Machines at War 3 PC Review
Machines at War 3 from 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. Back then RTS was a more accessible genre as friends could play each other without needing high-end gaming PCs. This is rarely the case now, with recent 3D RTS titles such as Planetary Annihilation raising the barrier to entry to those with top of the range gaming hardware.
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.
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.
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.
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 also supported.
The 2D visuals are basic in appearance and wouldn’t look out of place in a mid-90s RTS game. The graphics are the same as the iOS version, which explains their simplicity, but nevertheless provide an optimal view of the battlefield without requiring you to micromanage a camera’s viewing angle and zoom. Machines at War 3 will play on any PC or Mac hardware – a quality too often overlooked by most publishers. I appreciated not being able to hear my laptop fan at all when playing – which is a rare treat.
The low-spec requirements make the game accessible to all and easier for friends to play each other compared to most modern games. In multiplayer you can do combos such as PC vs PC, Mac vs PC, iPhone vs iPad – just not iOS vs PC/Mac. There’s also a random map generator and an array of map types which adds considerable longevity.
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 priced reasonably at £13 / $15 on Steam.