Ever since the App Store launched, gamers have been waiting for Advance Wars on the iPhone.
The popular strategy franchise didn’t exactly invent or even define the turn-based war game, but it did popularise it on handheld, so it’s quite understandable that pocket gamers are always on the hunt for this holy gaming grail.
War Generation attempts to answer this call and does a pretty reasonable job of it, caught short only by its almost complete lack of spit and polish.
A good war makes a good story, but War Generation curiously makes no attempt at narrative. Instead, it picks two countries to go up against each other on an unpopulated battlefield without any reason to fight other than one army is blue and the other is red - two desperately opposing colours that will never, never, see eye to eye.
It wouldn’t require much of a premise to fill this yawning gap, though its absence is noticeable. That said, the lack of plot does mean you’re straight into the gameplay.
In good turn-based strategy fashion, the battlefield is divided up into small tiles (hexagons, in this case) used to count the distance each particular unit can move. Tapping one of your units highlights the accessible territory to which that unit can move, while a second tap sets it travelling.
If you saddle up next to an enemy vehicle you can send off a few shots, depleting your opponent’s strength accordingly. Move into a town, facility, or factory with your infantry and you can capture it, making use of its income at the beginning of each turn and using it to produce new units to send into battle (assuming you can afford them).
It’s a very basic rendition of the Advance Wars formula. Streamlining this award-winning game is not necessarily a bad thing, though, and the strategising works very nicely here.
It flounders, however, in control. Selecting the hexagons that fill the screen is tricky and inaccurate. Scrolling around the screen is equally rough, jumping coarsely a unit at a time rather than scrolling smoothly.
The enemy intelligence isn’t all that impressive either. Generally, the game stacks the odds against you to begin with (giving your opponent more money and more buildings, for example), making it something of a brute force battle rather than a tactical one.
Admittedly, being almost perpetually outnumbered does encourage you to adopt a more tactical approach, but the boots-first philosophy of the computer controlled adversary often makes a mockery of your good strategising.
Another glaring omission is multiplayer, which, when you consider it could at least incorporate a pass-to-play mechanic, is quite unforgivable. The game increases in intensity when you're up against three different enemies on a single map, so it stands to reason that a good, solid multiplayer could really unlock the game's well-hidden charms.
As harsh as all this sounds, there’s definitely a solid turn-based military campaign game buried beneath the rubble of unrefined coding, and that’s ultimately War Generation's saviour. Any fans of this genre looking to put their iPhones to good strategic use will find it easy to forgive the game’s rough edges, though Advance Wars on the iPhone it ain’t.