Nov 7, 2007
A year before the Strugatsky brothers penned the novel that inspired S.T.A.L.K.E.R., they churned out the sixth installment of their “Noon Universe” series. Prisoners of Power was a subversive tale of totalitarianism and revolt set on a planet with an atmosphere so refractive the locals had to look straight up to see the horizon.
We’re telling you all this because you won’t learn it from playing the game allegedly based on the book. Galactic Assault: Prisoner of Power is a slick hex war game that wears its theme like a chimpanzee wears a top hat (reluctantly and unconvincingly). Besides the names of the factions, units and characters, there’s almost nothing here of the dark, distinctive, source material.
This is a disappointment, but it’s not catastrophic. Realising that one of the reasons their last turn-based SF creation (Massive Assault) didn’t win more fans was its lack of luck, Wargaming.net have wisely added a random element to combat calculations. Now when you order one of your dinky space tanks, space armoured cars or space howitzers to fire on a foe, you don’t know exactly how many points of damage will be dealt. Instead of trying to think 20 moves ahead like some chess grandmaster, you’re encouraged to play more instinctively.
In many ways GA: PoP is just a friendly WWII war game in fetching fancy-dress. Whether you’re fighting your way through the tough, carefully crafted campaign (there are single scenarios and skirmishes too) that takes you across forest, steppe and magma wastelands, tactics tend to revolve around familiar ’40s factors like LOS, cover and morale. Dig in that infantry platoon in that mountain pass and they should hold up enemy armour long enough for your engineers to build a pontoon bridge across the river. Wait until nightfall to push those APCs across that plain and they’ll likely slip through undetected.
Why did the devs bother with a futuristic setting if they weren’t going to give us Death Orbs, Robo-locusts and Agro Gas? A dash of the outlandish would certainly have made it easier to overlook the few, probably patchable shortcomings.
If we could have turned forests to charcoal and rivers to steam with our Salamander MkVs, or sown confusion in enemy ranks with our gambolling Surrender Monkeys, then the fact that there’s no undo key, no icon showing whether a unit has moved or fired and no way to stop your opponent (AI or human) from using routed forces as roadblocks or scouts would have mattered much less.