|Empire Interactive is a British company that specializes in
quirky games. Their pinball simulators are well known, and I loved playing Pro Pinball:
Big Race USA, so I was excited to try out their new title, War Along the Mohawk. It's
billed as a role-playing/real-time simulation set during the French and Indian War. The
concept is great, but the execution just doesn't do it for me.
As I said, this game seemed promising at the outset. The install program is punctuated by WAVs of soldiers hurrah-ing and clamoring for action. The opening AVI and main screen are pretty, and there's something strangely inviting about a game that looks like it's made of wood. Unfortunately, the game itself doesn't revolve around such pulse-pounding action as my first contact seemed to indicate.
You play either French or British forces. Both sides are aided by Indians from the northeast. Looking through the characters is interesting, and each one reads you his or her story. There are soldiers, civilians and Indian scouts to choose from. Everybody except the soldiers are not entirely trustworthy. The women are all flagged as having ulterior motives, and the Indians are noted as being aloof and incomprehensible.
These character distinctions put me off. I know it's just a game, and even the untrustworthy characters have great abilities and will not always doublecross you, but there was something about the way that the speech for the Native Americans sounded less "Indian" and much more "retarded."
Each character is rated for attributes such as intelligence and speed, and each also comes with a few skills and a list of learnable skills. The attributes and skills comprise the role-playing aspect of the game. There are stock skills such as artillery and barricade-building, but there are also some great original skills I've never seen before such as eagle eyes and raccoon control. Of course, the best skill (at least for comedic value) is "beaver patrol," where a character can use a beaver skin to hide under when swimming, thereby approaching enemy troops undetected.
You play the game in missions (18 for each side), beginning each at a base fort. You take your main character to the general and get your orders for the mission and pick out your crew. On many missions you also meet subordinate officers whose troops you can control during the campaign. Each fort has a store where you can buy items such as pelts, weapons powerups and books to teach you skills. Characters also learn skills by being around another character using the skill.
To earn money to spend at the store, you take your little group around and hunt animals. You can kill bears, deer, beaver, raccoon, eagles and more. The pelts can be sold for money or used by characters who have skills to disguise themselves as animals. Of course it's only the Indians who really come with these skills, although some Euro-characters such as the French fur trappers can learn a few of these skills.
The game sounds great at first. Unfortunately it has some problems to overcome. The mission briefings are fairly vague, and it takes awhile to catch on to just what the hell your orders are. Eventually you'll figure out that you're supposed to go to a white rock, located in one of the four directions of the map you begin on, that will transport you to a different map, with different terrain. Once on the mission map, you must find the enemy and complete whatever task you need to do (usually to kill the opposing soldiers), then find another white rock to be transported back to the map with your fort on it. I found the map-hopping disjointed and confusing at first. Eventually I got the hang of it.
But it took forever because the characters all move so damn slow. The graphics are just your basic 2D sim-style. Think of Civilization II or old Might and Magic. You have your field of vision illuminated, and then the rest is blacked out in big, blocky squares. Once you've traveled somewhere, the general terrain shows up in your smaller world-map window, but you can't see animals or enemy troops unless you're looking right at them. The plodding movement just drove me crazy. Most of the time it took me to complete the mission was spent just walking from the fort to the white rock.
The graphics are bland. There are AVIs for standard transitions in the game, but they are just filmed and sepia toned at low resolution. There are no good CG sequences and the cinematography is at-par.
I also think the mixture of the gaming genres detracted from WATM. The role-playing is fairly superficial because there's no real vested interest in your characters. There is no method of quantifying experience and characters learn only the half-dozen or so skills that they are capable of learning at the beginning of the game. The learning is accomplished quite easily, since you only need to find another character who has the skill and then anyone in your party capable of learning that skill will learn it as soon as it is used.
The simulation also falters. You don't build new recruits or buildings or anything. You just pick up people along the way, and it's all hindered by which mission you're on. If you aren't supposed to have twelve guys you won't. You don't really get to decide how your troops attack. There are a few ways to fire (at will, volley, etc.) and you can determine troop formation, but that's about it.
The historical setting of the story also plays an almost nonexistent role in the game. It gives a visual theme and context, but otherwise is truly negligible. I was sad that I didn't learn anything about the French and Indian War, but I had spent plenty of hours decoding bizarre mission goals and waiting for my guys to plod across the forest.
Overall, I think this is a good attempt at broadening the historical/role-playing/real-time simulation genres. Games like this could definitely be successful, and there are some good points. If the historical aspects were played up, and if it leaned a little more towards either RPG or RTS, then I think Empire would have a real hot product on their hands. Unfortunately, WATM is just not polished enough to recommend to anybody except the most open-minded and forgiving gamer.