(Editor’s Note: What follows is the original review written for the first version the author played. Since then, one or more major critiques have been addressed by the developer. For a list of these, see “Addendums” below the original review score at the end of the article.)
Like Pulp Fiction set in outer space, Miralupa’s iOS debut ties together a series of vignettes about little people in little tanks: an emperor’s distant relative who thinks his new assignment is a plush job but ends up on the front; a spy behind enemy lines; and imperial agents sent to quell a rebellion. Thanks to Augmented Reality, their paths might just cross on your own kitchen table as they get wrapped up in the Chromian Wars (Out Now, $0.99 Sale as IAP)!
Chromian Wars holds great promise as a showcase of what can happen when tabletop war gaming goes digital, but lack of multiplayer at release leaves that potential unfulfilled for now. Even in the single player campaign you can already see how thrilling multiplayer could be. In AR mode, the game uses a real-world marker (available at the developer’s website) to judge the display angle and size of all in-game objects — so if two players had their iDevices pointed at the same marker, they’d have different views of the battlefield and could see different strategic opportunities.
Alas, while the technical foundation for all this looks sturdy, the single player campaign doesn’t feel particularly designed to take advantage of AR with its low-walled fortresses and rather stubby obstacles. For the time being, Chromian Wars must rest on how much fun it offers as a traditional 3D action game.
Most who look into Chromian Wars are probably interested in its novelty value as an AR game, but what’s interested me most since the preview writeup is its value as a real-time tank strategy game — probably one of the more under-explored genres. Despite the game’s outlandish setting, armchair military buffs – and maybe even players who’ve actually driven tanks – will respect the realistic role that maneuver plays in its battles. The tank under the player’s control may have to execute a slow three-point turn when he or she instructs it to drastically change direction, leaving the tank vulnerable to enemy fire all the while. Not to mention, any movement at all throws off the alignment of a tank’s gun barrel with its target, so a player and enemy tank can spend a few seconds waltzing around before a shot is fired.
Not that any battle goes very long without something being shot at. With the exception of spy missions where the player has to survive completely through maneuver, most levels pit two or three player tanks against two or three enemy tanks at a time, with AI picking up where player directives leave off. Even within that structure, mission types vary between taking out buildings while shrugging off enemies, defending the player’s own territory, and the expected take-out-all-enemies-before-reinforcements-arrive routine. What doesn’t vary is the importance of item pickups that randomly appear on the battlefield to be seized by whichever player or enemy tank reaches it first. By raining some high-tech weaponry on the opposite team or repairing the tank that claims it, a single power-up can hasten victory or reverse a route.
Guiding tanks around is complex business even in a game as simple on paper as Chromian Wars, so it definitely needs a strong tutorial — and unfortunately there’s some brushing up to be done here in updates. I very much appreciated that Chromian Wars uses live rather than static tutorials and divides them into different subjects, but the text that appears during these tutorials can lead to serious misunderstandings. Tapping to take command of a tank; tapping and holding to see the tank’s integrity and remaining ammo; and dragging around a tank’s destination point for smooth movement, are all distilled into an instruction to “touch” the object or screen point in question. It sounds funny and nitpicky, but the importance of clarity cannot be overstated here. Before I found out exactly how to do these things, I became more uneasy with Chromian Wars’ gameplay the more time I spent with it: I dove in thinking I had to tap a tank again to see its stats, and that didn’t work; I was less than impressed with point-to-point movement in tight spaces because my tank would go in a straight line and get caught on some object along the way. After I happened to catch the nuances of the game’s controls in one of Miralupa’s preview videos, I could finally dig into some smooth tank combat and leave the frustration behind!