Saturday, February 20, 2016

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon

Remember, it's not the size of your license that counts; it's how you use it.

Exactly a year after declaring my intent to look into that Slitherin' Armageddon thing, I did so! Well, actually it's almost a year and a month and in reality I played through most of it over two months ago, but my version of the story's more inspirational, so there. Just doing my part to feed all those starving numerologists out there. Life's been hard on them after 2000 and 2012 and all the other ends of the world I probably never heard about.

WH40K: Armageddon focuses on a very narrow portion of its game universe. Maybe it's just cheaper to rent a few neurons' worth of an intellectual property instead of a whole lobe but I'm betting the developer's own focus on traditional war strategy games also played a large role in the choice. When you spend all your time re-hashing World War II battles, even bland old orcs must seem giddily novel territory. At any rate, green skin and broken English is about as fancy as it gets, and if I thought the Ultramarines in Chaos Gate somewhat predictable and simplistic macho men then Armageddon's staunchly beige Steel Legion makes them look like a gay pride parade by comparison.

But then, as I remarked before, the whole Warhammer thematic milieu is about doing one thing well and if you feel like commanding square-jawed muscleheads driving big tanks with big fat cannons into battle, there's little more you can expect of a game like Armageddon in terms of aesthetics. It also lacks Chaos Gate's memorable music tracks but then from the start this is obviously a low-budget product. Still, Panzer Corps 40,000 manages to satisfy more than the likes of Dawn of War for preserving a squad management turn-based system instead of turning everything into a twitch-gamer click-fest. I don't play the original tabletop WH40K but as computer TBS goes, this is pretty decent. Lightly skim the tedious, hammy "for the emperor" dialogues in between missions just to get yourself in the mood then dive right to the hexes, trukks and kannons.

I'm badly outpositioned at the start of this mission by those godless greenskins holding the high ground, but that's okay because I remembered to bring artillery. See all those lines of squiggly white text on the right side of the image? You remember those from school? Can't blame you if you don't, since pretty much every other modern computer game does everything to hide them from you for fear of breaking your poor, simple, fragile gamer brain. Those, friends, those are numbers! So while that Ork Gun Trukk isn't the toughest thing on the battlefield, its 58 armor might still give my Ratling Snipers' 0% armor penetration enough trouble that if I had some nice squishy green-skinned infantry to point them at instead, I would.

Though I prefer more freestyle gameplay, the campaign mode works best with the precept of unit experience and makes an interesting challenge of not becoming overly-specialized. Of course overall it's not all that cerebral an exercise. Those yellow and blue mechs tend to be the all-purpose "I win" button throughout your campaign, the Big Cool Thing which is of course better than all the other things and priced just high enough to drive home the point that it's better without actually scaling its price along with its true strength and versatility. For one thing, they can walk through water.

For the other thing... that implies most things can't. Terrain is more than a backdrop. Line of sight matters, as do movement modifiers and initiative. Relative price has its place - my beloved Ratlings may be much less powerful or versatile than giant robots but at one-sixth the price they still chew through enemy infantry. Weapons don't just have maximum ranges but often minimum ones, and the combination of different weapons on the same unit yields optimal ranges, a concept I thought had died a living death with EVE-Online. Some of the limitations imposed on the player like turn limits and scripted events would have been better replaced with more competent AI but they serve their role in ramping up the difficulty. Not that it requires a PhD to play but Armageddon rewards and feeds thought within its cheesy "orcs with tanks" routine while Dawn of War did not, which is of course how these low-budget little niche products manage to stay in business among the slag-heap of Electronic Arts refuse on the market.

There are good and bad ways for a game to make you feel mentally challenged. You'll find some of both in Armageddon, which is more than can be said for most games.

No comments:

Post a Comment