PC Strategy Games – An Inside Look into the Future
In today’s gaming industry the term “turn-based” is almost an obscenity. Real-time is insanely popular these days and generally speaking you don’t get the grand scale that you would expect from the strategy genre. (Sins of a Solar Empire being one very notable exception, with its surprising depth of gameplay. :P) Few games (such as the Civilization series) buck this trend, and many of the most popular turn based games include real time elements (such as the Total War series).
So it is no surprise that even in the niche genres of wargames and turn-based tactical combat games there has been a movement toward incorporating real time elements. These games were for many years true to their table-top gaming roots.
[lightbox http://nixiepixel.com/media/blogs/a/screenshot/wargame.jpg [Tabletop Wargame]][/lightbox]
Many war and squad-based video games were direct ports their board game counterpart, staying as true as possible. Even more were exactly the same but simply renamed (presumably to avoid licensing issues). It is from these roots the “I go, you go” system was developed…or “turns,” as we know them, which gave the players ample time to analyze the game and the moves they would make, as part of their overall strategy.
Of course, depending on the scale this type of system doesn’t really work. Wargames on the operational or grand strategic scale, such as the classic “War in the Pacific,” evolved a different sort of turn system. Each player would issue orders simultaneously which would then be resolved by the computer and displayed during a resolution phase that represents hours or days of passed game time. However, small scale wargames have changed as well.
Two of the best squad-level wargames, the Combat Mission and Close Combat series, are both very different – in Combat Mission orders are issued by the players, but then the AI will make intelligent adjustments based on game events during the resolution phase, until the next orders phase when the players get to issue orders again. Many people who love the wargaming niche feel that Combat Mission is one of the most accurate representations of combat ever created. In Close Combat, another well-loved franchise, the game plays out over real time, with no phases, and orders are issued directly on an ongoing basis.
[lightbox http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/b/b1/Close_Combat_2_battle.jpg/800px-Close_Combat_2_battle.jpg [Close Combat Screen]][/lightbox]
Closely related are the tactical squad-based games that have strategic elements. These were some of the first games to really show how the power of a processor could change war/strategy games, and still have a cult-like following today. Gamers speak fondly of the XCOM and Jagged Alliance games, with fan modifications, fan recreations, and various commercial attempts to capture the feel of these hybrid games.
Like the older Fallout games, the heart of the games, the tactical combat, played out with characters moving turn by turn, spending action points to take various actions. Around these games were strategic elements of taking and holding territory, gathering, buying, or researching new equipment, paying soldiers’ salaries, and even role-playing elements. Also much like the Fallout series, the modern evolutions of these games are beginning to have more of the RTS feel.
Jagged Alliance, Jagged Alliance 2, and the various expansions of these games were especially loved because in addition to the gameplay features discussed above, each hireable NPC had his or her own voice acting, personality, quirks, and interactions with other NPCs and allies. These games were a special blend of highly immersive parts that merged into absolutely orgasmic, very addictive entertainment. Certain games have followed in their footsteps, including the Silent Storm series, Brigade E5, and Hired Guns: the Jagged Edge. However, each of these had their bad sides, and none truly captured the feel of their spiritual predecessor. The best attempt are likely the JA2 v1.13 modification and the mods based on 1.13, which generally stay true to the original but add various improvements (and some completely new campaigns, such as Renegade Republic).
Jagged Alliance 3 was greatly anticipated, but the only thing that has continuously held true about the game is constant delays. The current estimate is late in 2010, but who knows if it will be completed by then. However, hope is not lost for fans of JA-like games. While Brigade E5 had a lot of promise, in many areas it fell short, and rumors persist that the game was originally intended as a demo, but picked up by a developer and hastily released with some last-minute development while the true game was built on its core. This game, technically a sequel to Brigade E5, is called 7.62 mm, and it represents the best chance that JA2 fans have of
seeing a game that can keep the tactical squad-based strategy game alive.
The combat engine is called “Smart Pause Mode,” which feels much like JA’s turns, but instead of action points characters’ actions take actual amounts of time. So instead of characters moving and their turns being “interrupted” by enemies, orders are given and resolved in real time, allowing for interesting interactions like enemies seeing each other and shooting at the same time. Screenshots and a gameplay video show that the graphics, while not up to modern first-person shooter standards, are much improved. If the game plays anything like fans hope and anticipate it will, it can be a real breath of fresh air.
[lightbox http://www.1cpublishing.eu/screenshot/data/games/90/1321_Shot_11_42_04.jpg [7.63 mm Screenshot]][/lightbox]
We won’t have to wait long to find out. 1C Company has provided a preview release for media, and I hope to be able to download it and give my impressions. The game is slated for a Spring 2009 general release…right around the corner. Here is some info provided by the publisher:
7.62 is a tactical action game and a sequel to the critically acclaimed Brigade E5 with a combination of real-time and turn-based combat called Smart Pause Mode and a huge list of equipment and weapons.
Its compelling single player story starts players off as a mercenary looking for a Russian businessman who stole money from his partners then hid in a small Latin American country to avoid punishment. Soon the assignment turns into an intense conflict as the intricate political situation, confrontations between military and rebel troops and who to ally with force the player to make tough decisions, and live with them, if they can.
For more information, check out the 7.62 official web page.
While we won’t be seeing our friends Fidel or Scope again, this game looks like it will be a real hit.