Review - Metal Marines (Windows 3.x, 1994)

I'm far from an expert on game design, but I've always had a slight prejudice against the use of Windows for real-time action/strategy games. It's never made much sense to me to design something that you hope will challenge a gameplayer's mind and reflexes, then put it in a format where you can't use all of your computer's resources for playing the game.

I still think that theory holds true, but Metal Marines is the exception that proves the rule.

This new action/strategy game from Mindscape features a gimmick which makes it unique: the battlefields are separate windows. When a weapon is fired, it literally flies over your computer screen from one window to another. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first game to have that feature, and it's a great deal of fun to watch. The graphics are good, and I guarantee you that watching your opponent's anti-aircraft battery knock down one of your incoming missiles in transit between windows is something you've never seen before.

Fortunately, that's not the only reason to buy Metal Marines. It's a very simple game to learn - the 17-page manual includes an 11-page comic book, and the only thing that you absolutely need to look at the manual for are instructions on how to install the game. If you just start the game up and pay attention to the briefing you get at the start of each scenario, you'll learn everything you need to know.

This is another "it's up to you to save the world" game. It's 2257, and you're in charge of the remnants of the United Earth's armed forces, struggling to thwart the plans of the evil tyrant Zorgeuf. The villain of the piece has developed a weapon which has literally torn the Earth into pieces, leaving a series of small islands scattered across the planet.

The island motif works well for the game's scenarios. As you chase Zorgeuf's forces from island to island, you face a different scenario with each island. The early stages of the game serve as a tutorial, teaching you how to use all the different elements that are at your disposal. This isn't a mindless kind of action game where one approach always wins. There are times you'll need to overcome a heavily entrenched opponent, and other times where you'll need to dig in and try to survive an all-out assault.

Everything you build costs money, and every action you take has an energy cost, so you are required to engage in some simple resource management. You also need to strike a balance between defense and offense. Building a bunch of missile bases won't do you any good if you don't construct anti-aircraft facilities to protect them. As the title characters, Metal Marines are a great deal of fun to have on your side. You can send up to three at a time to wreak havoc on your enemy, and you'll derive a great deal of satisfaction from watching them destroy your opponent's facilities. The ICBM is a more powerful weapon than the Metal Marines, but its cost is exorbitant, and will only come into play during the lengthier scenarios. You can also help improve your productivity by building factories and energy resource management units.

No doubt recognizing the fact that the first thing fans of this game would say was "can I thump my friend in it," Mindscape included a modem option which allows you to play a human opponent.

The only problems I ran across with Metal Marines came during gameplay. On occasion, I would be unable to issue a command because the computer was busy doing something else. This only happened occasionally, but it's still annoying as hell. Also, running a real-time action-type game with a mouse is always an adventure. Every once in a while, you click and miss, and end up losing an important weapon. When you play a Windows game, these things happened, so be forewarned.

However, that's a small price to pay for such a fun game. When you're involved in playing games for a living, your standards get tougher. I usually wipe a game off my hard drive right after I've finished writing about. Metal Marines is staying on my computer, with a Windows icon for easy access.

Download the demo for Metal Marines