XBLIG Review: Absolute War – Location, location, location

One-man studio Gnol Wehttam, Inc.’s Absolute War is one of the most challenging, if not rewarding, Xbox Live Indie Games available. The game has a pretty steep learning curve, but is capable of some incredible battles that make the game worthy of its title.

Players take on the role of one of three races, humans, robots, or aliens, to survive wave-based combat against one of the other races. Each race has its own bonuses and set of units, each also with different abilities. While there aren’t any terribly vast differences between each race, the small distinctions add a significant amount of replay value to the game as players try to figure out the best strategies for each race.

For more creatively inclined players, the three races can also provide interesting, though unprovided, back stories to each match. Have humans finally created the self-aware robot, only to have their worst sci-fi nightmares come true? Maybe they made that inevitable contact with a hostile alien race and are making a last stand. Or maybe it’s a combination of both and the robots, having wiped out humans, made contact with aliens. The game doesn’t tell you anything about why each race is there, and, likely, there is no real reason, but that absence allows the player to create their own story if they choose to do so. Unfortunately, the game restricts one faction from fighting itself, so no humans versus humans or aliens versus aliens.

Between rounds, upgrade them and call in for limited reinforcements with points gained during previous waves. The player can also move their units around the battlefield, including behind defense-oriented cover and into offense-oriented sniper towers.

Limited to just a few troops, positioning your units is the key to surviving deep into the game. Placing the right units in the right sniper towers can dramatically cut down on the enemies before they’re a big issue, but placing them in the wrong spot could mean a quick death for that unit and, eventually, the entire team.

The strategy element is also linked to the game’s biggest flaw, a complex menu system. There are many things to do, and learning the controls to navigate between the various menus and commands can take some time. This does, unfortunately, make the game largely inaccessible to casual gamers, but once the learning curve is passed, the game rewards the player with plenty of entertaining, if not nerve-wrecking, battles.

Due to the wave-based format of Absolute War, there is not a practical way to include a multiplayer component. The game does include leaderboards for each map, but, unfortunately, these are specific only to the player and do not include friendly or worldwide leaderboards. Still, the personal leaderboards provide a built-in motivation to constantly improve scores and improve your strategy on each map.

Speaking of maps, Absolute War includes only six built-in maps, but it’s easy to overlook because of an included map editor which allows players to make their own maps, as complex or simple as they’d like. Like the main game, the map editor is a bit complex, but a tutorial can get most players ready to go within a few minutes. While the map editor isn’t going to wow anyone with its potential, its inclusion in an indie game is notable enough and it should still provide at least a few hours of entrainment. As an added bonus, each map also receives its own personal leaderboard, just like the original maps.

Matthew Long, the sole developer at Gnol Wehttam, did all of the graphics and sound himself. There isn’t anything spectacular about them, but, for the most part, they don’t detract from the game at all. The graphics, more cartoony than anything, might appeal to some gamers and, at any rate, hopefully mean that the game will hold up a little better over time, rather than be outdated by more realistic 3D graphics. The only complaint would be the voiceover that plays when a unit dies, which can be a bit annoying and, occasionally, hard to understand.

While officially classified as a shooter, Absolute War will likely appeal more to tower defense or turn-based strategy fans. The player doesn’t actually do any of the shooting, but strategy is the entire game. Deciding where to position units and when and how to upgrade them is what makes the game challenging and fun.

Final Rating: 8/10

CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: XBLIG
Time to completion: N/A
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: Copy provided by developer
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Why you should buy it: If you’re a fan of strategy or tower-defense games, or you’re looking for a challenge.
Why you shouldn’t buy it: If you don’t want to invest a fair amount of time in learning a control system.

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About Josh DeGrasse-Baumann

If you really get to know me, you can sum me up with about three things: media, video games, and science fiction. I'm a writer by passion and a media lover by experience. I'm a gamer by choice, of course. I've done the 'leadership' thing in all three media organizations my college had to offer and still have a passion for all thing communication. My true interest is zombies, of course. But whose isn't?