Over the past couple of months, I’ve done a few guest reviews for gaming site GameSpace and sadly did not post them here for some reason. Well, I’ve finally gotten around to correcting that oversight. Here are my reviews for Tooth and Tail, Dawn of War III, and Sudden Strike 4.
Tooth and Tail
An RTS-lite from Pocketwatch games, Tooth and Tail is a pixel-art RTS with procedurally generated maps, and tells the story of cute furry animals killing and eating each other. While the art might make some nostalgic for the days of games like Warcraft 2 or Tiberian Sun, the gameplay itself feels more akin to AirMech, in a way: players have to funnel all building, scouting, production and army control through a Commander unit. Unlike AirMech however, the Commander can’t attack.
While the gameplay is simplistic and stripped down, the game has surprising replay value and depth thanks to a pseudo-deckbuilding system for multiplayer matches (the game gives you access to all unit types so you don’t have to earn or unlock them, but you can only launch into combat with 6 types of unit or defensive structure) and randomly-generated multiplayer levels.
Tooth and Tail really shines in its storytelling however, with one of the best RTS campaigns since COH2: Ardennes Assault. While ultimately kind of brief, the atmosphere and storytelling are phenomenal, and the air of pervasive backwardsness and despair is incredibly compelling.
There’s also an owl unit that vomits out zombie mice onto the battlefield, and who doesn’t love that? While maybe not perfect for hardcore RTS grognards, Tooth and Tail is ultimately enjoyable and engaging, and feels like it’s doing exactly what it set out to do.
Dawn of War III
I may be the only RTS enthusiast who enjoys Dawn of War III, but… well, I really do. With a basebuilding and control point system that builds on top of what Relic did in Company of Heroes 2, and a customizable loadout of Elite units whose presence on the battlefield isn’t linked directly to the game’s resource system, Dawn of War III ultimately manages to be a really fun and engaging RTS despite a number of big missteps.
Fans of the original two games were disappointed by the simplification of the series’ formerly deep and nuanced terrain and combat mechanics systems, a series of changes that, for me, didn’t ultimately do much to reduce my enjoyment of the title. Though I will go to my grave decrying the removal of the retreat mechanic.
I see Dawn of War 3 as the result of Relic taking the complaints of their fans seriously: the game lacks extreme randomness in combat interactions: projectiles no longer collide with terrain, weapons deal predictable and consistent damage, and the impact of every action can be accurately predicted thanks to a standardization of how all abilities and weapons work. Attacks and abilities have clear and predictable effects, the redesigned cover system and stealth system (if a bit too derivative of League of Legends in my opinion) follow easily-understood rules and engagements.
The early game is incredibly brutal (thanks to the removal of the retreat system seen in earlier games) but a graduated phase system where income is increased predictably over time allows for a soft reset to occur several times over the course of a match where the player or team on the back foot gets a chance to recover and reverse their losses, and more powerful weapons gradually become easier and easier to afford to have on the field. While some decried the phase system as overly restrictive, I see it as an overall positive for the game, allowing greater parity in player power scales across the course of a match.
Some have claimed that Dawn of War III is an RTS/MOBA hybrid, or a MOBA in which the player controls their minions. I find that comparison both reductive and incorrect. Unit production gets kind of churn-y in the late game, but units and unit-based tactics are always important, and resource management does come into play, even in the late game. I find more validity in the complaints that DOWIII “StarCraft-izes” the Dawn of War franchise.
In conclusion, while Dawn of War III has a number of issues (a “Skulls,” or coins earned by playing matches, system for unlocking multiplayer content has been removed since launch, which is a big plus) I feel that many of its core concepts actually work pretty well in practice and most of the complaints about the game at this point come from disappointed fans of the first two games in the series.
Sudden Strike 4
Man, this one disappointed me. Sudden Strike was one of the old standards for tactics gaming, and while I never played it during its heyday, I know many who remember the series fondly. At the time, the Sudden Strike games were innovative and lauded for the depth of their mechanical systems. Sadly, this latest entrant into the Sudden Strike series left me feeling cold.
Directional armor, ammunition systems, stances (such as prone) for infantry, sandbagging tanks… Sudden Strike 4 checks a lot of boxes for tactical game mechanics. And the single player missions are challenging and actually pretty engaging. But from the voice acting to unit models, the game shows that the team developing it was struggling against budget constraints. And while Tooth and Tail may have created a charming and evocative world given a similar type of constraint, I found myself straining against the limitations in Sudden Strike 4. It lacks a freely mobile camera as would be seen in a game like Company of Heroes 2, muddy graphics and clunky controls makes unit management far more difficult than it needs to be, fog of war feels overly restrictive leaving the player feeling myopic at times… The game lacks a tremendous amount of polish and sophistication that would have made it feel like a much stronger contender in the sadly barren RTT (real time tactics) space.
While it checks the requisite boxes, games from Men of War: Assault Squad 2, to Steel Division, to Ultimate General Civil War, all do the same sorts of things, but better. I found Sudden Strike 4… merely adequate, which in this day of high saturation of available games, is sadly not enough to generate interest or recommendations.