Score: 6.0 – XBox Live Arcade – 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00)
Twenty years ago, a little system called the TurboGrafx-16 entered the console wars with Nintendo and Sega. Though it ultimately didn’t survive the long haul, it did produce a few games that have been remembered by its faithful followers. One of these was Military Madness. One of the original turn based strategy games released, it would go on to eventually be rereleased on the PSone years later before going dormant once again. That is, until this week’s XBLA release of Military Madness: Nectaris from Hudson on the XBox 360.
Military Madness: Nectaris is a futuristic military Turn Based Strategy game on a hexagon based grid. Units consist of various Infantry, Artillery, Tanks, Planes, Mechs and other specialized units each with their unique playstyle and abilities. A new unit, the Commander, has also been introduced to multiplayer component of the series. The Commander is based on customizing its abilities in order to boost attack and defense of other units, attack air unit or various other tactical uses. Units cannot be produced at any time butthe player can “capture” enemy units if they were in wait in factories. Units can be repaired by returning them to factories present on the map.
Players take turns where they can move and attack with all their forces before allowing the other player to do the same. These turns alternate back and forth until one player’s forces have been completely wiped out or fifty turns have passed and the surviving or more powerful force being awarded victory.
Each combat unit on screen is represented on the map by an icon along with a bunch of stats like how many members are still alive in the unit and the defensive and offensive capabilities. When moved in to an attack position, the unit is brought up on a full screen view to exchange fire with opposing forces. Here, the game’s mathematic calculations kick in behind the scenes to figure out the victor of the encounter and casualties suffered.
The game consists of Campaign featuring the 16 maps that were in the original game as well as an Advanced Campaign with new maps and Cooperative and Competitive Multiplayer for up to four players over XBox Live.
Though the gameplay was revolutionary at its time during the original release with the ability to control multiple units during a game, it has not aged well. Regardless of the map and the units a player has control over, many games begin to feel very stale as the game features rather simple AI. This AI even lends itself to annoying behavior from the computer.
One such example of this was where the player had six units who had cornered a computer controlled unit that repeatedly would barricade itself in a factory for repairs. It was in such a position that the player could only get two attacks on the enemy, with the damage dealt being just shy of a killing blow, only for the enemy to retreat again back in to the factory.
Military Madness: Nectaris takes place on the moon in 2089 and focuses on a war between the Allied-Union forces against the Axis-Xenon forces. Originally sent to the moon as a prison colony, the Axis-Xenon rebelled and tried to claim the moon for their own… and that is the entire story the player is given. This whole story is told through text over a few quick screens at the beginning of the Campaign. As the campaign progresses, the story unfortunately does not. No quick story screens are inserted even during maps loading. This quickly becomes one of the biggest flaws of Military Madness: Nectaris as it feels as if there is no driving force beyond the gameplay itself to keep the player locked in and coming back for more.
Graphics and Sound:
Heads and shoulders above the original, Military Madness: Nectaris looks much like one would expect from the current generation of downloadable games. No longer a strictly bird’s eye view of the map, the tapered map gives some very well done 3D visuals as players maneuver units up and down roads, through mountains and over fault lines.
The HUD is very easy for players with all relevant information regarding units prominently displayed on screen without becoming too number intensive. Once a player enters combat mode, the game cuts to a brief 3D animation displaying the units involved while showing bonuses received because of support, being surrounded and terrain before a volley of ammunition is traded. Killed units are then blown up in less than spectacular fashion before heading back to the map.
While well animated, these animations only add to the repetitive feeling of the gameplay as they never vary or change. Every time a certain unit is chosen, the animation is the same and will be that way until the game ends.
The game’s music is almost a non-factor. The background music is neither annoying nor does it make any efforts to really stand out to add to the ambiance and excitement of a military campaign. The game’s sound effects seem somewhat stock with the choices of explosions, vehicle movement and gunfire. But at the same time, they do nothing offensively or poorly to detract from the experience.
Military Madness: Nectaris falls in to a lot of the traps that often overcome rereleased downloadable games. Trying to keep it consistent with the original to keep stalwart fans who are most likely to buy it happy ends up hurting the overall experience as some games do not age as well over time. Tetris‘s formula has proven itself to withstand the test of time but games like Altered Beast and Military Madness feel like something new needs to be added aside from better visuals to keep the game intriguing and worth playing all the way through. The gameplay, while fun at first quickly begins to feel dated and loses its compelling nature. Still, the revamped graphics and smooth control do bring the game back for the fans of the classic series. While it may fall in to a fanboys only territory, it is still worth downloading the demo to see if this classic gameplay appeals to you.