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Machines of War 3 (Android) artwork

Machines of War 3 (Android) review

"What is war good for? Video game premises, that's what!"

Machines of War 3 has been available for computers and iOS devices for a couple of years, but Isotope 244 only just recently ported the title to Android devices. I've always been more a fan of turn-based strategy games than real-time ones, but I have to give credit where it's due and say that while this isn't a genre that I would expect to translate well to a limited touch-screen format, the interface offered here works surprisingly well. It's true that the absence of quick keys and other functions that a keyboard might have provided hurts the experience a bit, but major setbacks are few and far between and I really can't complain.

I also can't disparage the amount of play value a person gets for the $7 or so the game costs. There's a meaty 21-mission campaign, as well as Skirmish and Multiplayer modes. Skirmish puts you against one or more computer armies in a fight for supremacy, while Multiplayer is much the same, except that your foes are real online players. The difficulty I had against my first foe when I attempted Skirmish suggests to me that the campaign is mostly intended to function as a training ground, so that players can become proficient enough to handle larger armies without needing the computer to hold their hands.

So, let's talk about the campaign and the game basics. First, there's a basic plot concerning troubles with China and Russia. Scientists have gone missing, new super-weapons might be in production, the world needs a hero… That sort of thing. The narrative takes the form of mission briefings that you receive between maneuvers. Those briefings also let you know your objectives in coming skirmishes. Objectives vary from level to level, but a decent percentage of them somehow involve you building a bunch of stuff, mass-producing units and then trying to lay waste to any local enemy strongholds.

You start with headquarters that facilitate ore production, and from there you'll have to commence building. Power generators are first on the agenda, since you need power in order to operate other buildings. Once that's sorted, you'll want to begin adding all sorts of other things: factories to produce air and ground vehicles, supply bins to store additional ore, turrets to protect your headquarters from enemy invasions and maybe an outpost or two that will increase how much of the map you can initially see. At some point, you'll also want to invest in technology upgrades. They require a substantial amount of both ore and power, but grant you access to more buildings and vehicles in exchange. Most such vehicles are significantly more useful than the basic ones you can initially produce, and some of the buildings can also be really helpful. The radar tower in particular is a near-necessity, since it helps you locate enemy forces so you can coordinate your attack, as opposed to wandering aimlessly until you happen to stumble upon them.

Fighting is easy in Machines of War 3. To select a unit, tap it. If you build, for example, five Apache helicopters and want to send them out to explore the countryside, double-tap one unit and any others will be selected so you can easily group them together. If you wish instead to form a group featuring multiple vehicle types, just use two fingers to create a "box" and move it so that it encompasses the desired units. By default, units follow commands closely and stop only to destroy enemy resources, but you can give them more specific directions along the way. For instance, you might wish to place them in a defensive mode if you're in a mission requiring some degree of stealth. If things get hectic, you can always pause the game and review a mission's objectives, or save any progress you might recently have made.

By the time you advance halfway through the campaign, the computer decides you're ready for large-scale confrontations. You are allowed a whopping 100 minutes to complete the goal in the 10th mission, roughly three times as long as the average allotted up to that point. Your enemy constantly builds stuff, creating units and researching technology to capably counter your movements. You must dispatch varied vehicles in order to avoid being overwhelmed by an enemy brigade. If you only bring your Apaches into a confrontation where the enemy has anti-aircraft weaponry, those choppers are sure to get smashed. Add some ground support to the mix, though, and you might be able to take those dangerous units out of play before they inflict much damage.

My one big complaint is that the game doesn't provide a sufficient challenge for experienced players until nearly its midway point. The techniques that you might have learned from an instruction manual in the old days must be taught in-game as you progress, and the missions seem reluctant to push you too hard at first. There's a tutorial where you can easily learn how to place buildings, create vehicles and research technology, so it's a shame the missions didn't more quickly start offering some actual resistance. For that matter, the first mission feels more like a tutorial than the actual tutorial does. You're presented with a handful of ground-based vehicles and lack the ability to build anything more. When things do get a bit tense, you'll receive some helicopters and then a massive machine (best described as some sort of hovercraft/tank hybrid that just mows down everything in your path). The second mission is just as simple, requiring you to deploy some scout planes so you can find enemy turrets and then destroy them with your big guns.

By the third mission, you actually get to start building vehicles and turrets, but then you're forced to endure an escort mission. You must guard a slow-moving piece of machinery as it advances along a convoluted path loaded with scripted events that penalize you if you're not in precise places at exactly the right times. The stupid thing even breaks down at one point, so you have to deal with an enemy onslaught while waiting for it to get fixed. Then, you traverse a minefield and finally--just before you reach safety--there's another wave of foes that come out of nowhere to make life tedious.

Until you finally reach the cool and involving levels that start at the campaign's midway point, you're never truly given the keys to the car. You just have to prove that you can do whatever the game instructs. In one stage, the enemy bases lie across a large body of water, so you must develop a specific type of plane to transport other vehicles, and then have them cross enemy battlefields. The mission description explicitly tells you this, so you're deprived of even the joy of a "Eureka!" moment that might come from figuring things out for yourself. Another mission simply hands you a submarine and makes you follow a long and winding path while following strict instructions to avoid discovery, which amounts to a 30-minute stealth exercise. Machines of War 3 is a fun game, even so. You just have to tolerate a certain amount of busywork before the fun truly begins.

Still, you'll get your money's worth. The campaign eventually shows its teeth, and the Skirmish and Multiplayer modes offer a near-infinite amount of play value once you figure out how to create an effective army. I didn't notice any major technological hiccups in the mobile port, and the controls are simple and intuitive enough that you should quickly become accustomed to playing the game on a tablet. Machines of War 3 might not be that rare sort of title that inspires me to drop what I'm doing and seek out more experiences of the same sort, but it easily entertained me enough to keep me happily fiddling around with it from time to time over the course of a few weeks. That's more than a lot of games can say...


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 05, 2016)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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