Jeff Markiewicz On October 27, 2009 at 9:14 am

Military Madness started its career on the TurboGrafx-16 in 1990 and won the Best Military Strategy Game of that year. People loved it. In 1998 the game was remade and expanded upon itself on the Playstation. It moved from 32 levels to over 100 as well as improving the visuals. Plus it included a map editor for even more maps. The game started to show its age though, with the predictability of the AI holding it back a little bit but the package was pure bliss to fans. Now we have another remake on the Xbox Live Arcade, Wiiware, and Playstation Networks. They series has finally moved into full 3D but will it push the envelope to modernize itself or will the gameplay still be from 1990?

The year is 2156, Earth is being overpopulated and to alleviate some of the pressure, the Union government decided to move all the criminals to the moon. Over a decade later, they found uranium-235 and the prisoners were forced into slave labor mining the element. In 2185, the lunar colonies band together and rebel. They start to refer to themselves as Xenos and announce to Earth that they intend to make a super weapon and eliminate all life from the planet. The story actually sounds decent until the generic end. Plus if you wish to know more about the story, you’re out of luck. Other than a conclusion, you never even have a hint of story during the campaign which is disappointing.

You play as the Union forces invading the moon to stop Xenos from attacking Earth with their super weapon. The campaign is comprised of 16 levels but is distributed into normal and advance campaigns. Basically they are the same levels but advance mode has a different unit distribution, typically of more advanced units you use later in the normal campaign. There is no tutorial but instead they have a rudimentary manual in the menus which still doesn’t tell you much other than the basics.  It’s like making a chess game for people who have never played it before and only giving them a sparse manual hidden in the menus. There are specific rules that you must learn in order to achieve victory which are only learned after several frustrating defeats. Then each new level introduces new units which then need to be learned. If you don’t pay attention to how to use them, you could be dead before the match barely starts. Plus sometimes the game continues even when victory is impossible which just leads to more frustration. The gameplay is actually pretty basic and can be fairly fun but poor presentation and no real tutorial just makes the game difficult and frustrating.

Military Madness: Nectaris is a turn-based military strategy game. You position various units on a hexagonal map to achieve your objectives, which are to either kill everyone or capture their base. The units span a wide range of various infantry, vehicle, aerial, and support types. Each of them has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Infantry can capture buildings and are weak. Vehicles can attack ground or air units. Aerial units have a wide range and can attack both ground and air targets. Support units are transports and artillery pieces. For most units, you will move and then chose to attack or not but some have different phases. For example, some units can move, attack, and then move again up to their maximum range and artillery units can’t be moved if you want to use them that turn. Later levels have factories around the map that can be captured. Inside is usually an array of new units to spill onto the battlefield, plus it also serves as a place to repair damaged units making them highly valuable. They can be captured by the other side though, instantly transferring any units inside to their side so they are a place of high contention. The difficulty of the game comes from the lack of knowing how to play because the artificial intelligence is so predictable, it’s practically exploitable. For example, if the enemy has a unit that is about to go get repaired, just flaunt your infantry in front of them and its guaranteed they will attack them and keep in range to get destroyed. Or if you’ve killed all of their air units, tease them with one of your anti-aircraft units to keep them from lowering the health of your main battle tanks. The game can be fun and a challenge but predictable little things like this can take its edge off so the real meat of the game should be online.

The online implementation has a neat twist but overall is disappointingly basic. All the normal options are there like Ranked, Player, and Local matches. You can select from 5 maps that range from small to large to facilitate up to 4 players. The maps are all mirrored and have predetermined units on them for balance but I wish there would have been a map editor, at least for placing units and coming up with interesting scenarios to challenge friends in like the Playstation version of the game. The twist is that you can do a commander customization where you can select from Call of Duty-esque perks to modify your army slightly. They comprise of things like move quicker, defend better, or negate rank. It’s neat and can mix things up a little bit but if you don’t want it, don’t enable it. For larger matches you can have teams but the objectives are always the same, eliminate or capture the enemy base. Since the game is turn-based, you can play at home with 4 players on a single controller which is pretty neat. Unfortunately this will have to be how most gamers will play because unless you get a friend to buy it, the online community is deserted, as with most niche XBLA games.

There is a lot of hate for gray this generation but Fallout 3 showed that gray can be beautiful. On the other end of the spectrum we have Military Madness which shows off how it doesn’t look that great. The moonscape is gray and the units are all gray with some minor touches of color to show which side they are on. The game is fully 3D now from the map to the skirmish visuals. You can twist and zoom in the camera but since most maps are fairly small, you’ll never have to nor want to use the feature.  The skirmish visual changes for the units and terrain in dispute but sometimes it’s hard to tell how many units die until afterwards because of all the grays. After a while they will also start to get visually repetitive because it’s essentially the same thing each time. The animations aren’t that great either and units will shake fairly violently and I am sure it’s not because they are factoring in the gravity difference between the Earth and Moon. Overall at its heart, it’s a strategy game so the visuals are not too important but not being able to easily identify how many of your units died and just not being able to easily discern between units on the battlefield is inexcusable.

The sound is about as basic as you can get. Vehicles will rumble, artillery shells go boom, and lasers go zoom. The last one sounds ridiculous and sounds as such. The state of the sound in this game feels about as good as strategy games in the early 1990s. It’s okay enough to convey what’s happening on the screen but does little more to add anything to the experience. There are no voiceovers for the introduction or conclusion, which are quite lengthy for a modern game. There seems to be only one music track in the game which is pretty generic and will get repetitive after a while. Some sounds are okay and some sound a little silly but it gets the job done and does little else.

The game lacks the presentation and accessibility required to bring new gamers into the fold. Old fans of the series will feel right at home but nothing has really been added to make it anything special. The great gameplay of yesteryear feels basic and lacking these days. Story is nonexistent except for a generic premise. The graphics is a muddy mess of grays and sometimes you’ll have a little difficulty discerning between how many units die and the type of unit on the battlefield which is inexcusable. The sound is as basic as you can get but gets the job done. The music is practically one track though and definitely gets old fairly quick.  If you’re nostalgic for this game, it’s worth picking up but if you’re new, better options exist out there. Plus since the online community is pretty much dead, you’ll have to invest time in making some friends outside of the game to play in it. The game can be fun if you know how to play but the lack of options, poor AI, and online communities drag the experience down.

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