Sometimes a bargain price still isn’t enough…
Let me say right off the bat that I somehow, despite my many years of playing games on the PC, never managed to play the original XCom. So, if you?re already a fan of the game?s creators Nick and Julian Gollop, then you might think that I lack the street cred necessary to review their latest offering, Laser Squad Nemesis. Of course, if you?re one of these people, you?ve probably purchased the bargain-priced game long ago and have been busily playing matches via email (yes, you read that right- email) for weeks now.
Obviously this review is not for you.
For the rest of us who never drank the XCom kool-aid, a review is going to be necessary, and MyGamer is here to help. So, what exactly is Laser Squad Nemesis (LSM) ? The long answer is that LSM is a turn-based tactical game from developer Codo Technologies and publisher Got Game Entertainment. LSM is played either via single-player campaigns or by online play facilitated by email (much like email-based chess games or turn-based games of the previous century). There is no other form of online play, either via the web or LAN, however you can play with a second player on the same PC in ?hot seat? mode by alternating players and turns.
The short answer might give you a better idea though: LSN is like Starcraft in slow motion. Without the stuff that made Starcraft great. No music. Sounds that would not have been out of place back when game sound was delivered via the PCs internal speaker. Low-rez, sprite-based graphics. The word ?Retro? may have been invented just do describe it.
As I mentioned before, I never played XCom, but I?ve certainly heard about it (it appears on nearly every list to ?Top Games? ever published, usually in the top half). I also know people that are still playing it to this day, so I admit that even when faced with the game?s underwhelming introduction (nothing- no music, not even static screens with text slide-show style) I still had high hopes that things would improve.
You begin by selecting a race (human Marines, robotic Machina, insectile Spawn or alien Greys) and then playing through some brief tutorial missions. You choose your force deployment before the game begins, using a set number of deployment points. You?d better start practicing keeping your troops alive right from the start, though, because once you?re out of units you?re done (the Spawn are an exception to this rule as they are the only race that can breed more units mid-game). And, since there?s no save feature, it?s best to put on your thinking cap prior to committing yourself to anything, because a single tactical misstep can and will result in your forces getting decimated, forcing you to restart the entire scenario.
You then give orders to all of your units, telling them where to move, what to do as they move (stop and fire when sighting an enemy, run away when sighting an enemy, move regardless of enemy fire, etc.), where to provide covering fire and so forth. Once you have assigned orders to all of your units you then proceed with your turn, which lasts about 10 seconds. Both sides in a battle give orders in a paused state and then take their turn simultaneously. Because keeping track of multiple units can be complex, moves can be previewed if you are not sure of your orders? outcome, and then after the turn is over the turn can be replayed at normal or slo-mo speed or even re-winded via a VCR-like interface.
As the player advances, they learn the game?s story, a fairly generic sci-fi offering that serves up a tale of humans attacked by the ravening Spawn, who then create the robotic Machina to fight for them. In true clich?d sci-fi tradition, naturally, the robots decide to go all Terminator and turn on their creators. Meanwhile, a fourth race, the Greys, who apparently have been nurturing humanity for untold generations but who have now decided that humans are too war-like to be allowed to live, are calling in the Orkin man on the species.
The single-player missions are satisfying enough with enough varied mission types to keep from feeling repetitive, although there are not that many of them. All-in-all, the single-player component felt like an extended tutorial to me more than anything else, with only 5 scenarios for each of the game?s 4 races (although there are 3 different levels of difficulty you can apply if you want to play them over again). The missions seem to have been designed to sharpen your tactics and to explore each race?s abilities in preparation for the online section. As I mentioned above, the game lacks any sort of save system for single-player games so don?t start a scenario if you don?t think you have the time to finish it. The good news, however, is that the game uses minimal system resources and seems stable even when run for hours and hours, so you can probably safely keep it running in the background for days while doing other things (as I did, in fact).
Unfortunately, online play is limited to passing turns with your opponent via email. Yes, you?re still hearing that right. Rather than building any kind of networking system into LSN, the developers opted for a system where opponents locked in a gripping, nail-biting, knock-down drag-out battle would take a turn then email the results to an opponent who has several hours or days to reply. Then they send their turn back to you and you see the next 10 seconds of what happens and the process starts all over again. After only a few agonizingly slow exchanges and well before the end of my first online match-up I stopped caring about the game?s outcome, as there was no immediacy to the process whatsoever.
On the bright side, you?ll never need to worry about having to type ?BRB- quick bio? ever again. You know, in case you?re shy about that kind of thing.
I know that there are aficionados of this style of protracted, ponderous gamesmanship, namely in the chess arena, but I?m not one of them. Real-life chess moves too slowly to keep me, a gamer who, as a kid, literally went right from Monopoly and Checkers to the Atari 2600, awake. This being the case, the thought of playing a game online via an hours- or days-long exchange of email had me scratching my head.
The decision to implement such an archaic online system really is too bad, because if the developers had chosen to leave everything about LSN?s gameplay intact but had decided to allow you to pass turns back and forth with an online opponent via a real-time web connection or even via LAN then the game would have been loads more fun. The game play mechanics are surprisingly easy to pick up and fun to use, and once you get used to squinting to identify your units (Marines are particularly difficult to eyeball as often the only difference between units visually is a gun or insignia that?s probably 6 pixels across? if that) it?s fairly easy to keep track of even complex tactical situations such as move-and-cover advances, indirect fire via bounced grenades or special scenery-piercing rayguns, setting up crossfires, etc.
Unfortunately, once you have completed the game?s scant buffet of missions, unless you can deal with the email-based multiplayer component it?s pretty much over- the game play was just too glacially paced for me to be interested in replaying any of the missions. The title gets points for low cost, but in this case you really do get what you pay for, especially when you consider that you can snag a copy of the complete Starcraft series in many clearance bins for less than LSN?s price, a title which is practically guaranteed to run on even the most bare-bones system built in the last 10 years and which offers up not only real-time, free internet play but also a compelling and poignant story, top-notch voice acting, amazing graphics and sound that quite frankly blows LSN out of the water.
Game Play- 5 I?ll give credit where credit is due, this game does suck you in initially. The ability to issue complex commands in a paused state to your tiny minions, rewind past moves, test scenarios and orders prior to actually committing your forces, etc. is well implemented and is surprisingly intuitive. Campaign scenarios exist for all four of the game?s playable races and do a good job in educating you about each of their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, they seem to have been designed to get you ready for online play vial email, something that players will either love or hate (I?ll give you one guess which camp I landed in). I?m all for retro gaming experiences, but I?ve never pined for the ?good ol? days? of play-by-mail role-playing games either, so?
Graphics- 3 I would have been OK with sprite-based, low-rez graphics, if they had also done a good job in helping me easily identify my units (consider, for example, Warcraft?s use of exaggerated, brightly-colored units that you could inventory at a glance), but in LSN?s case they fail to do so almost completely. Many models look so similar that you have to click on them and read their description to tell the difference between, say, a Medic to a Grenadier. There are no personality-invoking idle, travel or combat animations that might have lent the game some character, an omission that left me scratching my head considering the obvious fun the developers had in designing races like the UFO-flying, ray gun-wielding Greys.
Audio- 3 Same deal for audio. There is no music, not a single note, nor is there any voice acting whatsoever. The few audio FX sound disturbingly like something I would have heard coming from my ancient 486SX?s internal speaker than anything resembling a video game coded since, say, 1990.
Value- 2 At first, $20 seems like a bargain for a title with such an impressive development pedigree and perhaps if the email-based multiplayer component isn?t a turn-off then this is a good deal, but I can think of several freeware, flash-based games that I?ve enjoyed far more than LSN?s single-player campaign. If the game?s offline content had been released as freeware, with the option to purchase the online portion for an additional fee then the story would be different. However, if you?re a gamer on a budget with a years-old PC or are a fan of old-school ?gameplay over glitz? titles, I?d recommend spending the same amount of coin on a copy of Diablo or Starcraft, games that will run smoothly on almost any PC built in the last decade and which, in my opinion, offer up a far better single player and multiplayer experience. As it is, only die-hard fans of the turn-based genre need apply.
Curve- 5 I?ll give points to Codo and Got Game for sticking true to their core strength: real time gaming that features gameplay, gameplay, gameplay over? well? everything else. It?s a bold move in this era of watering down a franchise?s key game play features in favor of ever-sexier eye candy, a trend that we see all too often. Unfortunately, in the case of Laser Squad Nemesis, the developers inexplicably chose to turn their back on the 21st century in regards to its online componant, a step backwards that hobbles what might have otherwise been a compelling title.