Developer: Deqaf Studios
Publisher: Maple Whispering Limited
Rating: T for Teen
If there are two things I love more than almost anything else in the world, they would be history and video games. People say “truth is stranger than fiction”, and it is this bizarre nature of history that spurred me to consume dozens of books, movies and shows over the years. One of the most fascinating aspects of history is the idea that a single minor shift in an event could have changed the way our entire society today functions. Numerous books, movies, and video games have explored these “What If?” scenarios, but Make War brings a unique approach to the table.
Rather than simply being a character playing through an “alternate history”, you get to change history yourself. This idea immediately endeared the game to me. As an armchair military historian with no formal education in the area, I often find myself screaming at long-dead military commanders in the same way dads scream at football coaches. “If you’d only done x then y wouldn’t have happened!” The idea of shaping historic battles with perspective and powerful technology is certainly an intoxicating one, and I was excited to get into it and see if Make War could truly fulfill my childish fantasies.
Violence: The player watches military battles play out, where each side attempts to explicitly kill the other in a variety of fashions. These include hacking to death with bladed weapons, firing at each other with guns, and using explosives. Limbs are hacked off or blown up in explosions, and blood splatters can be seen. Additionally, the characters emit grunts of pain and scream as they die. However, they are seen from a distance, and not rendered realistically. The player character places units that contribute to the violence, by poisoning, explosions, or direct combat.
When starting Make War, I was no doubt excited for the reasons I listed in the first paragraph, but I was also a little hesitant. I love Indie games, and thoroughly enjoy being blown away by new developers with fresh ideas. And yet, I couldn’t help but cringe a little when I opened up the game to that all too familiar “made with unity” logo, some stock sound effects, and a barebones menu that left a lot to be desired. And then there was the translation…
Yep, it turns out the three guys that make up Deqaf Studios are Russian, and it seems there were a few bumps in the translation process. No big deal, I figured. After all, “All your base are belong to us” sourced back to a game with numerous translation issues, and they ended up being more charming than anything else. However, the trouble with this really showed up when I started actually playing the game. The tutorial instructed me to “add alien soldier melee to complete target”, and I spent a good ten minutes trying to place the alien on top of an enemy soldier before finally getting an idea of what the game wanted me to do. This may seem nit-picky, but the first hour of a game is where you really want to sell a player on why they should play the next few hours, and my first hour was unfortunately held back by confusing tutorials, badly placed UI, and a lack of accessibility settings.
But forget all that boring stuff, how is the gameplay? In a word, intriguing. What struck me immediately is how quickly the game hands the reins over to you. Similar games often clutch your hand through early stages, carefully teaching you how each unit works and setting you up for victory. However, Make War gave me a basic rundown of the mechanics, set me a couple of goals, and then pushed me out of the nest like a mama bird. You are faced down with two enemy armies frozen in time ready to kill each other, a few troops at your disposal, and a handful of specific goals such as “Blue must win by a margin of 50” or “Kill 75 troops after teleporting”. This style of gameplay has both a positive and negative effect. I ended up spending the first several hours of the game fiddling with portals, placing troops in poor locations, and frustratingly placing my head in my hands as I ended another battle just shy of the goal I needed to progress. But you do learn.
The advantage of this method is that it forces the player to really learn the ins and outs of the game before progressing. Unlike tower defense games where there is a set path you have to anticipate where enemy troops will move to, how great their range is, and which troop they will attack first. Getting any of these values wrong can result in your entire plan derailing and having to go back to the drawing board to complete your goal. And this will likely happen many, many times over. Luckily, Make War allows you to simulate the upcoming battle at various speeds, so a wily viewer will figure out how to utilize this to note troop locations and factor that into their unit placement. It requires a good bit of trial and error, and unfortunately can lead to some tediousness at points.
The goals set before you often feel so specific that they should be more in the realm of achievements. “Kill 80 units while they are poisoned” sounds like the kind of thing an achievement hunter would grind hours to do, rather than a specific goal you’re railroaded into doing before progressing. It is this style of progression that weighs down Make War more than anything else. It advertises 160 missions, but these missions are really simulating the same battle a dozen times with different objectives, and the longer they take, the more monotonous the game gets. Five hours into the game I was still at the same grassy field, with the same Red and Blue armies, and the same background music playing endlessly on repeat. The longer you remain at each location, the more the cracks start to show, and the tiny issues start to become more and more grating…which is a shame, because Make War has a lot of potential.
The units are fun to play around with, and crafting your own brilliant plan leads to exuberance when it works out exactly how you expected it to. The levels are decently crisp with a simple yet neat art style, and you can definitely tell there was some work put into designing a wide variety of alien units for you to play with. Yet it feels like something is lacking. Perhaps what I missed most was a story of some sort. I know they aren’t necessarily a requirement for RTS games, but there’s such an odd juxtaposition between the flavor text hyping you up before each battle and the characterless “red” and “blue” armies you see from a distance. I would have loved to see some goofy caricatures of world leaders freaking out over aliens, or more specific goals like “kidnap Kaiser Wilhem so we can study him”. Without much context or variation, what would otherwise be fresh gameplay quickly becomes stale. Still, for $10 it offers a lot more depth for the price than other small RTS games, and if it strikes your fancy it might be worth keeping an eye on.
The Bottom Line
Make War features an interesting concept and some fun gameplay moments, but is unfortunately held back by a handful of issues.