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AI War: Fleet Command

Score: 90%
ESRB: Not Rated
Publisher: Arcen Games
Developer: Arcen Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

AI War: Fleet Command is a galaxy-wide strategy game where you (and if you can scrounge them up) and friends, attempt to rid the galaxy of an AI controlling it. Even on the smaller settings, AI War is massive and will lead to long games. Thankfully, the experience is fun, at least if you're a strategy fan.

Ships and systems are presented in 2D, though everything is 3D. Some players will decry the lack of a full 3D package and may even call the 2D presentation a "waste" of perfectly good dimensions. All arguments should cease the minute detractors get a glimpse at the massive number of units on screen at once. It's confusing enough already, so any more of a shift would split a few brains right along the seams. Units are small scale, but there are still enough details to tell units apart and get a few fireworks, like smoke trails.

Sound is sound. You've got an orchestral-sounding soundtrack and lots of battle sounds. They fit the bill, but aren't amazing by any means. Is it disappointing? Sure, on some level, but at the same time, in the larger scope of the game it doesn't matter.


Gameplay:

At its smallest scale (around 50 planets) AI War: Fleet Command is still a massive game. The galaxy is procedurally generated, offering billions of combinations. There's no narrative-driven campaign, instead the story is generated through your various conquests (and defeats) through the galaxy. Taken with the billions of galactic combinations, AI War provides a lot of replay value. The only downside is the lack of "short game" options. This isn't a major issue, though once engaged in a game, I found it hard to find a clean breakpoint.

Even during small games, it is hard to not get an idea of the incredible amount of strategy at play. Planets are randomly generated; some are well-connected though warp gates, while others are relatively isolated. How you go about acquiring planets and building up an infrastructure is the entire game. While defeating the AI is your ultimate goal, you'll spend most of your playtime capturing research centers, unlocking new technology, and knocking out control centers, knocking the AI's thought processes down a notch. Of course, this sounds easier than it is.

There's over twenty AI "types," ranging from turtles to stealth. Cracking each type of AI is a strategic feat in and of itself, but when you throw in the game AI's aggressive nature, it becomes something else entirely. Traditionally, strategy games are all about snagging as much territory possible. The strategy works here, though doing so will cause the AI to become more aggressive. Basically, it's the whole animal backed in a corner analogy. The more you beat the AI down, the harder it will fight you, adding a completely new layer of strategy in how you balance resource collection with your military conquests.


Difficulty:

I always recommend going through tutorials, even with the most derivative of games, but with AI War: Fleet Command, I can't emphasize it enough. AI War isn't mind-bendingly hard, though learning all the ins-and-outs of gameplay is mandatory if you want to tackle the AI.

Again, when it comes time to take the fight to the AI, you have to think through every move. It is almost like a really advanced tower defense game, but with the thoughtfulness and strategy of Chess. You have all the tactics and moves available from a really good tower defense game, but a super aggressive strategy will leave you open to defeat once the AI starts ramping up. You need to carefully plan out your strategy moves in advance.


Game Mechanics:

Resources are the heart of your economy. Each area you take over brings new expansion opportunities like mineral-rich asteroids and land to build power plants and each planet's collective "knowledge." Each resource goes into your galaxy-wide pool, allowing you to create new units and upgrades. AI War's scope is impressive. There's still a skeletal build order, but you won't unlock every unit type in every game. Instead, you're given access to roughly half of the available types.

Another interesting angle is the lack of a generic unit population cap. Each unit type has its own population cap, so you can't build to the most powerful type and go from there. Early units are just as important in the late game as they are early in the game. Attacking with one type of unit doesn't work, particularly when battles consist of thousands of units. Instead, you have to send a mix of units.

Besides the longevity of games, AI War tangles with slower-than-usual pacing. Waiting for things to happen requires a bit of patience. Realistically, it isn't long enough to make a sandwich while you wait, but it will seem like an eternity for twitch players who require instant gratification. You can speed things up, but this is only useful early in the game when there isn't as much to keep track of.

As a bit of a side note, when you do have a lot to keep track of and manage, the interface is clean and incredibly useful. The game still assumes you are able to keep some general information knocking around in your head, but offers a lot of information with only a few mouse clicks and hotkeys.

If it hadn't been brought to my attention through an email, I probably would have never heard of AI War: Fleet Command. This would be a shame because it turned out to be one of the more entertaining games I've played recently. It isn't something for everyone, but fans of well-thought-out strategy games will want to download the game and give it a try.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP or Vista, 32 or 64 bit; 1.6Ghz CPU (2.4 Ghz recommended); 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended); 300MB Hard Disk Space; Graphics card must support 1024x1024 textures; 1024x768 or greater desktop screen resolution
 

Test System:



Windows Vista; 1.6 GHz Dual-Core processor; 2 Gig RAM; DVD drive; 120 GB HDD; GeForce Go7600

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