Darkwind: War on Wheels is the best quasi-real-time, partially browser-based, online, post-apocalyptic turn-based vehicular fighting game we’ve played.
You have a gang in a persistent online world. You manage their training, vehicles and travelling orders from the Darkwind website, one in-game month passing for each real-world week. Then, whenever you have some (real world) time to spare you fire up the game on your PC and take control of your gang in 3D, turn-based, vehicular contests. That might mean arena battles, races or championships of some kind, or it might mean leaving the relative safety of the towns to battle AI or other players in the wasteland.
The tactical car combat is fiddly at first, but quickly resolves into an interesting and well-executed idea, more closely resembling sea-battles than you might expect. At their simplest, fights are about keeping enemies within the firing arcs of your weapons and maintaining the distance best suited to them, while taking into account where everyone’s armour is strongest and weakest. You’re also thinking about turning circles and terrain, the different stats and skills of your characters and whether anybody’s about to panic.
A large variety of weapons keeps it all interesting: machineguns and rocket launchers joined by mortars, spike-droppers, ramming spikes, lasers, paint sprays, cannons and mines. Your brave, drug-addled gang members will be killed, permanently, by everything in that list. The brutality of Darkwind is the most appealing thing about it. Your team ages: at 30 their stats start dropping, at 40 their skills follow. You’ll give them nicknames, train them, get attached to them, maybe even unlock specialties such as Engine Tuner or Negotiator, and then they’ll die.
You’ll buy vehicles, name them, paint them, decide what armour goes where, pick tires, pick from an extraordinary list of weapons and choose where to mount them, then you’ll wait for the garage to put together your new Death Car/ambulance/saloon/carrier van, and then on its first outing you’ll accidentally set fire to it with your Death Sedan’s passenger-side flamethrower and it’ll explode.
Sometimes your convoy will be carrying goods from one town to another when you’re attacked by so many bandits you’ll be happy to get out of there with a single vehicle you can use to build yourself back up. Sometimes you and your friend will win a Death Race, split the winnings and buy flaming oil dispensers.
Darkwind is a gamble, a ride, and gets under your skin quite easily as a result. It’s as rickety and bolted-together as the in-game cars, but it deserves credit for bucking MMO tropes and creating a compelling genre mashup.
Dec 16, 2009