Savage: The Battle for Newerth Review

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Publisher: iGames
Developer: S2 Games

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium 600 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB video card, internet connection

The Beasts battle the Humans in this blend of first-person shooter and real-time strategy. Savage is a multiplayer only, team-based game in which you play either as a foot soldier (and take on the traditional first-person shooter role) or as your team's commander, viewing the game and issuing orders through a familiar real-time strategy interface. Build your base, knock down the other guy's, and the day is yours.

Rob de los Reyes

Savage is one of the better games out there right now of which you're not playing enough. The fact that the game has a smaller publisher and developer means you haven't been seeing as much in the way of marketing as you would for, say, a release from EA. It's a facet of the industry – there's nothing to be done – but it's still a shame. Savage is a good game, and it deserves more attention than it's getting. Like many things in life, Savage is not without its flaws, one or two of which are serious. But when it gets things right, it gets them very right. Savage's weird real-time strategy(RTS)/first-person shooter (FPS) hybrid adds a jolt of freshness to the online shooter routine, and its fantasy theme lets you step out from behind a submachine gun for a little while. The pacing is fast, victory satisfying, and every match different. Bring several hours' worth of patience to work through the learning curve and you'll get a chance to slip into something enjoyable and new.

You'll play as one of two species in Savage – Humans and Beasts – who really have nothing much to do other than kill each other and wreck each other's bases. It's a good thing, too, because those two activities are a full-time job. The Humans, who start with a Native American aesthetic that migrates to something a little more Gothic/barbarian, are technologically oriented. They open with bows and arrows (and melee axes) and move toward various types of rifles and explosives. The Beasts are large, simian things (mostly) with more of a predilection for magic than technology. Though not without their own array of ranged weaponry, the Beasts are more about hopping around and swiping things with their claws.

Hail to the Chief

More than these outward trappings, what's different about Savage is its blend of first-person shooter action with real-time strategy play. Each team has one commander. For the commander alone, the view of the game is much like any other real-time strategy game. While the rest of the players are out slaughtering each other in traditional FPS form, the commander builds structures and base defenses, researches new weapons and equipment, and issues orders to NPC workers and human players alike. As a player, you don't have to follow a commander's order, but his top-down view often gives him a better perspective than troops on the ground.

With a good commander in the chair, Savage is something to behold. Though many online shooters offer team play, you're often really just involved in group solo play – there are notional teams but every man fends for himself. A skilled commander has the ability to shape a battle plan not merely through chat commands but through timely research and the strategic deployment of forward bases. A simple system of selecting a unit and right-clicking an object, be it an enemy or a structure, automatically issues a context-sensitive command. What could easily have turned out to be a nightmarish project of herding cats turns out to be a fast, elegant combat machine.

As you may already have surmised, however, when your team is saddled with a poor commander or, worse, a commander who panics and quits, you might as well call for the "concede" vote. While one side builds up an impenetrable fortress and makes ever more powerful weaponry, the other side languishes with the starting weapons and shrinking territory. It's possible to call a vote to impeach a commander, but if you've hit that point, you've almost certainly lost the match. Come-from-behind victories aren't unheard of, but the self-reinforcing spiral of better weapons and more kills reaping more gold (and therefore, even better weapons) doesn't admit many late game rallies. What Savage desperately needs is a way to practice playing commander offline or online with bots. It's possible to hop on an empty server to practice the very basics of commanding, but without troops to move around and fight, you're not really practicing at all. And your fellow gamers aren't big on newbie commanders. The amount of invective heaped on new or subpar commanders is childish and shameful. Who needs that abuse when all you want to do is learn? No wonder the choice of commander is less often a race to the helm than a round of "not it!"

Now You Know the Strength of the Horde

Still, the commanders are coming along. Brave, thick-skinned souls are toughing it out and making it plain that Savage's hybrid idea really can work. A tougher problem for the moment is that old bugbear of "balance." Since launch, the Beasts have been the regular victors. In fact, it usually takes a total commander meltdown on the Beast side to lose. It's not entirely clear what the issues are, but S2 Games is actively and visibly working on it (with a patch in beta even as this is written). Part of the problem is that the Humans rely on ranged weaponry to counter the speed and melee power of the Beasts. But it takes practice to learn to hit a Beast at 50 yards while he uses his super jump to leap around the map. Your reviewer has grown steadily better playing the Human side, so it may just be that the Beasts are a little more "noob" friendly than the Humans. If so, it's just a matter of time before things even out. It may be, however, that the Beasts' speed is simply too overwhelming. They hit spawn points faster and are better able to move reinforcements than the pokey Humans.

Or it could be something else. The truth is, it's a problem that needs sorting out, but not one that should chase away anyone with a little patience. And it could all turn out to be a blessing in disguise. You know the kind of gamer who switches sides when his team seems to be losing or the kind who turns on all the cheats because he'd rather cruise to an easy victory than work through a challenge? That gamer is the one who is most troubled by the current imbalance. If you can't indulge in a little schadenfreude there...

In any event, both the commander problem and the balance issue matter, but are generally overshadowed by Savage's fun and novel gameplay. There's an epic feel here that flows from the RTS elements and genuine team play. The build-up, skirmish and tear-down phases create the sort of intensity you find in the ebb and flow of captured territory in Battlefield 1942. Although Savage only offers one type of game (destroy the enemy base), because so much of the gameplay is in the hands of the players, no two games ever seem quite the same. It takes a couple of days of getting slapped around before the subtleties creep out from under the non-stop action and a couple more days to figure out how to use an immobilizer (or frenzy crystal or whatever) to passable effect. But each day, Savage digs its claws into you a little more. Let it.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 29, 2003 6:35 PM.

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