Strategy Games of the Half Year
Two of the big yawns of the year were Empire Earth II, a mediocre seen-it-all-before RTS, and, apparently, Imperial Glory. I haven't played IG yet, so it wouldn't make my list anyway, but the reviews have persuaded me to wait a little. You'll get more from me on it when the time is right and I have devoted some time to it. Shame, because I really liked the demo.
The rules are simple - it has to have been released in 2005 and I must have played it. It also has to be a strategy or war game.
Number 3: Bull Run: Take Command 1861 (MadMinute Games/Activision Value) - If this isn't the best budget strategy/war game in five years, I'm hard pressed to think what else could be. It rewards patience and moves the player from the omnipotent commander to just another officer. You stumble in the dark a little, have encounters almost by accident and somehow a big battle happens - sometimes. The interface isn't great and it is much too easy to get lost. The beautiful scenery looks out of place with the blobby soldiers and choppy animation. But this is one great battle game that has me anxiously anticipating their next game.
Number 2: Act of War: Direct Action (Eugen Systems/Atari) - Who'd have thunk it? A stylish B-movie with lots of things that blow up real good as well as an excellent game. The skirmish mode has grown on me, but I still think the real strength of this game is its campaign missions. Leaving aside the hammy acting and politics, the city battles are tense and exciting. Each side's best units can really destroy a world, so much of the skirmish game is a rush to get there, but I can think of no game which brings Bruckheimer to life the way that Act of War does.
Number 1: Darwinia (Introversion) - Small, charming, a little repetitive but probably the most tightly designed and immersive strategy game out there so far this year. I sometimes wonder how much of the design is due to practical constraints (you can only have so many "programs" running at once) and how much of it is derived from the setting (a computer world that looks like virtual fantasies from 15 years ago). There is no complicated research tree, and, yes, a lot of the game's appeal comes from the style of the art. But art and function meld beautifully here. I gave it 5 stars over at DIYGames, and I don't regret a single one.
Wow. No sequels. No remakes. Two indies.
Somehow I think my end of year list will have all sequels and remakes from major players - this is going to be a huge Xmas for strategy gamers. But pick up each of these three games before the giants return to the field.