Elements of War takes place in a near-future America where weather-based weapons research has resulted (predictably) in disaster. The experiments have spawned a massive storm system that has destroyed the American infrastructure, left the country in chaos and altered the world’s weather patterns. As members of a remnant force of the American military, you and your allies must piece the country back together while discovering the secrets behind the disaster. Standing in your way are foes intent on claiming the weather weapons and the remnants of America for themselves.
The story is little more than a framework for the single-player campaign which does demonstrate some promising qualities. At the surface the combat is multifaceted and challenging. Eschewing resource gathering and base building, you instead start each mission with a predetermined army. As you complete objectives you earn points that can be spent on a diverse range of units that become gradually available as you progress through the missions. Many will be standard combat units – infantry, tanks, etc. - while others, dubbed “elementals” allow you to manipulate the forces of nature to defeat your foes.
The close management of your units’ special abilities and elemental powers is a must. The game imposes a fairly strict unit cap on the player. The AI forces suffer from no such limitation. You’re never thrown into a situation that’s unwinnable but the missions are typically hard and you’ll almost always be outnumbered.
The game also boasts an admirable use of terrain and physics. Where you fight often matters just as much as what units you bring to battle. Fighting from the high ground offers increased range and accuracy while taking the battle into town will offer better cover for infantry. Structures are also destructible, making it perfectly possible to bring the house down on the shoulders of that sniper your opponent stashed in the warehouse across town.
Marring the experience though is a bevy of problems that ranges from small to outright glaring. The game’s biggest oversight is easily its lack of any substantial multiplayer. While it does include an online mode it merely allows you to team up for co-op missions against the AI. There's no competitive element present. That the developers wouldn't try to even just tack on something more substantial is perplexing. Modern expectations all dictate multiplayer as being a necessity, especially in the RTS genre. Not including such a mode is an oversight that on its own is likely to drive some prospective customers away.
Beyond the omission of real multiplayer are other annoying problems. Unit selection is troublesome. While there are icons to help distinguish between units, it can nonetheless be difficult to tell infantry types apart. Even amongst the vehicles which enjoy a fair amount of detail, it’s easy to mistake one for another. Compounding this is the game's tendency to require that you click on just the right spot to take control of your soldiers. Similarly, if you're trying to attack an enemy unit and your cursor is even the slightest bit off the game will register it as a move order, prompting your troops to run headlong into enemy fire. You can group units onto hot keys and pause mid-game to issue orders, but command on the fly just isn't viable.
Even when you can get your units firmly under your control there's no guarantee they'll follow your orders. You'll frequently catch them taking the long route unnecessarily or outright ignoring enemy soldiers running right past them. If you're not ordering them around directly, they often take no initiative and just sit idle waiting to die.
The visuals are mixed: environments can be bland but buildings and vehicles boast admirable detail. The sounds of war, while generic, aren't poorly done. You've heard this stuff a thousand times before, but really, how many ways can an explosion sound? That said, the dialogue is frequently subpar - the results of an obviously troubled localization. Subtitles often don’t match what’s being said and frequently feature errors in grammar that would stand out to anyone who’s spent five minutes with Reading Rabbit. Moreover, despite the game taking place in the United States very few of the accents sound American. The major characters are covered, but your generic soldiers sound plainly like people trying and failing to sound like they hail from the US of A. This has no bearing on the gameplay, but it’s nonetheless distracting (or hilarious, if you like horrible localization).
Elements of War’s greatest flaw is that it could have been much better. Whether it’s the lack of now standard features or its lack of polish, it's the sort of game that some will enjoy but many will pass over in favor of better games with bigger pedigrees. With all the excellent options out there it's be hard to blame them. In the end, what Elements of War amounts to is wasted potential. There are good ideas here, but their execution is tarnished by mistakes that the bigger franchises have long since outgrown.
Apr 27, 2011