|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Arcen Games||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Arcen Games||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 2, 2009||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-8||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: N/A||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Derek Hidey
Lately, developers creating RTS games have strayed away from large-scale gameplay. Instead, they've opted to produce gameplay that focuses on smaller engagements with specialized units such as in Company of Heroes and Dawn of War II. But what happens when a small group of gamers with a passion for game design don't like the current methods of mainstream developers? p>
Enter Arcen Games, a very small company focusing on 2D game design, and you get your answer in AI War: Fleet Command. Unlike mainstream RTS games, AI War wasn't designed with story in mind. You won't find a well of lore to dig through. In its place, AI War presents a simple conflict, it's you vs. the computer.
The game features only one gametype, which is effectively a cooperative mode against AI opponents. There is absolutely no player vs. player gameplay to be had, and that's the idea. Each game pits up to 8 players against 2 AI enemies. The maps are randomly generated prior to playing each game by selecting the number of planets and the complexity of how those planets are connected via wormholes. In this way, AI War is very similar to Sins of a Solar Empire, which can also generate maps based on player input. While the lack of player vs. player gametypes is discouraging, and the inability to set the number of AI you'll face seems rather restrictive, AI War wasn't designed to give you all the experiences of the RTS rainbow.
One of AI War's biggest setbacks is its graphics, which offer very little in the way of eye-candy. That isn't to say what is presented is terrible, it just isn't what most are used to. The game is entirely 2D, and all the action is viewed from the top-down perspective, which is more of a stylistic choice based on the developer's fondness of old-school gaming. AI War's visuals are certainly reminiscent of games such as Continuum and SOE's Cosmic Rift, but, despite the obvious homage to the classic 2D games of the past, they can sometimes hinder the gameplay.
Because AI War is about large scale battles between thousands of ships, it can be easy to get lost among them quickly. Many of the smaller ships such as the fighters, scouts, and bombers can get swallowed up and lost in a sea of larger ships, making it difficult to get a grasp on your tactical situation. Furthermore, when ships are floating around by themselves, as is the case with the engineers, locating them on top of an overly-colorful space background can be challenging. To its credit, AI War does offer a variety of helpful buttons and hotkeys to manage your ships in each planetary system, but it takes a lot of getting used to.
Additionally, the user interface, while providing a lot of depth to the gameplay and offering players detailed statistics on the game's progression, can be difficult to navigate quickly when it matters. The large number of colors can be distracting at times and the need to hover over icons to get even the most basic information can be tedious. Of course, these frustrations vanish once a player becomes better acquainted, but be warned that AI War's UI can and will challenge a newcomer's patience more than your average RTS.
Visuals aside, the gameplay depth is where AI War's focus shines. The standard RTS foundation, however, remains the same, with players needing to acquire and amass resources in order to produce more ships to use to attack and defend against the AI. From there, players are dumped into an expansive that can feature hundreds of planets ripe for colonization. These planets are then linked together by paths, on each end of which is a wormhole. AI War presents players with a simple objective, destroy the enemy AIs' command ships. How exactly players decide to go about doing so is entirely up to them. Deciding which planets to capture or defend, which wormholes to place mines next to, and whether to focus on a specific type of ship are all decisions teammates will need to make.
In an attempt to ease the resource gathering aspect of the gameplay, AI War allows players to quickly setup resource harvesters with the click of a button. Moreover, the resource deposits surrounding each planet never run dry, which takes another worry off the player's mind. While the metal and crystal require gathering, energy, which powers all the stations and defensive turrets, is finite. AI War doesn't stray far from the RTS formula in this regard as the building of reactors is necessary. However, building too many reactors surrounding a single planet reduces the efficiency of the reactors, decreasing how much energy they yield.