War Engine, The Download (2001 Strategy Game)

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Released as a sequel to Shrapnel Games and Boku Strategy's Armies of Armageddon: WDK 2K, this product provides serious strategy enthusiasts with a shell upon which to build 2D turn-based games from their own imaginations. By allowing the amateur designer to adjust essentially all statistic-based aspects of play, this package can be used to create balanced tactical challenges in nearly any setting or situation. To demonstrate what's possible with the product, The War Engine ships with seven complete games designed using the software. These fully playable examples include traditional WWII games such as Tour of Duty '44 and Global War: Total Conflict, games inspired by science fiction and fantasy such as Warspace and The Northern Realms Saga, and less expected permutations like a computer version of Paintball.


At first I wanted to brush The War Engine (WE) off as a repackaging of WDK: Armies of Armageddon with a robust campaign editor. WDK was a good game and what it lacked in graphical and aural splendor it made of for with sheer tactical strategy. WDK broke down to three basic phases: unit movement, acquiring targets, and firing. There were lots of variables to consider including line of sight, range, arc of fire, etc. In its way it was a quiet, unassuming game that gave turn-based fans some enjoyment. We revisits WDK but it also gives a number of different campaigns from the paintball field to deep space.

Installation is a snap and those familiar with WDK will be right at home. The three-phase design (moving, targeting, firing) is intact and all the menus will be right where you expect them to be. The graphics have not changed so if you're looking for an explosion of three-dimensional candy for your eyes, go somewhere else. Same for the sound effects and music. But considering the pedigree - a few dedicated gamers designing their own game - I'm willing to let these slide because they don't have million-dollar budgets.

There are eight separate campaigns (one is a Training session for the new players, and another is WDK) and the scenarios run the gamut from World War II to Fantasy. All the campaigns are well designed, but there are a few bugs included that drove me to distraction at times. Firstly, the maps have been designed in such a way to offer the edge for the player that realizes how to use the environment. Which is not to say you can't succeed if you go "Rambo" on the opposition, you'll just succeed more often. Thinking before you act is really the name of the game - and WE is practically a textbook case. It's enjoyable to just sit down and play through a couple of scenarios of a campaign - but there are a few niggling points. The first being: that units, when clicked on, occasionally turn 90 degrees. This seemed to happen at random - I could never figure out a pattern to this problem.

It was maddening because turning uses up valuable movement points. Actually the movement points really got to me a few time, because on some campaigns you can end a phase even when your units have MPs remaining, but on another you may have to use all your movement points before you can continue to the next phase. Problems aside, WE is rock-solid. Its got enough challenge on single player, but if that's not enough you can start an email game.

As the name would suggest, WE places a large emphasis on building your own campaigns. Well, let me put it this way... remember the short-lived TV show Max Headroom? Remember the Blip-vert story line? You know, people are watching commercials and their heads explode. That's what it felt like trying to create my own campaign in the Customizer. To its credit, the WE manual is exhaustive but ever since I graduated from University, reading complicated manuals isn't my idea of fun (and will actually put me to sleep). However, trying to slough through the Customizer without doing so won't result in anything playable. In short the Customizer offers all the tools - and I do mean, ALL the tools - to create your own turn-based game. It's wide open - but it sure isn't simple, at least for me it isn't.

Although The War Engine is definitely a niche item, that niche should not be disappointed.

 

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