In which delusional plays war on a Revo.
When you think of Psion, one thing that doesn’t immediately spring to mind is rolling tanks, blazing explosions and general destruction. Unless you are me that is, who always quietly hoped for mass destruction on the move. Given the option between doing this on my Revo or, for instance, buying a tank and doing it for real, I’d go for the Revo every time. I can fit it in my pocket for one thing.
What’s all this leading up to? You might ask of me. Well, you may have heard of NoMansLand, a game, which, you may have guessed, enabled you to simulate mass destruction on a small screen. On the train, say. Or maybe waiting for the train, imagining you are attacking the corporate machine behind the fact you are still waiting, as opposed to being in London by now.
We mean large when we say it.
A Break from the Norm
NoMansLand is the first real time strategy game to appear on the Psion. That alone gets it some kudos. Puzzle games have been the staple of the PDA for a long time and it takes games like this to make people sit up and see what is possible. Hopefully more RTS games will appear in time, although I haven’t seen any so far, and NoMansLand has been around a while now.
How’s it Play?
The game has the usual two sides. You usually start off the mission with a small base, comprising Tank base, a Construction Yard and some defensive turrets. You also usually start with an Oil Well or two. This is because the resource in this game is oil. You have a fixed income as well as the oil, so if you’re really stuck you can just wait for the money to eventually pile up. Having oil makes your funds build up much faster, though, so it’s vital to keep the oil pumping. The money is useful for tanks. The tanks are your main offensive weapons. The larger tank is much harder than the smaller one, but costs twice as much; leaving you to decided whether to go with swarms of small tanks, or just a few behemoths.
The main screen is well laid out, with the usual window on the world on the left and a bar on the right with the main buttons for buildings and units on. There is also a X2 speed button, used a lot at the start of the level while you build up your forces, and the Quick Map button. This brings up a map of the level, along with all the units and buildings you have found. Yes, the ones you have found and can see, because this game has Fog of War. It is well implemented, in the same way as all RTS games since WarCraft 2. You can see all the land you have found, along with buildings, but you can only see the enemy vehicles in sight range of your units. This provides for exciting play, as you can only be sure of what’s in your immediate vicinity.
What else is around the place? You just won't know until you look...
Once you start playing you find that the interface helps you to control and build your army up. The first thing you do is build up a few tanks and send them off to explore. However, unlike many RTS games, the emphasis here is on creating units, rather than expanding your base. For, like the units, there are few buildings. You have a Construction Yard and a Tank Base. These are around at the start of each scenario, so you don’t get to choose the site of your base. The main buildings you’ll create are Oil Wells and some turrets to defend them. This is because each oil pond has a limited amount of oil, and the ones by your initial base often contain just enough to get you on your feet, forcing you to explore the maps, rather than just sit back. In some ways the lack of base building is a good move, leaving you to concentrate on destruction. However, it also creates a lack of involvement to some extent. After all, you don’t have the same attachment to two buildings in NML that you have in, say, C&C to your painstakingly crafted, nigh on impenetrable base. You don’t tend to wince in the same way as the enemy swarms inside it. But there is still the fun of placing turrets just where the enemy units have to cross a river and watching them being torched one by one. Which is one of the most vital tactics, due to the lack of units that can cross water without a bridge.
A Rush of Adrenaline
The combat is another strong point. The universal ‘Tank Rush’ is much in evidence here, but watching your tanks swarm around a bewildered enemy carries the same great feeling it always does. This is worth the looks you get on the train when you start to mutter ‘Die, scum, die!’. However, the enemy AI is good enough to use the same tactic on you, so you need to leave enough tanks at home to avoid getting swamped yourself. The AI is also smart enough to retreat when it senses things aren’t going it’s way. It also leaves a few units in its base, so counter attacks don’t always work. The animation on the tanks is good enough to draw you into the game. For example, the turrets all swivel to face in the direction they’re firing, so you can usually tell who’s attacking whom.
Anatomy of a Mission
It all began OK. Note the health bars, they're useful as ever.
Later on we looked around abit. We weren't expecting this one. We retreated soon after.
After licking our wounds, we sent these over.
You may recognize what happened from earlier. They weren't so cocky this time.
Just had to finish of the base now. It didn't take us long to show them who was boss.
However, it’s not all sweetness and light. There are several gripes I have with the game. Fortunately, most of them are forgivable, and many may be due to limitations in the machine, rather than lack of effort on the part of the programmers
However one of these is not. There is no real story whatsoever, helping to pull you into the game universe. This causes a lack of continuity between the missions, which is compounded by the fact you can do any mission you want, just select it from a list. The game is begging for a storyline, and a carefully graded learning curve, especially in the beginning to help in coping with the small screen. Given, there is a small intro at the beginning of each mission, along the lines of ‘The enemy’s dug in on the other side of the river. You have lots of resources, so go and flush them out.’ Hardly inspiring stuff, it doesn’t really get you into the mood of the thing. So it’s fortunate the gameplay holds the title up, and it soon shrinks to the back of your mind. Until you finish the mission that is. And it’s always there, a small ‘Why am I doing this?’ gripe.
The second problem I have stems from this. The interface in game has obviously had a lot though put into it. Not so the out of game one. On starting the game you are faced with a list of missions to choose from. Here’s where a story would be great. This could then be refined into ‘Start new campaign’, ‘Continue campaign’ etc. and would make the game look much more polished. As it stands, you can tell the main effort has gone into the engine and not the game atmosphere surrounding it. And the game is calling out for some atmosphere to get you into the game from the beginning. This is the main problem. It’s a good game, but it needs more substance to it. You tend to forgive this when you’re actually in game, but it should be improved none-the-less. It’d look great on screenshots for one thing.
Nice, but not too inspired.
To be fair to the game though, the Psion doesn’t have large amounts of processing power and memory, so a fully fledged story and graphics heavy main interface ala C&C and StarCraft would probably be very draining on the machine, especially for Revo Classic users like myself, so some of this can be forgiven.
Some Blurred Vision
Great though the in-game interface is, it is lacking in some departments. The worst thing is the missing unit grouping keys. In every PC RTS since C&C you have been able to bind groups of units to the number keys. Where is this feature? It’s the single most annoying thing in the entire game (of which there are not many), along with not being able to bookmark areas of the map. If the developers can manage fog of war, why not simple unit group numberings? This really is annoying to the extreme. However, a testament to the game is that you continue to play it even so. It just should be there though. Along with a quicker Quick Map, but I don’t think it’d be possible to find room on a Psion screen for a permanent on screen map, so I’ll forgive there.
My final gripe is the units. They perform well, with a few glitches in the AI. The worst is the fact that units tend to get as close to enemies as possible, rather than staying at maximum range, often putting themselves under much heavier fire by doing so. The main problem though is that there are only two types of unit. A couple more ground units would be nice and an air vehicle wouldn’t go amiss either. Then we would really be cooking on gas. I accept it might be the hardware imposing the need for few unit types, but maybe it could be done. The two units are different enough to keep the game going, though, so it isn’t too bad.
All Quiet on the Eastern Front
Make More War - Quickly and Easily
I haven’t mentioned the scenario editor, as I haven’t had the time to explore it fully, but from the quick glance I had it looked impressive and easy to use. I may do a small review of this in future, if I get the time to look at it properly. It’s a nice addition to the package, and makes the games small over all size of around 1MB all the more impressive.
Definitely Maybe, But More the Former
So there you go really. In a nutshell, the game’s great, but it needs a bit of polishing. If version 2 sorts these problems out, the game will truly stand out as a classic.
|PalmTec - Commercial - £15
- It's RTS!
- Combat is great!
- Intuitive and easy to use interface.
- Needs abit more polish though.