Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pursuit of Power Review

Pursuit of Power, developed and published by Precision Games.
The Good: Straightforward resource collection, simple upgrade system, action delay reduces unit spamming, rare stalemates
The Not So Good: Not many unit types, awkward user interface, less than stellar graphics, maps are too big for the slow unit speed
What say you? An uncomplicated introduction to real time strategy games: 5/8

By this point in the development of the real time strategy game genre, almost every setting has been covered: World War II, ancient Rome, World War II, space, medieval times, and, of course, World War II. The fantasy setting has been gaining some ground lately, thanks to the Kohan series, the Lord of the Rings, and Rise of Legends. Wizards and knights are no longer restricted to role-playing games, and commanding large numbers of magical beings is now becoming more commonplace. Enter Pursuit of Power, a fantasy real time strategy game that features knights and wizards. Bet you didn’t see that one coming!

Pursuit of Power is developed by a small company, and it looks and sounds like it. All of the graphics are two-dimensional and consist of animated bitmaps. This obviously doesn’t stack up against more mainstream games, but I’ve always held gameplay above graphics, and this is certainly a good thing for Pursuit of Power. The game is devoid of any special effects. The environments are a bland and confusing array of trees, rocks, and more trees. Units and buildings of the same class even have the same bitmaps, so differentiating between a swordsman and a knight is impossible without using tooltips. The sound effects are also extremely basic, consisting of 25 weapons and movement sounds that get repetitive and grating very quickly. The music in Pursuit of Power is not half bad, though. But for the rest of the game, the graphics certainly pale in comparison to other games, but it’s the gameplay that matters, right? Right?

Pursuit of Power has the usual number of features for a real time strategy game: a story-driven campaign, skirmish matches against the AI, and multiplayer over the Internet. Despite the fact that the multiplayer is by IP address only, it is smooth going with no noticeable lag. There is also a tutorial level to get you acquainted with the game, and it does a good job at this task. Pursuit of Power streamlines a lot of the more boring aspects of other real time strategy games, replacing laborious resource collection with fast troop build-up. The most important character on the screen is your leader, the only person that can summon buildings. You are usually given several resource locations at your starting point, and constructing a portal on top of them will provide a steady supply of the game’s only resource (power). Power is used to construct buildings, recruit troops, and use spells and special abilities. This is a lot better than other games that feature four to six different resources you need to collect, turning your attention to more important things like killing people. The other key concept of Pursuit of Power is the action time limitation: units and buildings are produced instantly, but you can’t construct another building or unit until the action time has passed (different for each action). This is the opposite of what many games do to limit unit and building spamming (construction time), and it works just as well, if not slightly better. The user interface of Pursuit of Power is not very good: the minimap is littered with white icons for trees and it makes it hard to see anything else, including enemy base locations and where resources are. The singular command and build menu at the bottom is also difficult to use; it would have been better to just list all of the commands at once along the bottom of the screen instead of having to select specific units somewhere on the crowded battlefield to do what you want.

Once you’ve started collecting resources with your portals (which can also be used to teleport your leader), it’s time to raise an army. This is done through your portals, and Pursuit of Power features five different types of ranged and skirmish fighters. This may not sound like many, and that’s because it’s not: Pursuit of Power features far fewer units than almost any other RTS game I can remember. On one hand, this simplifies the game, but it also limits the number of possible strategies available for each player. The number of buildings is also limited: some basic defenses are available, as well as unit upgrade structures. Pursuit of Power boils down to selecting your mix of fighters, building upgrades, and walking across the map searching for the enemy. Troop movement and positioning is at the heart of Pursuit of Power, because most of the default maps are very large and units walk extremely slow. This means having good backup defenses in place is imperative to prevent any sneak attack by the enemy. The maps are almost too large and result in a lot of walking and less fighting than I’d like to see, although leaders can teleport through allied portals. Your computer opponent is sufficient, as on easy levels they are easy to beat and on hard levels they actually employ some good overall strategy, flanking your position and sending out scouts to explore undetected. Since the maps are so large, you’ll be issuing move commands most of the time, and the “attack move” works…some of the time. Sometimes, your units will engage passing enemy units, while other times they will pass them by. This may have to do with their detection range, but it one person sees them, shouldn’t everyone else through the process of communication? Despite this, Pursuit of Power doesn’t feature much micromanagement, outside of the special abilities your troops and leader can employ. Leaders can heal allies and use spells to damage the enemies, while troops can sporadically increase their level (the same effect as constructing upgrdade buildings) for short periods of time. Pursuit of Power features semi-advanced fog of war, as trees block a portion of a unit’s ability to see beyond them, and terrain can affect movement rates. One of the problems of many real time strategy games is that a lot of matches can end in a deadlock with both sides in equal footing. Pursuit of Power eliminates a lot of this by not allowing any player to rebuild portals once they are destroyed. This serves to finish off losing players much more quickly and cuts down on the end game. The overall strategy of Pursuit of Power seems to be a decision between lots of troops and more powerful troops through the building upgrades. Either method seems to be successful, although because of the square maps a single unit can only be attacked by a finite number of enemies, so more powerful units tend to perform better.

Pursuit of Power is a little too simplified for its own good. Veteran strategy players will probably not find enough tactical depth to satisfy their needs, but new players to the genre will appreciate the streamlined nature of the game. The limited resource collection and small number of available units and buildings make the game easy to play, but eliminates some of the potential strategies you can employ while engaging the enemy. People with a wargame background will probably ignore the below average graphics and just be concerned with the gameplay of Pursuit of Power. The maps are, in general, too large to the slow pace of the troops, and while there are some novel ideas in the game (such as the action timer), the overall experience comes off a little bit short of the mark. The user interface is confusing and, most damaging, inhibits precise gameplay on occasion. Most of the game is spent exploring around the large maps looking for additional resource locations (or the enemy), which tends to be rather boring. The battles themselves are fun when they do occur, and the sight of 100 or so bitmaps coming together in an orgy of destruction is kind of impressive. Still, Pursuit of Power lacks that special component that would differentiate itself from the rest of the real time strategy games. I can imagine that the elementary mechanics of the game will appeal to some people, but most of the gaming population will find most things in Pursuit of Power are done slightly better elsewhere.