Advance Wars: Dark Conflict

Everything in moderation is a philosophy first touted by the playwrights and thinkers of ancient Greece. Obviously they'd never played an Advance Wars game or they'd have realised you can never have too much of some things.

Amazingly enough, Advance Wars: Dark Conflict (aka Days of Ruin in the US) - the fifth game in the series - still manages to march the lauded series onwards, not with a slew of new features or core changes. Rather, it puts a nice layer of polish on its already tight turn-based gameplay and ratchets up multiplayer with online support. These small tweaks have a big impact on what is 2008's first must-have title.

When a devastating meteor crashes into the planet's surface, the vast majority of life is obliterated along with any cheer with it. With less than a tenth of life remaining on Earth, it's your job to wage war and kill the rest of what's left. As the name suggest, Dark Conflict does away with the happy-go-lucky spirit of its predecessors, opting instead for a darker visual tone to match its hard-hitting strategy gameplay. It has little impact on the actual game itself, which remains as engaging as always, independent of the stylistic change.

The turn-based battles play out in a lengthy single player campaign spanning dozens of missions. You'll want to blaze through it as quickly as possible though to unlock every unit for use in free battles. These standalone maps let you spar against the computer, taking on a single foe or trying your skill beating back a duo or trio of computer-controlled commanders. Alternatively, the single player game has so much substance that you could conceivably stick to it and remain entirely content. After all, there's nothing wrong with going commando.

Where Dark Conflict really succeeds however is the way it pairs a wealth of maps and units with a sophisticated style of turn-based strategy. Units possess specific strengths and weaknesses that must be considered when plotting strategies. Additionally, terrain influences combat and the constant need for resources to fuel your war machine puts you in a constant search for cities and factories to capture. Accessibility has been traded in small sum for depth and difficulty, certainly. You have a lot to learn if you're new to the series but the payoff in unparalleled depth of gameplay is worth it.

A handful of new units are deployed in this new edition: bike, anti-tank unit, duster, seaplane, flare, gunboat and war tank (which is a refitting of the super-powered neo-tank from the last installment Dual Strike). Adding units to an established franchise is tricky though, like moving a battalion through a minefield.

Every unit that steps onto the plain ratchets up the potential for the whole thing getting blown apart, but instead of introducing new capabilities to the game's roster of armaments, each new unit fills a gap in the strategic sheet. Precise relationships exist between every unit and it's this balance that causes Dark Conflict to excel previous installments.

The anti-tank unit is a perfect example of this. In Dual Strike and the two Game Boy Advance titles, there has never been a true counter to tank fire. Sure, tanks could meet tanks any day on the battlefield and rocket infantry could deal limited damage to the metal monstrosities, but no unit could effectively take on tanks without nearly getting wiped out itself. Anti-tank units fill in that gap, allowing a short-ranged counter to tanks without disrupting the overall balance of the game. There are more units in Dark Conflict than any previous iteration and yet the balance among them all is finer than ever before.

As soon as you get a grip on the new units and develop a stable of personal strategies, taking your game online is the next step.

Local wireless battles for up to four players return, yet it's the support for head-to-head matches over Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection that really counts. This long-awaited feature finally allows full online play against others around the globe. Even better, maps can be traded and rated online. It's what every Advance Wars fanatic has been waiting for and it delivers on every front flawlessly.

But if wi-fi play is one clear reason why Dark Conflict stands as a vast improvement over the last game, the other is the revamped touch controls. Dual Strike had significant issues with the touchscreen, which have thankfully been addressed. Moving units is a cinch here and menus are laid out in an ideal way to make navigation intuitive. You're actually compelled to use the touchscreen instead of resorting to the face buttons, although you'll still need the face buttons to skip the dialogue.

So don't feel guilty if you can't keep your hands off Dark Conflict. The spot-on touch controls make it easier than ever to get into what is undoubtedly one of the best turn-based strategy games ever. New maps, modes, units and all sorts of features - the least of which isn't online play - pack endless hours of game time.

It isn't every day such an incredibly polished, entertaining game comes your way. Aristotle and his philosophical posse may wield the wise blade of moderation, but you can always blast them back with cartoon tanks and bombers.

Advance Wars: Dark Conflict

One for experienced series fans, Advance Wars: Dark Conflict marches in near-flawless fashion to strengthen the cause of turn-based strategy gaming
Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.