Stormregion (Codename: Panzers series) is back with a new turn based strategy title exclusively for the PSP. Set in the late 23rd century, humans have all but exhausted their resources. The multinational corporation Kondor steps in to help by scouring space for raw materials. The planet Pythar looks to be the key to humanities desperate needs, but the Mytrans have already staked their claim. It's up to you to lead Loki, Eli, and Rachel against the Mytrans in order to save humanity, but you'll also get a chance to control the Mytrans and their heroes in this nicely done turn based title.
Commanding Your Forces
Mytran Wars has a lot going for it. Whenever I have time, I like to read through the manual before playing a game, and in reading through the manual of Mytran Wars, I was impressed at how much the game has to offer. After creating my profile, I was all set to start on the very lengthy campaign (it's a good thirty-plus hours). First impressions were good; an opening cutscene was presented in a slick comic book style with cool characters and professional voiceovers. You can't judge a game by its cutscenes, no matter how bad or good, but it was encouraging.
So Mytran Wars is a turn based game, which has the player alternating control with the CPU. The player's army have a basic set of
commands that can be performed on each turn, as do the CPU's forces. Various unit types have different abilities and equipment, but no matter whether its your Devastator or a Mytran Seer in question, all units have a few basic commands. These commands include Move, Attack, Special, and Wait.
Movement is exactly what you would expect, and has you deciding where you want your unit to move to. Depending on the terrain and what type of unit you have, how far you can move will vary. Lightweight units, the Intruders/Seers, are able to move further than the middle and heavyweight units, the Destroyer/Keepers and Devastators/Nobles, respectively. Player movement is allowed in the four cardinal directions as units move from tile to tile. The tiles are invisible unless you are issuing a command that requires tiles to be shown, such as when moving or performing an area attack. Diagonal movements are not allowed, and you cannot share a tile with another unit (although you can with a turret or building or energy pool).
The Attack option in your command menu will be selectable any time there is a target within range. Sometimes you have to move before you can attack, and attacking is only available when all conditions are met. In other words, different units have different stats, depending on their type and equipment. Attack types include close, ranged, and area attacks. Close attacks are when your mech is armed with a massive razor, for example, and you select to attack an enemy in an adjacent tile. Ranged attacks include all matter of firing weapons including auto-cannons and plasma rifles, and many others. Area attacks are great in that they can do damage to more than one unit; when selected, a 3x3 colored grid appears to indicate where your damage will disperse -- keep in mind you can hurt your own units with area attacks. Area attack types are great for softening up an enemy before moving in with close range attacks for the finish.
The Special option in the command menu can mean a lot of things. Most units come equipped with a Maintenance Kit that will restore their health, while others carry Repairer Kits that can repair other friendly units and structures. Other items include a variety of tools that slow enemies down and a variety of other functions. Each Special item has a 'cost' associated with it. Once used, you cannot use said Special item for 'x' number of turns. The same goes for certain attacks like a rocket launcher attack from a turret. Knowing when best to use a Special item is another crucial strategic part of the game.
The Wait function is just about self-explanatory and literally is a command for your unit to wait. This is how a command sequence for a unit generally ends; in other words, you'll likely move, perform a function (like attack), and then wait until the next turn. When you wait, you can set your unit to point in any one of the four cardinal directions. This is an important decision too, although it's usually not a hard one to make, because your unit will take varying levels of damage from enemy attack depending on where the attack comes from. If you are facing west and an attack comes from the east, i.e., directly behind you, expect to sustain a lot more damage than you would if the attack were head on. The damage is roughly halved when an attack comes from one of your sides, rather than from directly behind you.
Another command menu option you will often see is Capture. Capturing structures is a very important part of the game. Capturing a structure is often required, and is almost always a good idea. To capture a structure, you simply move a unit to the same tile as
the structure and then select Capture from the menu. A turn later, the structure is yours. Commandeering a turret, something you first do in the fifth mission of the campaign, can have a huge impact on the battle. Turrets are armed with multiple means of attack too; those in mission five have rockets, plasma, and bullet capability.
I thought Stormregion did a nice job with the clarity and simplicity of the command menu. Granted, it's not the hardest thing to design in a game, but they did a fine job in making it easy to pick up and frankly, it's hard to make a mistake with it once you've spent just a few minutes in game. It's also very quick to use, requiring just a few swift button presses to execute any command available.
Combat, Research, and Upgrades
Getting a handle on the controls is a cinch, but mastering the strategy that will keep you moving from mission to mission requires a lot more thought and planning. I wouldn't call the learning curve of Mytran Wars anything too unusual or high, but the mission structure and difficulty level will keep you honest. While I haven't completed the campaign at this time, I have yet to come across any check or save points. So once your mission begins, each decision counts and counts firmly. It doesn't take a lot to get killed in Mytran Wars, and you generally have no means of replacing a unit once it's been destroyed. There are times when you will encounter friendly forces in the area that you can interact with and then have under your control, but normally your small starting army is your life blood, so use them wisely.
It's important (and logical) to put your bruiser units up front, like your Destroyers and Devastators, who can sustain much more damage than the lightweight Intruders. Furthermore, I never found it beneficial to split my forces up; it can work, but it makes each decision that much more important. As long as you're not up against too many area attacks, keeping your forces close together works best (at least for me).
Missions are automatically ended whenever a Hero character is killed, but these units are a little more robust and capable than their counterparts, so it isn't too hard to keep them alive. Mission types include strictly offensive seek and destroy types, structure capturing, timed scenarios, and defense. Optional and Secret Objectives will have you risking the mission to explore the edges of the map, but as the SAS would say, "he who dares wins" -- in other words, if you can survive, the risk of navigating to areas you don't strictly have to can be rewarding by netting you more Credits and Research Points.
I think the difficulty in Mytran Wars is pretty solid and it never felt cheap. I will admit that there were several key moments where a unit of mine had, say, 97 HP or 57 HP left, and an attack from an enemy took off exactly that much, destroying my unit. Those times felt a little suspect, but on the flip side of things, I got almost as many similar kills against the CPU, so it's fair.
Speaking of damage, before you commit to an attack, you can see a lot of vital stats in the HUD as you hover over the potential target of your attacks. Player stats are shown in the lower left corner while enemy stats are shown in the lower right. In the middle of the bottom edge of the screen, you will see a potential damage range for your attack, and the imminent counterattack the CPU will provide should they survive and choose to do so (they almost always do, just like me). Having this bit of information is helpful in knowing if you should go ahead and use that Maintenance Kit or maybe just move out of the way of that enemy. It's one of just many areas of Mytran Wars where stats and numbers are important.
Stats and unit capabilities are bolstered by Research, which leads to Upgrades, which are applied to your units before mission launch in the Workshop. Each unit type has a large tech tree to upgrade, and several items under the 'general' heading can be be searched and upgraded across all unit types. You can't do research without spending Research Points though, and you get these by finishing missions and capturing buildings. That's another reason why exploring the map, even those areas that you don't need to for mission success, is helpful because you will often encounter a structure that you can capture.
Credits are earned at a much greater pace and are awarded for completing missions and destroying buildings. Credits are used in the workshop to apply your unlocked Upgrades to your units. Fortunately, equipped Upgrades do not have to be repaired or re-fitted after a mission -- your equipment, even if destroyed during a battle, is restored to you in between missions. You can do research in six different areas: weapons, defense, movement, support, general, and special. Each of these areas has several unlockables, and that's per unit type too, so you ultimately end up with With dozens of available unlockables and over two hundred fifty researchable items.
It's a long campaign, one that I have yet to complete. Mytran Wars is one of those games that I enjoy in spurts, which usually start with great enthusiasm but end with a sour taste after one wrong move cost me a mission that I now must restart from the beginning. In game mechanics and play work great for the most part, but it isn't perfect. I particularly recall one mission that took me twenty turns to reach what I thought was the end -- only to find the ending didn't trigger and I was suddenly unsure of where I had gone wrong. A thorough look at the brief objectives didn't help me figure out what went wrong. In attempting to figure out what I was missing, I set out to attack again, only to lose my two remaining units and being faced with the decision to completely restart the mission or quit for a while. Being on a portable and being designed with stiff difficulty, I would have hoped for some save points throughout the gameworld, but none are to be found. Additionally, waiting for the CPU to step through some of their turns is a bit boring, especially if they are far away. What wears even more though is having to do something with every one of your units per turn, even if it's telling it to simple Wait because there is no other feasible option (like a turret that is out of range of every enemy). Having to step through each unit one at a time can get a little tiring. I was pleased that I could make my unit move to his new destination instantly however, at least most of the time, but holding down the Right Trigger.
Multiplayer And Presentation
Despite some of its nags, the Mytran Wars campaign is a solid one with thirty missions, a ton of useful and interesting unlockables, a great story, and some interesting star characters (the heroes). On that note, I also appreciated the Library area at the base, which you visit in between missions. Here, you can read up on characters and story elements, with got me further interested in what was going on.
The campaign aside, there are some multiplayer options for you to explore. Modes of play include Last Mech Standing, Cooperative, and Death Match. These are all two player modes, with a Skirmish mode also available that lets a single gamer challenge the CPU outside of confines of the campaign. In addition to Skirmish, Ad Hoc and Hot Swap modes are supported (two players taking turns on one PSP).
So in Last Mech Standing, players must balance fighting their opponent with getting to hotspots. Hotspots are points on the map that are spread out and always number less than the number of units in play. The idea is that after every turn, a unit not in a hotspot gets automatically destroyed. Cooperative mode has two players taking on a common enemy; this is not the campaign mode with two players.
Deathmatch is more than just your standard all out battle. During the enemy's turn, waiting players can choose to play one of three mini-games to improve their army's status. Of course, they can just watch the enemy's movements in full screen, too. Most will elect to play the mini-games, and when you do, half of the screen is taken up, while the other half shows the enemy taking their turn. The mini-games include a quiz, with 250 Mytran Wars related questions. Answers are mapped to face buttons and randomized each time. Plus, when you get an answer wrong, correct answers are not displayed to prevent players from just memorizing correct responses. The second mini-game is air hockey against the CPU. The third and final mini-game is Linker, where a 7x10 table of random Mytran Wars related icons is shown. You must connect similar icons together but you cannot make more than two turns to connect one icon to its counterpart.
The mini-games end whenever your opponent ends their turn. Depending on how you do in the mini-games, you may get a small positive or negative boost to your units' stats. These boosts only take effect for one turn, and include things like being able to move an additional tile and taking less damage (or the opposite of these, if you do poorly in the mini-games).
In both the campaign and multiplayer, Mytran Wars looks and sounds very good. I already mentioned that I was impressed with the comic book style cutscenes that featured smooth sliding frames and animation, along with vibrant colors and solid voice acting. In actual gameplay, the graphics are also good, not as impressive, but still nice. A wide color palette is used which gives the game a certain pop, but animations and detail are just a tad disappointing. I think this game would look really slick as an HD-ified PSN title. As for the audio, I really liked the soundtrack; it kind of comes and goes as it pleases, but it's ambient nature reminded me of some of the quieter tracks from the Command & Conquer games, especially Tiberian Sun. Sound effects and voice overs are great.
To the summary...