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Armada: Galactic War

For: iPhone

Social conflict

Product: Armada: Galactic War | Developer: Pixel Stream | Format: iPhone | Genre: Multiplayer, Strategy | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (network) | Version: Europe | App version: 1.2
Armada: Galactic War iPhone, thumbnail 1
Science fiction writers use the future as an excuse to produce some highly implausible stuff, and video game developers aren't exempt from this. Just look at the real-time strategy genre.

Haven't you ever thought it odd that people who can travel to the stars and form complex machinery from thin air would choose to engage in an essentially mediaeval, whites-of-their-eyes brand of warfare?

Such inconsistencies are usually forgiven, of course, when the results are suitably fun. Armada: Galactic War is set in just such a universe and, while developer Pixel Stream has more work to do, there are signs that this could be a fiction worth investing in.

War stories

Pixel Stream makes no attempt to tell a story here. There are three factions - humans, cyborgs, and aliens - who must fight to the death across five basic maps. That's all you need to know.

The reason for the lack of narrative is that it's up to you, the player, to form your own stories through mortal combat with other like-minded combatants. Armada is a heavily multiplayer-focused affair that almost completely abandons solo play.

It's a bold move, but there's an inescapable sense that the game is incomplete as a result. The game badly misses some kind of structured single player campaign.

A recent update has provided an offline practice facility, but to call it a single player mode would be generous. As it is, you have to make do with a non-interactive Tutorial to teach you the basics.

Defensive unit

Those basics include how to create and move units, gather resources, and launch attacks on your opponent's mother ship - simultaneously the most powerful unit and the one in need of most protection. Losing this unit means Game Over.

The bulk of your army is formed by three types of units: mechs, ranks, and ships. Mechs are weak in combat, but are the only units capable of harvesting the green crystals scattered about each map.

Tanks are tough, powerful, and can deliver splash damage, yet are incapable of engaging aircraft. These aircraft - here called "ships" - are the most expensive craft available thanks to their speed, power, and ability to dominate tanks.

Each of these unit types is split into a further three classes, allowing you to build an effective army according to your budget. In practice, though, unit differences are swiftly cast aside thanks to the game's oversimplified approach to combat tactics and controls.

Command shortcut

While the old tank rush is not an option thanks to their weakness against aerial units, combat is an equally simple case of forming a large mass of mixed units and picking on smaller groups of opposing forces. You inevitably reach a concentrated cluster of opposition, where the tide of battle will swing one way or the other and you're either repelled or crowned the victor.

The lack of tactical nuance is a byproduct of the controls. While they work well when dealing with a small number of units - holding the Select icon with one finger and tapping or dragging across units with the other - once you get to the business end of a fight, with dozens of units milling around, it becomes unwieldy.

For a game entitled Armada, you wouldn't think it would be so difficult to command one. The game is crying out for shortcut commands to allow you to both select all and split your forces into multiple squads. This is particularly apparent when one of the major tactics is to venture out to capture and defend multiple resource areas simultaneously.

Danger close, but not close enough

Armada: Galactic War comes up just short in so many areas, boasting plenty of great ideas but spoiled by clunky execution.

The match-making system, for example, is quick and effective, pitting you against up to three opponents without a hitch and displaying each player's history clearly and succinctly.

Things are spoiled, though, by forcing you into a fight with an AI opponent (essentially the practice mode) when no human opponents are immediately available. The ability to opt out of this is needed rather than surrendering or quitting out and a loss or disconnection being registered.

The Armament Refinement Module System (A.R.M.S.), too, is a fine idea clearly inspired by online console shooters. Here you can bolster your units with up to ten modifiers to their speed, armour, attack range, and so forth.

Yet Pixel Stream hasn't learned the lesson from console shooters that some of these bonuses should be quickly and easily obtainable and most should have a material impact on how your units behave, rather than simply boosting stats. How about some different units, or the ability to nominate one champion unit per round?

This is one of those classic cases that can only occur on iPhone - an extremely promising game that's released unfinished onto the App Store. Armada is just waiting to be tweaked, enhanced, and ultimately transformed into something much better in future updates.

Unfortunately, speculating on possible futures is not within our remit, and in the here and now Armada: Galactic War falls short.
Armada: Galactic War
Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy | 23 May 2010
Armada: Galactic War has the makings of a fine online real-time strategy game, but it�s simply not ready for battle yet
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