Once upon a time, real-time strategy games reigned supreme. Titles like Age of Empires and Command and Conquer were commonplace in PC gaming libraries, and new hits were hitting shelves almost monthly. The genre has since fallen out of fashion, but recent releases like Ashes of the Singularity and the thriving community surrounding Age of Empires 2 HD show that there’s still a place for fast-paced military and economic management in the PC arena. French game developer Insane Unity looks to revitalize the RTS heyday with their first release Win That War!
Win That War! harkens back to RTS games of old. The title is very reminiscent of the granddaddy of RTS games: Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty. Don’t mistake Win That War! for a run-of-the-mill copycat, though; the Indie title brings some new and interesting elements to the classic RTS formula. The game is still in beta, so there are some things to iron out, but what’s here is intriguing and shows a lot of promise.
There are a few different game modes here, including standard “conquer the map” matches against either computer or online opponents, but the meat of the game lies in the “Galactic Campaign” mode. Here, players find themselves in charge of one of three factions: Atlus, the military power that enforces peace through force; Blum, the economic powerhouse that is pushing the boundaries of space; and Nasca, who wants to bring their followers into Utopia or kill everyone trying.
It doesn’t really matter which of the three factions you choose; at this point in development, there’s no difference between them. Each faction has access to the same units, the same buildings, and operates exactly the same. Insane Unity may bring in genre staples like unique units or faction bonuses to differentiate the teams, but as of this writing, the groups are pretty bland outside of their initial descriptions.
After choosing a faction, you’ll be plopped into orbit around a randomly generated planet that has been split into territories. Here, the campaign blends traditional RTS aspects (base building, resource gathering, army raising) with something akin to the board game Risk. Players choose which territory on the map they want to control, and that territory becomes the stage for either fresh colonization or a battle with another player.
Despite their different shape on the planet, the territories themselves are pretty much the same. The landscape is fairly desolate with some resources speckled throughout. Overall, the maps are unspectacular and get pretty dull pretty fast. A nice feature, however, is the ability to zoom out and view the entire map. This bird’s eye view turns your units into icons and gives you a great overview of everything going on, but units tend to clump and can be hard to manage in this view. You’ll likely need to zoom in to separate tanks from engineers.
Exploring the map can be frustrating. Most RTS games reveal only an area around your structures and units and shroud the rest of the map in darkness Win That War! follows this design, but the rest of the map has already been explored. This makes exploration almost meaningless as the map and resources are already visible. Also, your units’ line of sight is a faint circle that blends in with the terrain, making it very difficult to see where it ends. This isn’t a problem unless you’re trying to create a scouting of system to detect enemy units before they sneak up on you. It’s hard to know where units should be placed to create an early warning system.
I said earlier that this game reminded me a lot of Dune II. Fans of that game will immediately see the similarities here as well. The sci-fi setting, the three factions, the territorial map, even the units all seem to have been lifted from the Westwood classic. Resource gathering, on the other hand, reminds me a lot of the original Starcraft. Here, the “Sharp Crystal” and “Glowing Fluid” are like minerals and Vespene Gas from the older title, and both require engineers to mine them or build a structure to harvest the resource.
Gameplay is very similar to most real-time strategy titles: gather resources, build a base, and start making units. Once you feel you have a large enough army, seek out and destroy your enemy to seize a territory. Then move on to the next territory and continue your conquest. Once a certain time limit is hit, the player with the most territories under their belt is deemed the winner. Unlike most match-based multiplayer RTS games, though, the time limits here are set in increments of days, not hours.
This means that you can actually exit the game and your campaign will still run in real time. If another player invades a territory that you control, computer AI will attempt to defend the territory for you. Right now, the AI is a bit buggy and very hit or miss. It will either quickly be overwhelmed by the opposing player, or it will amass a force larger than the Mongol horde and decimate your opponent. In my time reviewing the game, I wasn’t able to find any matches to join, but the computer opponent I played against completely destroyed me. Twice. You can watch the gameplay video below and laugh at my complete annihilation.
Sound and Graphics
So what makes Win That War! stand out? For one, the music. While most RTS games have an ambient orchestra or electro-rock infused music, the soundtrack of Win That War! has an ethereal ska feel to it. It’s a bit jarring to hear the peppy palm-muted guitar and upbeat drum patterns playing while you’re building space tanks to conquer a planet, but it’s nice. Once a battle starts, the tunes pick up and really gets the blood pumping.
The art style is also pretty unique. Eschewing the typical high-contrast, fantastical look of most Sci-Fi titles, Win That War! opts for a highly stylized Art Deco-ish style that looks like something out of 1930’s serials like Flash Gordon. The artwork is well done and matches the music to make for a quirky aesthetic that leaves a lasting (and fun) impression.
Graphically, the game is subdued. Unit and structure models are fairly simple with some light detail in their textures. Particle effects are pretty simple, but shadows and niceties like ambient occlusion and bloom are present, if not overt. Overall, the graphics are decent; lasers look like lasers, tanks look like tanks, and once you get used to the unit and structure models, you’ll be able to identify them at first glance.
I tested the game on my Macbook Pro (2015) with a Core i7-4980HQ and an AMD Radeon R9 M370X GPU. Running natively on Windows via Bootcamp, Win That War! was a bit choppy, but averaged between 25-30 FPS. I did get some hiccups where the game would completely freeze for a second or two, and if I zoomed in too far, frame rates took a nosedive. Granted, my computer is getting pretty long in the tooth, and the M370X wasn’t exactly the top-of-the-line GPU when it was released. However, looking at some gameplay videos in Steam reviews, the game runs very smoothly on anything with a relatively modern graphics card. Insane Unity says that the game will run on any DX10 enabled GPU, but recommends at GTX 660 or higher with at least an Intel Core i5.
It should be said that the game is still in Early Access. There are definitely some bugs in the gameplay (I failed the tutorial mission within the first 10 seconds of my second playthrough due to a bug in resource gathering), and graphics could be better optimized. The AI lacks balance and needs some tweaking before I would say that it’s fair to play against.
But Win That War! definitely shows some promise. The real draw of the game lies in its robust multiplayer game mode. Playing a campaign with others over the span of a few days sounds like a lot of fun. It’s like playing an epic game of Risk with your friends where you have to leave the board out night after night until there’s finally a winner. And the option to leave the game and come back to it whether or not your opponents are online is a nice convenience to have.
So, is the game worth the $19.99 asking price? As it stands now, no. You’ll quickly exhaust the gameplay modes, and while there are lots of features “coming soon,” what’s here now is pretty shallow and bland. Multiplayer is the biggest selling point, but (here in the States at least) it’s as lonely as the void of space. I checked over several days during the morning, afternoon, and night and never found an online match with another human. I even created a game room and left it open for a long while before giving up and playing against a computer opponent. Insane Unity is a French developer, so the multiplayer might be more robust in Europe (you get to set your region when you create a profile).
Win That War! has a lot of growing to do before I would recommend it. However, it is refreshing to see a developer throw so much effort into revitalizing the RTS genre amidst a sea of first-person shooters. The twist of the board game-esque multiplayer and unique aesthetic make this one that I hope successfully lands once it’s launched.
Thanks to Uber Strategist for providing a key for review. You can check out some gameplay below. Win That War! is currently available on Steam Early Access for $19.99.