Review: Galactic Reign (XBox Live)
And we're back with the impressive XBox Live titles. Quietly arriving last week, Galactic Reign is a tactical combat game, where you have no control over the combat. Taking a higher up view, you set up your space fleets and send them off into battle. How did they got on? Well, you'll be able to sit back and watch the whole battle in a rendered video, just like your favourite space opera! And did I mention you'll be playing against your XBox Friends?
Version Reviewed: 220.127.116.11
If you can remember VGA Planets, Galactic Reign is a streamlined version for two players, with better graphics.
For everyone else, welcome to a gorgeous looking tactical war game, set in space. Your goal is simple - conquer the universe! By hopping from planet to planet on your galactic map, you can engage the enemy forces in ship to ship combat, and if successful, take control of the planet below, all its resources, and slowly expand your empire.
These campaigns are taken on a turn by turn basis. Before each battle, you have the opportunity to set up the composition of your space fleet. If the make up isn't quite to your tastes, you can use the resources you have to fashion new ships.
This is where the tactics come in to play. You need to decide on the make up of your fleet. You might go for a mosquito approach with hordes of tiny craft with fast engines and rapid firing (but weak) guns, hoping to win by sheer force of numbers. You might want to invest everything into a behemoth of a battleship which can absorb huge amounts of damage before delivering an almighty killer punch.
The masterstroke of the title is that the developers have committed almost 95% to providing a multiplayer game.
You'll be playing against all the other players of Galactic Reign around the world. Matched up randomly through Xbox Live, or choosing someone from your friends list, you set up your fleet for a battle and send it up to the server. When your opponent does the same, the results will be calculated on the server and then sent out to both handsets with a push message alert, ready for your next move.
First though, you need to find out the result of the battle, and for that, get ready to be rather impressed.
You can see the simple numeric results if you wish, but the battle, which is fully simulated in the cloud, is available as an animated cinematic scene. With the skills of Jerry Bruckheimer (or at least William Shatner), you'll be presented with the battle as if it was a major motion picture, in full-screen, on your handset. Rendered on remote servers, and streamed to your handset.
It's certainly a unique touch, and for the first few battles it looks impressive, but like most battles, it's impossible to really get an entire overview when zoomed in to a handful of ships, and even with the replay and ability to focus on a single ship, it's tough to see what tactics are at work. I have to say though, this is a very cool feature, even if I would be hesitant to use it on a mobile connection with limited bandwidth - there's no indication just how much data it uses.
Galactic Reign has a few issues that make it a tough title to recommend heavily. The first is the nature of your opponent. You are going to be playing against human opponents over the Internet, and that means you have to rely on them to be fair. They need to take their turns promptly, and fairly. If they disappear for a month, then the game is stuck in limbo.
There's also the matter of having a decent sized pool of players. When you start whittling it down, from people with the right OS (Windows Phone 8, Windows 8, or Windows RT devices, this is a cross platform title), who play strategy games, who have discovered Galactic Reign, who have begun to play, and who then keep playing... well that might be a rather small number.
It's likely to go up in the near future through marketing and people discovering the title through reviews and through browsing, but after a short growth period, people will start to move on. Galactic Reign as a multiplayer game has a finite time limit, but it's not one that can be accurately predicted.
This could be easily solved with a few 'bots, AI players that live in the cloud and act like human players, so there is always someone (or something) to play and wouldn't require a change in the distributed application. This would also give players the option of a multiplayer, or single player versus a 'bot experience, extending the life of the game and reducing the frustration of playing against all too human opponents who take forever to move and not finish a game.
There is a short single player game, but these short levels are more about teaching you the mechanics of the game, rather than providing you with an ongoing challenge. It's human opponents, or none at all.
The other issue I have is in the rendered battles. Lovely though they are, the time delay in starting a battle and seeing the results is not conducive to continuous game play. Even in the single player battle training modes, it takes some time. It does look spectacular, and it's a good selling point in the marketing (assuming that there is any marketing...), but I quickly turned it off simply to speed up the game flow. Of course, that requires that both you and your opponent have it turned off, otherwise I still have to wait.
Galactic Reign is a frustrating game to play, with stops and starts throughout the cycle of a game. There is a good game under here, but it really does feel that it has been designed by the coding team, and they've not brought someone on board who has spent time working with human interactions to take a 'process' and make it 'exciting'. Ultimately, Galactic Reign falls short in the excitement stakes, and no amount of CGI can cover up the flawed implementation.
Another iteration of the game may improve that, or lessons might be learned for a second title. In which case, I'll be there from day one to see what's changed. For now, I'll close out the games I am in the middle of on Galactic Reign (see, being responsible!), but I don't think I'm going to invest much more time into this. Which is a shame, but it's an unforgiving universe out there.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at