, October 24, 2005

Byte: Year of the Strategy

It's funny how things in the game industry go in cycles. Last year was dominated by First Person Shooters: Halo 2, Far Cry, Doom 3, Half-Life 2. This year, on the other hand, has produced an absolute bumper crop of brilliant strategy games: Civilisation 4, Rome: Barbarian Invasion, Advance Wars: Dual Strike, Rebelstar: Tactical Command, Warhammer 40k: Winter Assault and UFO: Aftershock, to name but a few.

Strategy games have fallen out of my favour over the last couple of years. They're generally a bit too time consuming to just be dipped into when the mood takes you. I never thought that I'd see some genuinely good strategy games on a handheld, either, but both Advance Wars and Rebelstar put paid to that idea. They're quite different games, in that Rebelstar is purely tactical and all about the combat, whilst Advance Wars has a strategic edge with the unit production and the importance of terrain, controlling cities, and the like. Both can be picked up and put down relatively easily, since they're mission-based, not spawling epics in the Civilisation mode, where it's that much harder to define discrete sections of play, leading inevitably to ATTIQS (After This Turn I'll Quit Syndrome). It's still easy to get carried away, though, and I almost howled in frustration when I forgot to save mid-mission in Advance Wars and my DS's battery gave out...

Both Rebelstar and Advance Wars are surprisingly sophisticated strategies, so it would be a mistake to dismiss them as "kids' stuff" just because they're on GBA and DS. Rebelstar has some very unforgiving mission objectives and is a real challenge, whilst Advance Wars's AI is really quite evil. The tightly packed maps on both games mean that you need to take great care with your unit deployment and learn the movement ranges of all the enemy units, lest you make a schoolboy error and the AI swoops in for the kill.

They've both rekindled my enthusiasm for the turn-based strategy, which is great, given that UFO: Aftershock is now on the streets (fingers crossed, I'll be getting review code this week) and Civilisation IV is just around the corner. So to hell with shiny corridor shooters like Quake IV and FEAR - Super Strategize Me!
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