Have you been searching for a World War II themed turn-based tactical combat game – with absolutely no IAPs to get in the way – that you can play against others asynchronously online, with both 1-vs-1 and 2-vs-2 battle options? If this sounds like exactly the sort of thing you have been hoping would one day turn up on iTunes, then the developers over at Offworld Games certainly have a delicious treat for you. Although containing some push notice delivery issues, and more than a bit lacking in the tutorial department, Finest Hour (out now, $0.99) is – once you get the hang of it – certain to please many a tactical itch.
You begin Finest Hour by first selecting whether you want to start a match playing as either the Axis or the Allies, and then whether or not you want this round to be a solo or team based affair. Next you have to choose if you want this to be a match against entirely random people, or if you wish to start up a round of armored combat with people you already happen to know. I highly advise that if you’re choosing to play a random match that you choose the Axis, as the wait time to find an opponent on the Allies side – which almost everyone else chooses – can sometimes be well more than a day.
Next up – once your opponent has finally been found – you must choose how many vehicles you wish to deploy onto the field, a number that will range somewhere from four to eight. While it might at first seem that it’s always better to deploy a full eight units, there are actually two factors – mobility and value – that makes this into a far more of a strategic decision than it initially seems. While I plan to explain the mobility side of this matter right away, I’m going to hold back on discussing the value factor until after I’ve first covered how Finest Hour’s core gameplay functions.
The mobility side of the equation is easy to explain: no matter how units you have on the field, you can only actually move four of them each and every time your turn comes up. Now this isn’t simply any four tanks of your elective choosing each time your turn rolls around, but – rather instead – it will first start with whatever tanks weren’t able to move the previous turn. This creates a situation where the turn of each individual vehicle will come up more often when you have less tanks on the field overall, thus creating a judgment call that must be made when deciding how large to make your army.
When operating one of your active vehicles there are essentially two kinds of commands you can issue: move instructions – which involve going forward and backwards, as well as rotating – and firing upon a target. How far you can specifically move any given tank in a turn will be based on a combination of that vehicle’s movement value, as well as the types of terrains that you attempt to plow through. Obviously your treaded terrors are going to get the most mileage when they’re rolling down a paved road, but – while the going might be slower – they will be much harder to hit if you instead move them through a forested area.
While you can order a tank to fire at any point during its movement phase, including when it has zero potential squares of movement remaining, its turn will end the exact moment you order an attack. A tank will be able to attempt a hit against any location reachable by the aiming arc of its turret, at least so long as the fog of war – possibly due to an obstruction – isn’t preventing you from seeing that particular square. Do note: the unit firing doesn’t necessarily have to also see its intended target, instead you merely need to have at least one tank positioned such that there exists a visual confirmation.
Positioning is extremely important where firing upon a target in Finest Hour, especially since this game – rather than giving each vehicle one giant health bar – tracks the armor remaining on all four facings. So obviously you’re going to get more bang for your buck if your fire on the most thinly armored side of a target, or – at the very least – the section that’s already taken the heaviest pounding. It’s also important to be sure you line up these shots without exposing your own tank in an inopportune way, for – just the same as your enemy – your own vehicles will immediately die if the armor on any one side gets annihilated.
While you can always order your tanks to attack any vehicle that is within both their firing range and radius, there are other situations that can permit you to acquire free attack chances. Firstly – assuming they weren’t destroyed/disabled in the process – any tank fired upon always receives a chance to return the favor, at least so long as their attacker is within their own personal range. Furthermore, any opposition actively going through your potential attack area – assuming the enemy can also be seen – will immediately cause each tank covering that spot to earn a free attack (but this does not permit the moving vehicle being shot at to fire back).
Although obliterating all of the enemy’s vehicles will certainly lead to a success, the scorched earth method isn’t the only road to victory available when you’re playing Finest Hour. Each map has a special square somewhere that – when occupied – awards that side two victory points each time this is done, with a fiat victory being accomplished should either side make it to sixteen points. In this way players can also try for victories based around digging in rather just search and destroy, which is especially important when you consider the title’s IAP-Free purchasing system.
At the end of each skirmish both sides will be awarded a number of stars based on whether or not they won, as well as any ancillary goals – such as reaching the control point first – they managed to achieve. While the simplest Axis and Allied units are basically provided free of charge, the more valuable vehicles on each side will have to be purchased – in set packs – with a player’s earned stars. I would like to take this moment to reiterate once more that Finest Hour is 100% devoid of any kind of real money based IAP options, the only way to acquire these stars is purely through playing the game.
Normally in most strategy games there is no reason to not try a last ditch death march upon your opponent if things start to turn sour, even if this is heavily unrealistic to how battles might go in real life. The existence of purchased units in Finest Hour make it a far different experience to most other strategy games, for these non-basic units – once destroyed – are lost permanently to the player (or at least until they buy more). To this end there are special retreat squares placed around each map, thus permitting players to realistically attempt to extradite their valuable resources whenever things become unfavorable.
While the graphics in Finest Hour aren’t necessarily the greatest out there, they’re far better than what people are normally used to putting up with in many a tactical miniature tabletop experience. What is far more disconcerting – though – is that the game’s push notice system seems to work less than half the time, which means you will often find yourself waiting for long chunks of time on an opponent who doesn’t even realize you already went. That said, I did really like the sound that Offworld Games chose to play whenever you – successfully – receive a notice that it’s your turn to play again: staticy Morse Code, half garbled as if coming in over a radio.
Easily far more of a problem than the broken push notices system has to be the fact that Finest Hour features a woefully inadequate tutorial, coupled with only multiplayer matches. I am not using hyperbole when I claim that the game’s entire tutorial is completed in less than half a minute, during which all it ever tells the player is that: you touch the screen to move, you touch the enemy to shoot, this is an objective point, and this is a retreat square. This leads to a rather dreadful experience where players must self discover the bulk of how to play Finest Hour, all while suffering under a bevy of veterans doing what John Romero once promised he’d do to gamers everywhere.
Still, despite all of these issues, Finest Hour is certainly the finest option when it comes to World War II themed tactical miniature tabletop style multiplayer gaming action on your iDevice.
iFanzine Verdict: Offworld Games’ Finest Hour is an excellent tactical tabletop- miniature style experience for iDevices, featuring asynchronous multiplayer, based on the many tank skirmishes of World War II. One of the most interesting features of the title is how it tracks the remaining armor on each of a vehicle’s four facings separately, and also gives players real incentives to not simply attempt a last ditch death march whenever things begin going sour. Unfortunately the often malfunctioning push notices can lead to matches being far slower than necessary, and the inadequate tutorial can lead to a very painful learning curve.