Military Madness: Nectaris Review
There was a time when I was all about turn-based strategy games (for some reason, I just couldn’t get into real-time strategy), which is why I went into my review of Military Madness: Nectaris with what can only be described as whimsical nostalgia. It even helped that we’re talking about a downloadable title, so the graphics would be more reminiscent of another generation and hence, I was primed to embrace the absorbing mental strain. However, although the game itself is fairly solid and it could be worth the price of admission for fans of the genre, I kept thinking there was something missing. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it; it goes beyond the almost complete lack of a storyline or a lack of diverse environments (really, you’re just always fighting on the moon so the landscape is usually identical). But then I realized that the gameplay mechanic as a whole just wasn’t quite deep enough.
The visuals are fairly well implemented throughout but as I just stated, you might get tired of the presentation palette before you’re done with the first hour of playing. While the premise of the simple story places you on the moon and provides you with altering heights amidst the craters and mountains, this isn’t the most appealing title you’ll ever see. There are many more colorful and better detailed downloadable games on the PSN but then again, strategy fans will be the first to tell you that graphics are the least of their concerns. All they really need is something that’s consistent and isn’t riddled with technical glitches. Well, Military Madness succeeds in that aspect but beyond that, the entire game is rather bland and uninspired. Everything appears extra dated when you zoom in and enter battle between units; those mini-cut-scenes feature the same animations and old-fashioned impact effects. This is one area that could’ve definitely used more attention.
The sound is about on the same level, just because the repetitiveness once again kicks in and we’re not given the benefit of a narrator or any human voices whatsoever. The game relies almost entirely on decent sound effects that aren’t quite balanced well enough and a fitting, though too understated, soundtrack. I liked the generic yet clear effects when maneuvering about the map, and the artillery, gunfire and other effects during combat were crisp and involving. But the latter just didn’t gel with the rest of the presentation as it was too loud; it’s here where the balance issue comes into play. The developers could’ve done a lot more with the music, too, especially during the longer, more intense confrontations. Again, though, technicals are never the focus of any strategy game so I won’t dock the overall score too much due to the shortcomings in the graphics and sound. I just wish more downloadable projects could take tips from teams like thatgamecompany.
If you’ve played other pure turn-based strategy games in the past, you know exactly what to expect. You arrange your units on a grid-like map without any time constraints. Each unit has a certain range for both movement and attack, and each unit has very different statistics depending on their type (i.e., infantry can never be as strong as tanks), so you must take every move into account. You can move once and attack once per turn with each unit – even though you can only do one or the other with some special units – and the goal is usually to annihilate the opposing forces before the whole of your forces bites the dust. You’ll have to take terrain into account as well as the position of your allies; i.e., a surrounded unit on low ground is at a definite disadvantage, for example. Furthermore, you’ll quickly realize that the attacking unit typically has the edge and groups that are heavily outnumbered will meet a hasty demise. There’s always a fine line to walk between offense and defense, so pay attention!
Among the different units that can range from regular soldiers on foot to airships that have full reign of the map, there are also stationary units that often contribute greatly to the outcome of any encounter. For example, you’ve got your base, where you will be well protected from invading forces so a defense boost of 35% is granted. Then there are various factories; some can restore health to your group of units (there are usually 8 units per group), while others can actually provide you with special machines. There are super heavy tanks that can deliver a massive punch but really won’t move, while there are units that can provide anti-air missiles for those pesky futuristic fighter planes. As with the movement/attack mechanic, each of these bases and factories can produce one special unit per turn…provided you have the resources. All of this fits together rather well and will most certainly keep you occupied for extended periods of time. But eventually, it all starts to become a little tiresome.
There’s a nice diversity of units, which really adds much-needed intricacy and diversity but beyond that, there just isn’t enough depth the whole way ‘round. Perhaps we needed a variety of special skills for each unit, or maybe we needed more in the way of environmental aspects; there are any number of ways they could’ve added more content, really. Furthermore, I’m fairly convinced that too many of the encounters are erratic: even when attacking with a fully healed unit, on terrain that offers a 20% advantage, both sides would somehow lose the same number of units? Why? Am I missing ally support the enemy didn’t have? This would happen over and over again, and I started to wonder if too much of any result was based on luck…the absolute bane of any strategy fan’s existence. The reason excessive luck and randomness is frowned upon in strategy titles is simply because it renders carefully laid plans useless. It makes it feel like all that maneuvering to get into the proper position counts for nothing. It just got crazy frustrating.
And while it may not be necessary, the total lack of a story to keep us interested made all the missions start to run together. You get almost nothing in between battles and while some maps can take a while to complete, you start to get to the point where you say, “damn…another really similar battle.” I guess what I’m trying to say is that there just aren’t enough reasons to keep playing beyond a few hours. We just needed more; more in the way of individual unit depth, more in the way of territory variance, more out-of-battle options to build an army or advance units, etc, etc, etc. Playing online is moderately entertaining but it's mostly the same experience. This game had a ton of potential and in all honesty, they only scratched the surface. Military Madness: Nectaris almost feels a little like the fast food approach to strategy gaming, although that’s probably too harsh. Let’s just say it feels watered down to an RPG/strat vet like myself and I have difficulty recommending it over other PSN gems that are currently available.
11/24/2009 Ben Dutka