The real time strategy scene has been fairly quiet lately – with only a few big names being released in the past years. There haven’t been many smaller titles either, so it seems like the genre could do with a breath of fresh air. The question then is, does Machines at War 3 provide this much needed breath of fresh air? And the answer? Well… No, not really. What it does provide however is a solid gaming experience and a very welcome throwback to the classics like Red Alert and Total Annihilation.
Machines at War 3 presents itself in two main stages of play: Building and Combat. Building is the slow, meticulous process of designing and developing your base to become the perfect impregnable fortress, whilst combat provides a fast paced alternative where quick thinking will see you through to success.
Perhaps the most important aspect of building your base is resource management, an aspect which is handled quite well in the game. You only have two main resources to take care of – metal and energy. Where metal is constantly generated by your command structure (and boosted by special mines later), energy is provided through building a variety of utility structures such as wind turbines or power plants. The important thing to note here is that energy is provided not generated – each generator provides a certain amount of energy which is then consumed by certain other buildings and units (And, rather handily, freed up upon their inevitable destruction). This disparity between resources provides moments of interesting tactical decisions and helps to guide you down the path of choosing whether to focus on building an industrious home base or a mighty military force. The other resources you will be handling are the special ores that are scattered about the map. There are quite a variety of ores you will find in the game and there’s pretty much a guarantee that some will be missing during any single map. These ores are necessary to build Megastructures and, as such, are a highly valued resource. Often times you’ll find yourself fighting over a remote part of the map just to secure a key resource, or decentralizing your base in order to accommodate for the discovery of these ores (In one game I found I was running five bases at once).
Base building itself is comprised of four major building types: Resource production (mentioned previously), Units (which focuses both on Unit building factories as well as research stations for improving those units), Defenses (self-explanatory) and Megastructures (the behemoths of the game). On top of these are two ranks of research which unlock extra buildings in each category once completed. Where the first three of these categories are integral to the creation of a successful base, Megastructures exist to provide a unique opportunity to dominate the map. Only available once you reach the top level of research (and even then only buildable once you have access to special ores which are very sparsely scattered around the map) each Megastructure has a unique method of controlling and changing the battlefield – from the ultimate radar which reveals the entire map to you, to a flying fortress with incredible air to ground dominance.
Outside of the game changing Megastructures, combat itself is a fairly balanced yet fun departure from the slow paced building process. Much like the buildings, there are three tiers of units which (by the end of the game) present themselves as light, medium and heavy units. The units are also split into four categories which should be familiar to any RTS veteran: Air, Naval, Vehicle and Infantry, with each category performing its own key role in a battle. Unfortunately, the game is let down here by only offering a single faction (There are many countries to choose from but they all field the same units), and whilst I’m sure this helped balance the game, it does unfortunately cut down on the overall replayability factor. Saying that though, I’ve played a few skirmishes already and still feel compelled to play more).
On the visuals side of things, Machines at War 3 offers a very polished retro experience. A lot of detail has clearly been put into all the sprites evident in the game, from the tiny soldiers all the way up to the gargantuan Megastructures as well as the gorgeous landscapes you’ll be ripping up. There’s a lot of charm in those little graphics and this is shown most prominently during combat – the special effects for rocket trails and lasers look incredible and really help to bring the explosive sequences to life.
As far as RTS’s go, Machines at War 3 is not without merit. While it doesn’t try to push any boundaries, it does prove a solid tactical experience where you’ll be scratching your head trying to come up with new strategies to trump your foes. There’s a lot of enjoyment to be gained here, especially for the low price it is currently going for. I can’t help but advise you try this gem out.
8 rampaging megaunits out of 10