Storm: Frontline Nation Review

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Storm: Frontline Nation Publisher: Just A Game
Developer: Colossai Studio


Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: 2.4 GHz processor, 1 GB RAM, DirectX 9 compatible video card with 128 MB RAM, 2 GB HD space, Windows XP or more recent operating system

Prolonged economic crises and increasingly scarce resources have strained international relations to the breaking point and plunged growing populations into unsustainable austerity measures. That's today's reality. Storm: Frontline Nation begins in 2012, when economic breakdown transforms into open war across Europe and the Middle East. The United States is carving out a presence in Egypt, while European powers compete to control the remaining natural resources, backed by the most advanced armies in the world and the threat of weapons of mass destruction. Only adroit politics, backed by a strong army, will guarantee the continued survival of any nation.

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


Getting to play an actual game of Storm: Frontline Nation is a lot like earning a degree in Chemical Engineering. It's ultimately worth it, but it takes an awful lot of careful study and experimentation, and during that whole learning process you can't drink nearly as much beer as you might otherwise like. Once I finally figured out (or mostly figured out) how to play Storm: Frontline Nation, I was glad of it, but if I hadn't been pushing through to review the game, I'd have quit and walked away long before due to the poor and typically non-existent explanations and tutorials.

An Exercise in Cause and Effect


If a group of game designers had been stranded on a distant island for a century or two with a reasonable supply of PCs and power, I imagine they would make games something like Storm: Frontline Nation. An excellent underlying game, to be sure, but with an interface so close to intuitive as to be maddening. Everything almost works the way it should, but that left-click, right-click or key-press never does quite what you think it will. It's as if the user interface was created by someone living in a reality just two clicks sideways.

I only found the electronic manual hidden in the game files after a day of play, and it wasn't much help. A link from the main menu would have saved me a few minutes, but little else. The game does have a series of video tutorials that are low-quality video capture of play with a few added text notes. The video tutorials taught Storm: Frontline Nation to me the same way the original text of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales would be a great primer for a non-native speaker to learn colloquial English. It didn't help that the menus are filled with intricate (and at first inscrutable) detail and tiny check-boxes. Finally, while this only applies to the "English" setting, the game text and manual could really use a pass from a native English speaker to avoid a lot of confusion. Even the voice-over text (in English) is constantly mispronounced.

After initially shutting down the game to take a few deep breaths, I started experimenting to figure out how to play, poking here and clicking there just to see what happens. A few dozen restarts of the campaign later, the game was starting to feel like barely-controlled chaos. I'd figured out how to transport infantry fairly quickly, and by the second day, understood how to incorporate air forces in a combined assault, but I'm still only vaguely confident of where and when I can transport mechanized ground vehicles over water. Given that I was mucking around with the UK story campaign for consistency, that was a huge handicap for an island nation.

All of Europe or One Tiny Battlefield


After literally days, I was finally able to (mostly) understand and enjoy the game. Storm: Frontline Nation is really two games. The real game is the one that explores a present-day world (at least the European and North African part) depleted of resources and looking to cannibalize other nations for continued dominance. It's a complex military and political web that includes dozens of playable nations (many are inconsequentially minor players), and requires players to prioritize popular and international opinion as highly as military might.

The second game is the turn-based warfare system that is used to resolve land battles. Sea battles are resolved automatically without player intervention. Land battles are based on a hexagonal grid, and are incredibly detailed, if poorly rendered. The depth of the battles (especially when terrain modifications, weather conditions, supply lines, troop types and technological advances are considered) is spectacular. They just don't look very good. Many core wargamers don't care about looks as long as the details are strong, but if you want smooth and polished graphics, the turn-based battles won't be your cup of tea. Of course, the overland political and military game can be played without the turn-based battles, but I found my military outcomes were vastly superior when I intervened – particularly if I intervened with artillery.

Less Yellow, Please!


The turn-based warfare in Storm: Frontline Nation is enough to comprise a game all on its own. By selecting the skirmish mode, rather than the campaign, it's possible to just jump into the actual battles. Most of the battle interface, with some help from the tool tips, is intuitive enough to make play possible. It's possible to customize the terrain, time of day, weather conditions and technology level, then give each side a budget with which to purchase units and do battle. If you're the sort of wargamer who enjoys board games with more than your bodyweight in cardboard chits and complicated calculus of attack and defense, Storm: Frontline Nation delivers. The spreadsheet that underlies the combat is solid, and sophisticated tactics and strong math are rewarded by the turn-based combat with simultaneous resolution.

Despite the strong, underlying combat, there are serious problems with the visuals. While Storm: Frontline Nation would do better with either more stylized or more realistic graphics, the couple of tiles and unit designs are sufficient. The graphical problems run deeper. Each unit can have tremendously different equipment. It would be far easier if this were better represented graphically, rather than requiring an in-depth inspection of every unit before giving commands. Once I consigned myself to constantly examining every unit and terrain hex in depth, and once I understood the influence of morale, electronic warfare and control points, things were entertaining enough, but there were still graphical problems. It bothered me tremendously that a unit's available movement range is shown in yellow, and its current movement command is also shown in yellow as a line that simply disappears against the available movement range. That, like other decisions in Storm: Frontline Nation, seems poorly thought through.

Research Chemical Weapons, But Don't Move a Tank


There's tremendous depth in the overall campaign mode for Storm: Frontline Nation, but after days of play, I'm still constantly surprised and confused by counter-intuitive features. Diplomacy is critical but complicated. It's not surprising that offers to exchange research, sign treaties and declare war are complex, but after many hours of play, it's still hard to figure out why I can't appease the AN or why a tiny nation all the way across the map, with no obvious treaties and almost no armed forces, suddenly declares war on me.

I appreciated how I had to be careful to balance economic and power requirements; ensure that I built sufficient structures to support my armed forces and supply my troops; while also researching necessary military technologies. These decisions are embedded into two different campaigns that constantly require players to fulfill strategic objectives such as demolishing a nuclear test facility. The concept is incredible, but when I still can't figure out how to move some units, and when learning to properly navigate all the menus and options took better than 30 hours of play, it's hard to recommend the game.

Reboot to Get Rid of that Helicopter Noise


Importantly, Storm: Frontline Nation also suffers from technical issues. The game crashed constantly when running on a computer that barely met the system requirements (usually before issuing a single move order). On a high-end machine, the game still crashed occasionally, forcing me to replay more than one critical combat and making some repeated turns into a serious chore.

With a little more time in development, Storm: Frontline Nation could be something truly awesome. The user interface needs further polish, and the game desperately needs a real tutorial. With those steps, Storm: Frontline Nation would become an incredible option for strategy gamers. As it stands, it's far too much work to learn to play Storm: Frontline Nation. That, combined with a few technical issues, make Storm: Frontline Nation hard to endorse.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 20, 2011 7:13 PM.

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