Dune 2 style real-time wargaming returns to the Amiga? Not exactly. We take a look at a bizarre cross between Command and Conquer, Red Alert and... a board game
lick through the pages of one of the plethora of PC gaming mags currently hogging the shelf space at your local newsagent and you won’t fail to notice that real-time wargaming is one of the genres of the moment. Spawned by the enormous popularity of Command and Conquer, every software company and their respective canine companions appear to be producing top down scrolling real-time wargames.
Inevitably those intrepid Amiga games programmers are getting in on the act too, with some tasty looking hats being thrown into the ring by The World Foundry, Ablaze Entertainment, Charm Design and others. Superficially, Mobile Warfare would appear to belong amongst their number, but a few moments of play shows you that appearances can be deceiving. This ‘top-down, real-time, scrolling wargame’ is top-down and a wargame, but scrolling and real time it is not.
Mobile Warfare allows you to play out a campaign or play custom conflicts. In the campaign setting you play a sequence of battles which start out as a small "police action" by your UN squadron in Romania and end up playing out a bizarre James Bond style mad dictator story line. Custom conflicts pit you against the computer in a training session where you set the parameters.
Singles screen action
The battles take place on a single screen. You are given a small complement of troops and some money. In some screens you have a barracks where you can buy extra forces.
Money can also be spent purchasing air strikes or, if you have a spy unit, bribing opposing forces to change sides. The range of units available to you changes from mission to mission, which gives a nice sense of progression. Units vary from the simple infantry man through special forces units, tanks, missile launchers to Harrier attack jets.
The game is played on a turn by turn basis. Each unit has a certain number of moves which can be expended during your turn phase. Moving onto a square occupied by an enemy initiates an attack, in which the opposing units exchange blows. To add a certain degree of complexity and technique to the proceedings, each unit is better at coping with some type of opponent than others, so that a missile weapon is more effective against a tank than a trooper.
During your turn phase you can also spend as much of your cash reserves as you like on air strikes. Not just limited to bombing, you can also at times deploy paratroopers, drop medical supplies or fire a cruise missile which destroys anything it hits.
There are four types of special unit. The spy mentioned earlier is joined by a saboteur who can disable enemy vehicles, a nurse who can heal wounded soldiers and a mechanic who can repair damage to vehicles. Unfortunately, beyond this there is not much difference in units beyond their relative speed and attack and defence strengths. Although at later levels you do get aircraft, they behave like ground troops even as far as having to fly around obstacles such as trees.
Once you have got over the shock of what seems to be a stunningly underpowered C&C clone, you start to realise that this is a fundamentally different sort of game and the parallel is unfair. Mobile Warfare is about planning out your strategies, figuring out how many moves bring you into conflict with the foe and using this to develop your strategy. It is more like Risk or one of the many similar warfare board games than it is like C&C.
Mobile Warfare grows on you after the first couple of games. There is definitely the basis of an interesting puzzle game in here. Alas, a few more games in and you realise it is let down by that all important aspect of any strategy/puzzle game, balance. The learning curve of the game is thrown a loop by the occasional impossibly hard missions, one of which comes rather early, while in many later missions an imbalance of play can make things far too easy.
Mobile Warfare is a game that is likely to give you a few hours of fun, but it is a long way from being state of the art. It is a good notion with a lot of work put in it, but one which is ultimately let down by dated presentation and weaknesses in the level designs that are so critical to this sort of game. It is a cheap game at £15, so I guess you do not expect more than a few hours of amusement before you put it aside. To that aim, it succeeds.
CU Amiga, March 1998, p.46