by John Markley1
The Most Hardcore Android Strategy Games Ever Made
The world of Android gaming has expanded greatly in the past few years, and the strategy genre has not been left out. From turn-based military strategy games, to classic real-time strategy gameplay in the tradition of Command and Conquer and Starcraft, to city-building games focused on creating instead of destroying, to the tower defense games that seem to comprise about two thirds of all mobile games published in the past five years, there’s something for everybody.
Happily, 2012 continued this trend, and the library of Android strategy games has continued to grow. As we enter 2013, here’s an overview of some of the most notable strategy games made for Android devices, past and present.
Originally released for PC, Anomaly: Warzone Earth HD is a twist on the tower defense genre that places the player in the role of attacker. In the near future, a strange object comes crashing to earth from outer space, striking downtown Baghdad and enclosing it under a dome-shaped force field. It’s up to you to lead a platoon of British combat vehicles inside to discover the truth behind this phenomenon, fighting your way past arrays of alien weapons emplacements.
In each stage you must use the limited resources provided to you or salvaged along the way to build and upgrade a force selected from a variety of combat vehicles that gradually become unlocked as you complete missions, plan your route through the streets of the ruined city, and accompany your forces as they blast their way through. Your ace in the hole is the ability to deploy a limited number of special abilities like vehicle repairs, smokescreens, and airstrikes. I’m a big fan of the PC version, and Joshua Munoz, of Android Central, hailed the Android port as, “an absolutely stellar game with killer graphics, an awesome story, and gameplay that makes other tower-related games slink away in shame,” so this one comes highly recommended.
The sequel, Anomaly: Korea, continues the story in… well, take a wild guess. The basics of the gameplay are the same, but whereas the original’s levels and objectives were extremely straightforward – travel from one checkpoint to the next and make it across the map alive, with an occasional group of “boss’ structures that had to be destroyed at the end – Anomaly Korea is much more varied. Some missions will require you to perform additional objectives, such as defending other units or destroying specific types of targets, or put you under additional restrictions such as disabling support abilities or the ability to upgrade units. Level design is also less linear and allows for more choices in how objectives are approached.
It’s a very effective continuation of the series, praised by Hardcore Droid’s Travis Fahs for doing “an excellent job of taking the same simple gameplay that was enjoyable in the original, and exploiting its potential in a way the first game never could.”
The title of this article promised “hardcore strategy,” and where the strategy genre is concerned it’s hard to get much more hardcore than a hex-map turn-based strategy game originally written in assembly language on an Atari ST. Slay has gone through many versions and upgrades since it’s distant origins, but it’s essence has always remained the same: Simple but extremely fun and addictive struggles between you and five opponents for control of a hex-based island. Expand your territory and your forces, manage resources to keep your growing host supplied, position troops and fortifications aat vital strategic points to hold back the encroachments of the enemy, and cackle with glee when a well-planned invasion slices an enemy’s territory in two, cutting off supply lines and dooming mighty armies to sudden oblivion.
It’s enormously enjoyable, and it’s simple production values make it eminently playable without a state-of-the-art phone. Hardcore Droid’s John Markley called it “a fun, simple, addictive game that’s easy to pick up and well worth playing for strategy fans,” and if you can’t trust him you can’t trust anybody.
Originally appearing on iOS before being ported to Android last year, Fieldrunners is- at the nigh-antediluvian age of nearly four years old – a venerable classic of the tower defense genre for mobile devices. In the freakishly unlikely event that you’re simultaneously sufficiently interested in Android gaming to read a publication specifically about it and unaware of what a tower defense game is, a brief primer:
There are hordes of enemies moving across the screen toward some objective, such as your base or the other side of the map. There may or may not be some sort of plot explaining who they are, who you are, or why you don’t want them getting to wherever they’re going. Regardless, your task is to use the limited resources at your disposal to build fixed weapons emplacements, or “towers,” at strategic locations that rain fire and death on the enemy as they pass and wipe them out before they can reach their target. It’s sort of like that scene in Transformers: The Movie where the Autobots were frantically running down that corridor under heavy fire from a gauntlet of Decepticons and only the Autobots, whose action figures were selling well enough to justify keeping them in the next season of the show survived, but now it’s interactive.
Fieldrunners has been a well-loved game since it first appeared in 2008. This port has been received positively as well, with Tony Price, of Androinicia, calling Fieldrunners HD “a superb tower defense title.”
Battle for Mars is a turn-based military strategy game with gameplay strongly influenced by the popular Game Boy Advance strategy series Advance Wars. You lead your army against the Martian foe across a series of maps, battling enemy forces and seizing control of strategic site buildings that provide you with resources to bolster your own. Players build their forces choosing from a variety of units each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s a very old formula, but it’s one that works, with Damien McFerran, of Know Your Mobile, calling Battle for Mars “brilliant fun.”
Ever play the Warcraft games – the original strategy games, not the MMORPGs? Remember how one of the resources you needed to build new structures and units was wood that you acquired by sending laborers to chop down nearby trees, and how, after a particularly long battle, you could end up with a stage that had been transformed from a verdant forest into a barren wasteland?
That’s nothing. Greed Corp is a turn-based strategy game with an interesting twist. You need money to build units, and to get money you build resource-harvesting buildings. That’s all pretty standard, except the game is set in a steampunk world where continents float in the sky and the resource you harvest is the ground itself. Every turn, each map hex with a resource building on or adjacent to it drops one layer, and when you harvest the last one that hex and everything on it goes plummeting to its doom. The result is a game involving some very different strategies than most games of its sort, with the steady erosion of the ground playing an essential role in your planning and battles getting more cramped and desperate as more of the battlefield crumbles away. Can you connect “That’s nothing,” with the following paragraph or say “That’s nothing compared to Greed Corp where the battlefield itself is destroyed.
While the unusual mechanics take some getting used to, gameplay is otherwise very simple and straightforward, so you don’t need to be a hard-core strategy buff to get the hang of things. Individual levels are usually a fairly modest length (they sort of have to be when battlefield logistics revolve around devouring the ground everybody is standing on) so they’re well-suited for short sessions on the go. It’s a lot of fun, and justly described by Julian Emert, of Playandroid, as “extremely cool, especially if you like strategy games.”
Great Little War Game is a turn-based strategy game with a humorous tone. There’s nothing groundbreaking here–you build units selected from a variety of types, deploy them, exploit the terrain and the different abilities of each unit to fight through a series of battles – but it’s the execution that counts, and in that Great Little War Game has won nearly universal critical praise, withPaul Wilks calling it, “a game that is by far one of the best available on the Android platform.” The missions are well-designed and offer great variety in their objectives, and the visuals have an endearingly goofy style to them.
“More of the same” isn’t really a criticism when it comes to this series, as last year’s Great Big War Game proved, offering up 50 new single-player missions with enough solid content to keep the Great War Game fan playing for days on end. Pocket Gamer’s Harry Slater lauded Rubicon Development’s sequel, stating, “Great Big War Game builds on the foundations of its predecessor elegantly, and while it doesn’t add anything spectacular to the mix, solidifying what was already there and tweaking where necessary instead, there’s enough here to make sure that the war efforts go on indefinitely.”
Another entry in the ubiquitous tower defense genre, Sentinel 3 adds some new wrinkles to the formula such as placing barriers along the path that the onrushing horde of enemies travels that they have to stop and break down before advancing, adding another strategic consideration when deciding where to deploy your weapons. You have an on-screen character, a soldier in powered armor who fires on the enemy, hinders them with special abilities, repairs damaged barriers, and slugs it out with the enemy hand-to-hand when they get close enough. You can also, gradually regenerating energy supply permitting, call in orbital fire support from the eponymous spaceship Sentinel when you find yourself overwhelmed. You also earn experience after each stage that lets you strengthen your powered armor by adding points to different stats as you level up, and money to expand your arsenal of towers and unlocks new abilities for your armor and the Sentinel.
It’s quite nice graphically, and I like the visual style – it’s not super-serious and gritty-looking, but doesn’t go to the opposite extreme of being outright silly or cartoonish either. The action is fast-paced and fun, and the additional tactical considerations of where to deploy your powered armor and when to call down additional firepower from orbit make it more interesting. They also add a bit of atmosphere, making it feel more like what’s happening on your screen is an actual battle and not just a puzzle game with gun turrets. Michael Kurz, of Android Rundown, praised it as, “one of those rare few tower defense games that really stands out from the crowd,” so if you enjoy the genre, give it a look.
Next up Townsmen 6…