Relativity Wars is an action strategy game which incorporates Einstein’s theoretical physics as a central game mechanic. That means worm-holes, space-time waves, time-dilation and the like, all bringing much-needed spice to an otherwise run-of-the-mill 4X meal. You play a pan-dimensional deity worshipped by the Toodians, an alien race you’ll control throughout the game’s twenty missions. The Toodians are at war with the Squisians, the game’s stock enemy, and… that’s it. We don’t know why the races are at war, never see any Squisians or Toodians up close, and really don’t learn anything else about them. Relativity Wars doesn’t strive for depth on the story front, but that’s not to say it’s devoid of personality. There’s a dash of deadpan humor a la The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and thematically there’s a sort of a Spore vibe going on—it’s a light-hearted, bloodless space game with a cerebral streak. This all sounds good on paper, but regrettably Relativity Wars stumbled badly somewhere on the path from concept to execution.
The game sells the physics as “educational” but aside from a handful of theoretical terms there’s really not much learning to be had. A cute little presentation illuminates the science behind the game some, but all the Einsteinian concepts really amount to are a couple of cool weapons and a model for ship controls. Your first taste of it comes with the main interface: a god’s eye view of the universe is overlaid with a 2D plane which curves downward around the various celestial bodies. This represents their gravity, and it isn’t just for show, either. Fly a ship too close to a star at too slow a speed and it’ll fall right into it, with predictably messy results. Fire off a space-time wave and the grid will ripple like water, sending any planets in the way flying out of orbit, or if you’re really lucky, into each other. Being able to manipulate space-time is the game’s best feature by far, and obliterating whole solar systems with a single stroke will surely delight all you megalomaniacs out there.
Physics aside, at its core Relativity Wars is a loose hybrid of strategy and arcade-style space shooter. While technically a 4X game, there’s not much depth on the strategy end. The only resource is planet population, and there’s practically no variation in units or planet management. Most of your time will be spent with in-game menus, building up planets and researching technologies. The variety between missions keeps the tedium at bay—there’s a “no lasers” mission, a “tower defense” mission, and so on—but there’s very little replay value for a game like this. For combat, you have the option of giving general orders to a host of ships stationed on a planet or grabbing an individual ship to fly manually. With the latter, you only have access to flight controls (your shots are automatic), but weaving in and out of enemy fire to give your copilot a clear shot is still good fun.
A word of warning: stay clear of this title if you have an older device, as performance issues make it borderline unplayable on slower machines. I would suggest something with a Tegra 3 at minimum. I could play it on my ASUS TF-101 tablet (Tegra 2), but gameplay was plagued by lag spikes, even with the graphics quality set to low. Strange, considering there’s really not much to the graphics at all. Speaking of which, the graphics are just mundane. Variation between the models is minimal, and while everything looks just fine, nothing really stands out. The same goes for sound; it works, that’s all.
It bears mentioning that the developers resorted to IAPs, and the results are near-catastrophic. Einsteinium, the in-game currency used to research and build stuff instantly, can be earned by colonizing planets, finishing missions, or blowing actual money. This wouldn’t be such a problem if it weren’t an absolute necessity in several missions where you are grossly outnumbered and out-gunned from beginning. I managed to finish the game without needing to spend a dime, but I rationed my Einsteinium very carefully, and had I failed just one of those difficult missions after exhausting my supply I would’ve been screwed.
While I loved the concept, a clear lack of polish drags Relativity Wars’ down a peg or three. For one, the way the difficulty of the missions is scaled feels uneven. You’ll breeze through some while others will frustrate you to high hell. Worse still, there’s a bevy of bugs hiding throughout, some of which caused me to fail missions. On one occasion, landing a ship on my only planet inadvertently sent it careening into deep space as if it were propelled by the ship’s momentum. Other times one of my planets would just explode for no apparent reason. I’m usually fine with a game that’s a little rough around the edges, but this sort of thing is unpardonable. The worst part is I actually enjoyed the game.