|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|
In addition to metal, crystal, and energy, AI War also requires players to accumulate knowledge points, which are used to unlock upgrades. Knowledge points are gained by creating science labs, which continuously yield small numbers of points per second. To keep players from defending a single planetary system until fully upgraded, planets yield a maximum of 2,000 knowledge points each, so if players wish to continue upgrading, they'll need to do some planetary conquering. All things considered, the resource gathering and economic gameplay in AI War is simplistic, but only in so far as it is easy to grasp, allowing players to focus on the core of the game's fun: combat.
The sheer number of ships and defensive structures, which can be daunting when fully upgraded, provide players with a wide variety of tactical options with which to play. And, despite each ship and structure having detailed statistics such as armor, shields, weapon damage, firing rate, and movement speeds, AI War provides a quick Weak vs. and Strong vs. comparison to help players along. One notable gameplay element that is particularly interesting is being able to increase the power and efficiency of smaller ships that stay close to larger ships, proving that fleet diversity goes a long way in achieving victory.
While micromanagement of units is possible in AI War, it is clear that it isn't necessarily the best way of playing. Instead, AI War sacrifices what many would refer to as strategic depth for tactical depth, meaning that giving individual orders to ships may not be as effective as deciding on where to locate your fleet in conjunction with a wormhole or a set of short-range turrets. Tactics such as flanking with a smaller, faster fleet are more likely to prove helpful than issuing all your cruisers to focus on a particular target. The AI is designed to let the player rest easy during combat by ensuring that ships don't just sit idly by and be destroyed because they received a "move" order and not an "attack move" order, and it manages to do the trick.
AI War is also designed around longer-lasting games, with the shorter ones taking just about 7 hours to complete, depending on the difficulty settings, of which there are 13 grades of AI difficulty, ranging anywhere from rendering the AI comatose to making them appear to be on steroids. While this may seem rather unnecessary when compared to other RTS games and how they manage AI difficulty, for AI War it is not only justified but an important gameplay mechanic that extends the game's replayability.
It is important to note that the controls are very typical of your modern-day RTS game. Dragging is still a common way of selecting and grouping units together, a zoom feature allows players to quickly assess situations across entire planetary systems, and switching between keys, fleets, and structures can be managed using hotkeys. Conversely, there are some minor oddities that can cause frustrations. For example, the ships use wormholes to fly between planetary systems, but simply selecting a ship and clicking a wormhole doesn't get the job done. Instead, players must select their ships and then hold the left control key while clicking the right mouse button to make the ships interact with the wormhole. On top of that, holding the left control key and then left-clicking moves the player's camera to the other side of the wormhole, but not the ships. Why ships cannot move by selecting them and simply right-clicking the wormhole seems strange. Nevertheless, these types of annoyances are few and far between.
The multiplayer features of AI War also allow players to enter and leave existing games as much as they want without affecting it too much. Being able to start and finish a saved game with an entirely different team is a huge plus for AI War considering even the shortest games take close to an entire workday to complete - time that many people cannot dedicate without stopping.
AI War certainly doesn't offer the bells and whistles that come standard in most mainstream RTS games. Extras such as in-game leaderboards, matchmaking systems, chat rooms, and buddy lists are all MIA. It also won't blow you away with impressive, 3D graphics that tear a hole in the meaning of "next-gen." With that said, don't be fooled by the lack of features, as the game oozes fun and teaches us once again not to judge a game by its art design. AI War: Fleet Command provides the kind of gameplay depth rarely seen in today's mainstream RTS offerings, and it does so with one dimension tied behind its back.
CCC Freelance Writer