Review * Enemy Nations
Limited vision; Headgames Interactive's Enemy Nations wargame; Software Review; Evaluation
Computer Gaming World October, 1997
SECTION: No. 159; Pg. 276;
Cirulis, Martin E.
ENEMY NATIONS Is Just Another Lukewarm Entrant Into the Real-Time Arena
The nice thing about wargames is that for every company that thinks slicker, faster, simpler clones are the road to success, there is a designer somewhere who thinks that complexity and realism are a better route to a good game. In this case, as other companies rush to make more accessible (simpler) versions of COMMAND & CONQUER, Windward Studios, in partnership with publisher Head Games, has created its own C&C-for-grownups title, ENEMY NATIONS, which sticks with the ever-popular real-time format, all the while offering a slightly more complex and realistic resource and combat model. Unfortunately, the increase in detail seems to have come at the expense of the game itself.
Another Crowded House
Oddly enough, in the premise department, ENEMY NATIONS bears far less resemblance to C&C than it does to last year's competent sci-fi turn-based wargame, DEADLOCK. Once again, in a very crowded galaxy, the great races of space, human and otherwise, are forced to battle over a viable world through the use of colonizing skills and sheer force of arms. The last and greatest colony wins the world as the other races just shuffle off admitting defeat.
While we have seen this game before, especially when you consider the resources model and the dependence on raw materials for construction, it is very nice to see it all in a viable, real-time format. The game starts as your mothership touches down and your initial units roll out. Their number depends on the starting level you pick, but will include at least a construction crane and two hauler trucks. Your ship also carries enough raw materials to get your initial infrastructure established.
While all-purpose construction vehicles are a standard feature in real-time wargames, the hauler trucks are an interesting nod to detail. Whereas most resource games assume that once you cut a tree or dig up a mineral it is whisked away to some convenient central storage area, EN makes no such assumption, and thus the trucks are a vital part of your game; they haul resources from harvesting sites to the factories and then to the power plants or refineries, where they are processed. This makes for a whole new level of tactical decisions concerning the placement of facilities. Plus, for the first time in a game of this type, roads are actually relevant.
The trend toward greater realism does not stop with hauling around various raw materials. Players must also build second-level processing plants that turn coal and iron into vital steel, refineries that turn oil into gas for vehicle movement, and power plants that turn coal and oil into precious power. Even more interesting in longer games is the fact that resource sites will eventually play out, forcing players to range farther afield in search of the stuff war machines are made of. All of this gives a level of detail rarely found in the genre.
A Strange Myopia
Unfortunately, despite their attempts to distinguish themselves, the designers at Windward Studios seem to have taken a strange path in deciding what is and isn't important to this type of game.
For instance, the terrain graphics engine is beautiful to the point of grinding the best computer systems to a halt. In fact, the design notes seem to gloat that it will take the next generation of PCs to fully exploit what the land has to offer. Unfortunately, while ENEMY NATIONS can easily make it into Virtual Homes and Gardens, any gamer expecting the same care and attention to combat effects will be sorely disappointed. In fact, battle sounds and graphics in the game are the weakest I have seen since MicroProse's also-ran, THIS MEANS WAR. While some horticulture fans out there may disagree, I suspect most gamers would trade beautifully rendered trees for a bigger sound and graphics difference between cannon and laser fire.
Of course, all this might have been forgivable had the proof been in the actual combat pudding. If the spiffy terrain and wide variety of weapons platforms actually translated into a combat system as detailed and interesting as the resource system, things would have been great--but in the end none of it seems to make much difference. Combat modifiers for terrain and movement may be at work here, but combat is so bare-bones that the only difference you're likely to notice is that some units crawl along more slowly over hills and forest. This, coupled with a computer player that must have been the dumber brother of the one found in DEADLOCK, means that hard-core wargamers (at whom this product seems to be aimed) are sure to turn up their noses.
Even when you focus on the stronger points of the game--the resource and construction portions--the designers seem to have left out a few important details. Despite the fact that everything in the game depends on your supply and demand, there isn't a single spreadsheet to be found. Buildings yield information only in the form of next-to-useless icons, and the world map is inadequate to the point of uselessness.
And, sorry, but despite the promising resource and construction angle, I found ENEMY NATIONS to be just plain boring. The aliens races are about as generic as sci-fi gaming gets these days, and the technology research is not much better: Despite coming to this world at FTL speeds, you spend most of the game duplicating the industrial revolution (starships and coal-burning electrical plants?). Moreover, the potential of the high-resolution terrain is wasted, since everything looks as if you've landed on TV's Earth2 (namely, the planet North California!).
This game does have appeal, especially in the multiplayer arena, where human awareness goes far in deepening the shallow ends of this game. But if you are not a connected gamer, you may come away from this game thinking you have paid an awful lot of money for a really good shareware game. Head Games needs a big slap for thinking all a distributor should do with a game is shove it out on the shelves as cheaply as possible. (Holy BC3K, Batman!) Unless you are desperately in need of a deeper real-time wargame fix right now, wait for ENEMY NATIONS 2. Perhaps a little more experience will breed greater success.
Price: $ 29.99 Minimum System Requirements: 486/80 or better, Windows 95/NT, 8MB RAM, 4MB hard-disk space, 2x CD-ROM drive, Windows-compatible sound card and mouse. Multiplayer Support: Modem, Direct Connect (2 players), LAN, Internet (2-12 players). Designer: Windward Studios Publisher: Headgames Interactive Minneapolis, MN (612) 321-9470 www.headgames.net
APPEAL: Fans of realtime who want more complexity in their titles; DEADLOCK fans.
PROS: A deeper C&C clone; terrain graphics and the resource/construction engine are some of the most detailed found in the genre yet.
CONS: Inferior combat routines; bad release AI; generic props; a dearth of useful gaming information.
TIMBER The level of realism here is fairly extensive; you not only have to harvest different resources, but you also need to ship them to refineries and processing plants.
LAND HO The terrain engine and graphics in ENEMY NATIONS are impressive as strategy games go, but they can slow even the fastest systems.
BUILD IT Information is sparse in ENEMY NATIONS and the data is conveyed in near-useless icons. You know what you're building, but not why. Thankfully the manual is crammed with info.
WHAT'S THAT? ENEMY NATIONS has various viewing options, a rotating camera and several zoom levels for better views of your camps.