Metal Marines is a unique RTS (Real Time Strategy) wargame that's fun and challenging once you get used to the frantic pace. It has a lot going for it – nice-looking anime, good graphics and voice-acting, a unique interface, and a hearty challenge in the later missions.
The plot is mostly used to set the game up, rather then being gradually developed, but it is a frightening one – in the 23rd century, antimatter technology is developed, and Earth benefits from cheap and easily created energy in orbiting space stations and colonies. It's also known that antimatter could be used as a powerful weapon, and terrorists try for years to steal some. They finally succeed, and Earth erupts into a horrible antimatter war, with all the major cities destroyed and large areas of the ground blasted into nothing, leaving the planet as many scattered islands. Finally, the remaining leaders band together into a United Earth Empire and try to rebuild the shattered planet. Seeing a chance to take control, the united space stations and colonies invade Earth. You are in command of the United Earth Empire forces as they resist the invaders and the tyrannical regime that they stand for.
From the main menu, you can customize your base for the next mission, play another human on a modem connection, or start the next mission. There are no saves – the game keeps track of which mission you are on by your name. When you first enter your name, you do a tutorial mission and then the real fun starts. There are nice anime scenes thrown in from time to time and the voice acting enhances the game experience.
The interface is unique, to say the least – I've never seen anything like it in my twenty years of gaming. There are four separate windows that the game plays on – one for your island, one for the enemy island, one for your base buildings, and the last for communications and status messages. You can resize the windows as you wish, but there's no 'blank' screen in the background – that is, you can still see your Windows desktop as you play! This can be a little confusing. The graphics are cute cartoon-like representations of people, the islands, your units, and the buildings.
The objective in each mission is to destroy everything in your enemy's base while making sure the same doesn’t happen to yours. You have a few headquarters and as long as one is left alive at the end, you win. You already have some units and buildings when you start, as well as some money to build more. You also need energy to operate your base. Buildings you can build include war factories to speed up construction, plants for money and energy, anti-missile defenses, turrets to ward off ground troops, and 'fake' headquarters to fool the enemy. Attack units include missile launchers, metal marines for attacking buildings once you have spotted them, and ICBMs that are much more powerful then normal missiles.
When the game starts, you don't know anything about the enemy's island. To start destroying his base, you send over missiles to where you think his buildings are. Anti-missiles may intercept them. If they hit close to a building, it shows up on your map. Now you can hit them again with more missiles, or send over your metal marines (three can be sent over at once, as opposed to one missile attack at a time) to attack them on ground. Of course, the enemy is trying to do the same to you. What makes the game frantic to play for the first half of the mission, though, and a little hard to get used to, is the rapid pace of the attacks. Only one attack can be happening at any time, so often you have to ward off the enemy's attacks before you can finally get some in of your own. Destroyed units and land on your side can be bulldozed to make way for new units, and your metal marines return from their raids after a short delay.
I haven’t even mentioned how the attacks are carried out, though – another very unique idea! You actually SEE the missile traveling across your Windows desktop, from one game island window to the other one. Same thing for anti-missiles and the marines. Not only is it cute to watch, but can clue you in as to where the enemy may have some units, or alert you that you need better defenses. Instead of having a single screen or a split screen, the multiple windows idea allows you to see everything at once, in principle. Sometimes you can't launch your own attacks or scroll the windows due to this, but it's a small problem. Every now and then you also get messages from your enemy commander, saying various things depending on how the battle is going.
The downsides have already been mentioned – the game is a little hard and confusing to get into at first, you often can't do or see what you want to, due to lag or the 'one attack at a time' limitation, the plot is not advanced at all as the game goes on, and having a background for the game windows would have been nice. However, these are minor issues – stick with it and you will find a fun, challenging, and unique strategy/war game, modest in scope but sure to wow you when you see the unique interface and get introduced to the backstory. Two thumbs up!Reviewed by: Soulblazer