Review: Picnic Wars (Xbox Live)
While it is a Nokia exclusive, it's the only new Xbox Live title released in 2013 (so far) so let's take a look at the artillery/destruction genre gaming that is on offer in Picnic Wars.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
To be honest this is a strange title. It has a lot of really interesting elements, including the graphical look of the game and some clever world building as part of the design and the storytelling that are part of the title. It looks good, and what you need to do is clear throughout the title.
But at the same time the controls are sluggish and unintuitive, the jaunty isometric angle hinders rather than helps the game play, and neither the animations or the response time of the graphics on the screen feel polished or professional. This is all quite surprising, given that the title is published by Chillingo, who normally have a pretty high quality threshold.
Right then, on with the plot., You can choose sides in the great food war, either the Fruit side or the Vegetable side. No matter which you choose you will be the aggressor, throwing your troops at the fortifications of the enemy to break them down and destroy their forces before your troops run out (once thrown you don't get them back again).
You can pick up seed packets by landing on them in the enemy fortifications, which let you grow (instantly) more food-based troops, so running out should not be a major issue if you plan well.
And you will need to plan. The isometric layout of the game means that a lot of a level can be hidden when you start, and while the constructions are true to the real world (no floating platforms here), that puts much of it behind the outer walls. It's an interesting touch but it does leave the level design feeling rather... plain.
Keeping up a decent level of excitement in a game such as this is key to keeping the gamers playing. Picnic Wars doesn't manage this in either level design or the controls.
First of all, your catapults are set to a fixed angle, so there's no decision on the approach of the shot - you'll be lobbing all your troops in at around a 60 degree angle. Neither can you set the power of each shot, it's a fixed strength of the throw. All you can do is move your catapult back and forward in a single plane of battle. Further catapults can be built alongside, but at most you have just four lanes of action to build catapults in.
With no finesse to your artillery, it's impossible to feel artistic or graceful while playing. This is pretty much a jam of brunt force trauma - keep hitting the same place over and over again until the bricks are out the way and you are into the juicy flesh in the centre.
And then you have the animation. Fluid is not the word that comes to mind. While there is never a feeling that the game is stuttering or lagging behind, the animation is jumpy, as if there are less than twenty four frames per second. It takes away the feeling of interacting in a physical world, which makes this a hard game to love.
When you have so many variants of Angry Birds from Rovio available, when you have so many games built on the same principle, and when you are fighting for a slice of the precious leisure time on a smartphone, you need to be a really attractive and addictive game that the user wants to play. That doesn't describe Picnic Wars.
Reworking the artillery genre to a food based war, with an isometric view, on paper should work. But this nice idea is seriously flawed by poor design and some bad decisions on execution. There is a game in here, and some of you may appreciate it, but there's far better on offer in the Windows Store. I'm struggling to find a reason to recommend Picnic Wars.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at