Hit the jump for the full review.
Iron Grip: Warlord (PC)
Developed and Published by Isotx
Released on November 5th, 2008
The basic premise of Iron Grip: Warlord is an interesting one. You play as a soldier in a resistance army in the country Atelia. Your cities and towns are being attacked by the Confederation of Nallum, a sprawling army of poorly equipped and trained soliders. As they attack your town, it's your job to fight them off. There's an interesting little twist though -- you're not fighting to save the towns. Rather, as a resistance soldier you're actually trying to goad the Confederacy into firebombing the town in order to convince your fellow countrymen to rise up and fight the invading force. Successfully "defend", and you'll watch the town around you burn to the ground. Lose, and see the Confederacy sweep in and take control.
So, how exactly do you defend the town, and how does this FPS/tower defense combo work? It's actually fairly simple. You play as a single soldier in the resistance army, and most of the game plays like a standard first person shooter. You have a weapon and you go around killing the hordes of bad guys. Extra weapons and bonuses like health and speed upgrades are purchased with energy, which you collect by killing Confederacy members, by picking up treasure scattered around the town, or occasionally when a Confederate kills one of the many cowering citizens that are all over the map.
With the press of a button though, you can enter a top-down view building mode. You can only see the area directly where your character is standing, but you can still move him around while trying to build (it's not easy). Here, you can use energy to build things like machine gun nests, supply stations, and even tripwire mines and poison gas dispensers to aid you in your fight. When you're playing on the easiest difficulty, this isn't really necessary, because you can just mow everything down in FPS mode with your regular weapons. On any other difficulty though, building these and keeping them repaired is critical, and you'll find yourself losing very quickly if you don't.
Winning is determined by morale. The enemy loses morale when you kill their officers, tanks, and walkers. You lose morale when your Stronghold, the main base you need to protect, is destroyed. If it goes down, you can build it back up in the top-down mode, but you'll take a pretty large morale hit. Whichever side runs out of morale first loses.
In terms of graphics, there's really nothing fancy going on. Isotx is a small indie developer, and it shows. What IS there looks fine, but this game certainly isn't going to require anything extreme - pretty much any graphics card released in the last six years will run this game. That's great in the sense that anyone with a PC can probably play it, but don't expect to have your mind blown with any crazy explosions.
Graphics, of course, don't make a game; what's really important is the gameplay.
When I first started playing this game, I have to admit I didn't like it. Running around by yourself trying to play this game simply isn't very fun. The computer AI is generally very unhelpful - they don't build things, they don't really repair things, and they pretty much just die a lot. You're responsible for covering the entire map, and because of the random spawning it's often impossible to do. To be fair though, I was warned beforehand that multiplayer was "where the game shined".
And they were right about that.
When I finally rounded up the other three people to play, we all went in with relatively low expectations, having played the single player mode already. Multiplayer is similar to single player in that you are all working together to try to "defend" your town -- there's no versus mode (which I don't really mind, as this type of game wouldn't really lend itself to versus anyway).
After a couple rough starts, we got really into the game and ended up playing for over three hours straight the first time we all got together. The tower defense part of the game becomes MUCH more fun when you have at least four people building and repairing stuff, the games move a bit quicker, and it really requires fairly serious teamwork in order to be successful. Because your spawn points are random, you have to constantly be directing each other and providing backup, cover and support.
Unfortunately, getting a group together to play is a bit harder than it looks.
I understand that Isotx is an indie developer, and they've done a pretty admirable job on their first commercial game. Unfortunately, the lack of resources is apparent in a few critical areas.
Sadly, because this game was not heavily marketed, the official servers are almost empty, and it is EXTREMELY difficult to get a game going if you don't have a group of friends you're set to play with. Of the 24-28 servers up at any given time, MAYBE two of them have players.
In the event you do manage to get into a game, you'll find yourself having a difficult time as the game doesn't natively support voice chat. Our group got around this problem by jumping into Skype beforehand, but if you find yourself playing with randoms you'll likely have a difficult time coordinating. There's enough strategizing required that attempting to type everything out becomes distracting and difficult if you're still trying to stay alive. CrosuS, Isotx's version of Steam, comes with the game and appears to have voice chat, but as a matter of personal preference I tend to try to limit the number of game launchers/organizers I have on my computer, and Steam is generally my platform of choice.
Additionally, while the maps that are in the game are good, there aren't very many of them, and there isn't a map maker tool available for download yet. A free expansion pack has been released with a couple new Christmas-themed units and maps, which is always nice to see, but it still would be nice to see a few more map choices, or at least the ability to make your own.
Overall, the singleplayer and multiplayer almost feel like two different games, even though they're basically the same. Unfortunately, the single player just ends up being more of a chore than any kind of fun, but the multiplayer is really quite solid.
If this gameplay sounds like something you'd like, I strongly encourage you to give it a chance. Ideally, if I could assign separate scores, the single player would probably get something like a 3 and the multiplayer something more like an 8. If you are looking for a single player game, or expect to just be able to hop on whenever and play with random players, this game is not for you. HOWEVER, if you can get a group of people together you know to play with, I really do think this game is worth the $25 they're selling it for. It's not perfect, but the first commercial game from an indie developer rarely is. Isotx has shown a ton of promise, and is definitely a company to be looking out for in the future.
Score: 6.0 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)
[Thanks to ScottyG, Knives, and BlindsideDork for helping out! If anyone else has the game and wants to get a game going, shoot any of us a message; we'd be glad to play with you.]
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