Review: Machines At War 3

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Real time strategy game featuring over 130 different types of units and technologies, 21 campaign missions with characters and an intriguing story, unlimited random map skirmishes with many customizable settings, network multiplayer to challenge your friends, and so much more in this RTS!

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Creating a game is a tough job, especially by yourself. Now, imagine you’re creating a real-time strategy game on your own, entering into an incredibly detail-oriented genre populated by such giants as Starcraft and Command & Conquer, and older greats like Total Annihilation and Star Wars: Empire at War.

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That’s exactly what Isotope 244 attempted to do with Machines at War 3.

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Unfortunately, the existence of the aforementioned RTS giants is the reason why so many of Machines at War 3’s problems are harder to forgive. In the early days of Command & Conquer, Westwood created an experience that was very tough for new players to get into due to a steep learning curve that some couldn’t get past (the same goes for Blizzard’s first Starcraft outing too), but the series grew and newer players were given a little more time to adjust and eventually get through the tougher missions.

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Machines at War 3 seems to have forgotten these mistakes. By the third mission you’re having to defend against almost impossible odds, all the while still learning about base building, and you’re even tasked with taking out a super weapon before it’s built. If you’re too slow then it’s tough luck and game over.

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The game does offer a Skirmish mode, in which you can try to hone your skills before going back to the Campaign. Randomly generated maps ensure limitless gameplay opportunities alongside the generous 21 missions of the Campaign’s story.

Skirmish allows you to tailor the experience with difficulty options, terrain options (limiting land or sea, creating choke points, etc) and even whether to allow specific units or not. Once you’ve chosen your set-up you can jump right in and begin building your base, though the enemy – or enemies, if you’ve chosen more than one – will be doing the same, at the same rate or faster depending on difficulty.

This means that although newer players can go at a more considered pace here, they can still expect a tough time of it. The enemy will build defensive turrets, anti-air guns and more, making your attacks more and more difficult as time goes on. Once they build Bertha turrets (cannons with a range so long it makes getting close about as difficult as you’ll ever get) the battle will become increasingly harder as it makes attacking almost impossible without the right units.

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And despite the game offering an extensive Unit Index on the main menu, it’s certainly too overwhelming to make any sense of it. Determining which units work best against which will take practice and, almost certainly, attrition.

 

One thing the game does get right is the addition of a pause function similar to the likes of Baldur’s Gate and Knights of the Old Republic, allowing you to stop the action and issue commands. Unpausing then sees all those commands carried out, meaning you can take your time instead of feeling overwhelmed in the heat of battle.

The game doesn’t really tell you about this feature though, meaning it’s likely just a matter of luck that you’ll spot the icon and realise its use. This is a bizarre design choice given how pivotal it can be in a game as hectic as Machines at War 3.

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The scale of battle is something the game gets across quite well. Building your base can lead to a ridiculous number of Power Cells, Turbines, Storage Units and the various vehicle depots, all rendered in high detail with a surprisingly robust engine.

With high quality visuals, large numbers of units on screen and even throwing weather effects such as storms at you, the game doesn’t hiccup or slow down, it remains smooth throughout.

 

However with such attention to detail, one wonders why so many other things are missed. The visual range of units is terrible, leading to you being shot at from behind the fog of war, despite your attackers being mere metres away.

Artillery and armour count for nothing, too. Tanks can withstand a barrage of explosive shells, but machine gun fire will tear them to pieces in seconds. This does at least bring tactics into play, showing a weakness of those tanks against faster units armed with heavy machine guns.

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Pathfinding is also poor, with units sometimes needing specific guidance around simple walls because the AI can’t figure it out for itself. When you’re in the middle of a firefight this can be particularly problematic, especially if your units are shooting buildings or trees instead of their enemies.

 

All these problems are a real shame as there is a genuinely good game beneath it all. Considering it was made by a single person, Machines at War 3 deserves praise for taking on such a difficult genre but ultimately cannot hold its own without first learning from the mistakes of its competition. With fairly substantial updating, it may well be worth your time in the future.

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With a price point of around £13, Machines at War 3 does offer a great deal of content for a small price, but with games such as Dawn of War, Command and Conquer and Starcraft similarly priced and of far higher quality, it’s difficult to recommend Machines at War 3 for anyone but the hardiest of RTS gamers.

Gary Bailey

I'm a writer who has been gaming since I was 4, playing Dizzy and Jet Set Willy on Spectrum. Big fan of action RPGs, racing games and survival horror, but I'll generally give most games a chance.

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