Machines at War 3 iOS Review

The Real-Time Strategy genre is a cornerstone of PC gaming. On tablet and mobile, without your trusty mouse, one would expect it to be an impossible task to create a desktop-quality RTS game that plays equally well. Yet Machines at War 3 does remarkably in achieving exactly that.

Indie developer Isotope 244’s game is heavily inspired by the genre’s 90s golden age – a time of classics such as Command & Conquer (1995), Red Alert (1996), Total Annihilation (1997) and Starcraft (1999) – brilliant games that gained large communities of dedicated fans.

Machines at War 3 is a hybrid of the Command & Conquer style interface and visuals, combined with the tech tree from Total Annihilation. A winning combo which sets the stage for base building and air, land and sea warfare. Although multiple factions are not present, the range of units is extensive and diverse. There’s the widest selection of water units I’ve seen in an RTS, including numerous submarines. Base building is equally impressive; walls can be constructed and there’s a great turret selection.

Machines at War 3 - iOS - Zubr

This base’s days are numbered! Two Zubr hovercraft and a Goliath mega approach. iPhone version

The in-game economy involves energy and metal. Building turbines and power plants increases your energy generation, while metal is mined by your HQ automatically over time. Metal capacity can be increased by building storage containers, and the metal income rate boosted by constructing ‘spec mines’ on deposits scattered around the map.

Supreme Commander style shields and mega units can be build – with each mega unit requiring the mining of a specific type of metal in order to be build. This adds an unpredictable element to a player’s strategy and it always feels like an accomplishment when a mega unit is finally built and can be unleashed.

Fans of Total Annihilation and its spiritual successors will also be happy to see nukes, EMP missiles and anti-nukes available – battles really can play out of a grand scale and there’s a great many strategic possibilities.

Machines at War 3 - iOS - Rapier

A Rapier mega unit flies over the aftermath of a nuclear missile strike. You can view the kill count of each unit. iPhone version

The game has been refined a bit since its initial release, gaining polish over time. When moving a large army around the map there was a tendency for units to not obey the usual collision detection, which was also the case with multiple mega units in a group. I’d like to see this patched, but otherwise the game is very robust.

I played though the game’s 21 missions on an iPhone – a testament of small device playability without compromising on gameplay depth. It can be a little fiddly, but this is purely down to the size of the device, not the game – you’ll find the iPad a more comfortable experience. The campaign story is solid enough and the between-mission briefings are the standard format. It would have been nice to hear a voiceover rather than just text to add more personality. The soundtrack is subtly atmospheric and listening to your own music is supported.

The 2D visuals are basic in appearance and wouldn’t look out of place in a mid-90s RTS game. However the graphics provide an optimal view of the battlefield without requiring you to micromanage a camera’s viewing angle and zoom. There’s also a random map generator and an array of map types which adds considerable longevity.

Machines at War 3 - iOS - Goliath

A Goliath tank mega unit guarding a Bertha installation. iPhone version

It’s impressive to see such a comprehensive RTS on iPhone and iPad with hundreds of units fighting it out. iOS is so accessible this makes it so easy for friends to play each other compared to most modern 3D RTS games that wouldn’t be playable on a regular PC. In multiplayer you can do combos such as iPhone vs iPad or Mac vs PC – but not iOS vs PC or Mac.

Total Annihilation and Command & Conquer perfected many RTS game mechanics and Machines at War 3 closely retreads their footsteps. If you can overlook the borrowing of ideas from these past classics there is much to enjoy, and some new experiences to be found. There’s a real depth and unpredictability so you never know how a skirmish will play out. Machines at War 3 is well-priced at $7 / £5 on iTunes.

9 out of 10
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