After their graphically and sound-wise stunning, but gameplay-hollow, 3D action game Incoming, British developers Rage Software decided to use their powerful graphic engine to create a new game, a sort of real-time strategy (RTS) game with a strong 3D action component. The result was this excellent game, which arrived as a pleasant surprise to the gaming stores shelves (first European, then American), only to be unfairly and quickly forgotten by a big sector of the gamers, who didn't understand its refreshing approach to a genre in badly need of new ideas. The premise is somewhat clich?: In the near future, the world has finally reached the peaceful state it always has striven for. The last war is long forgotten, the most terrible weapons have been destroyed, and the new technologies supply the world's population with everything they need. But, alas, not everything is as perfect as it seems. A group of dissidents, of old dictators, aren't comfortable with the current state of things, willing to resort to what they were. Willing to regain the power they have lost. That means war. But, is the world prepared to fight back? Fortunately, yes. In the bottom of the sea, the last of the Adaptive Cruisers, the Antaeus, forgotten and inoperative since the last war, has been patiently waiting for a chance to be brought back to life. That chance has arrived. Powered by the best technology available, it sets sails to the distant archipelago from which the evil madmen are terrorizing the planet. Of course, the player has to get hold of the Antaeus and bring victory over the evil. As said above, the game plays as a blend between intense 3D action and real-time strategic planning. As many other RTS, the player has to gather the available resources scattered through the current scenario with the appropriate harvesting vehicle, thus gaining the necessary energy with which to build his army of attacking units. But the similarities end here.In the first place, you don't have to build up your base -- the Antaeus IS your base. And you don't have to create a different structure for each kind of unit you want to spawn. Your carrier has been provided with a Sampling Unit, powered by nanobots, capable of instantly creating any type of unit you need, providing you have enough energy for it. Energy, by the way, that is directly transferred to the ship as soon as the harvesting unit gathers it. This way, your attacking force will be ready in no time. Besides, if you don't want to stick to the units you have created, you can recycle them in the same Sampling Unit thanks to the marvels of nanotechnology, fully regaining the energy you spent on their construction (if they didn't receive any harm in the meantime, that is). Second, the units in Hostile Waters aren't just faceless, anonymous vehicles which you can happily launch against the hordes of marauding enemies. Instead, they will be manned by pilots who have a different personality each, a different name, a different face, a different voice. Or, better put, they will be manned by their SoulCatcher chips, small cards which have their personality and traits stored inside, fully interchangeable between any kind of vehicle. Each of your soldiers, men and women, have different abilities and weak points. They will complain when left forgotten, they will swear and curse when attacked, they will cheer and laugh whenever they manage victory. And you'll learn to take care of them, and to assign them to the tasks they are better at, to achieve maximum efficiency. Third, when the units are ready to wander by the beautifully rendered landscape, you'll be able to order them around from the War Room in your carrier, in the same way you would do in any other RTS game... But Hostile Waters offers you the option of jumping in the cockpit of any of your units and handle it yourself. And, once you realize how fun it is, you'll be doing it all the time! It's a delight to fly your helicopters along the grassy valleys of the islands, to drive your tanks through the roads and up the mountains, marveling at the beauty of the graphics and the quality of the environmental effects: the night and day cycles, the blinding sun, the rain, the snow, the waves' surf breaking against the shore... Of course, combat plays an important role in the game. Once the enemy units are spotted, the heat begins to build up pretty quickly. As before, you can either direct the action from your Commander's chair, or you can directly jump in the middle of the action, handling the fight yourself. This is funny, thrilling and satisfactory (and usually yields better results), but can make you lose contact with the "big picture" of the scenario. And soon you'll find that, while there's not a great variety of units and weapons, those who are available are different enough to keep you interested and make you plan your combat strategies accordingly. It's worthy of note that your units are different in capabilities and appearance than those of your enemies... especially when they start using alien technology to improve
their performance. And, finally, another of Hostile Water's distinctive marks is the control scheme. When you decide to man your unit yourself, you'll do so from a limited but functional third-person view. Movement is handled using the standard W-A-S-D keys, as many other 3D action games do, but Hostile Waters has an interesting twist. In any given moment you can switch from "movement mode" to "orders mode," and use these same keys to issue brief orders to your troops, like "Follow me" or "Engage my target." The system is strange at first and it takes a while to get used to it, but once you do, you'll find it's a very thought and effective method to command your units from the field of battle. Of course, the game has its flaws. For starters, it's a great system hog -- be sure that your computer meets the minimum requirements before purchasing it. This is a bit frustrating considering the player's field of vision is much more limited than those in other 3D games released at the same time, like Giants: Citizen Kabuto
... Be prepared to be surrounded by a very real "fog of war." Besides, the game is rather short -- it comprises of 21 missions, including the tutorial ones, and it doesn't have any kind of multiplayer support, so the replay value is severely limited. And, of course, the proper nature of the game, trailing the line between an action-packed 3D shooter and a real-time strategy game, won't be everybody's cup of tea, and hardcore gamers from either genre will probably feel disappointed. Still, it's a great game. The new elements it introduces are enough to attract players tired of seeing the same formulae repeated again and again both in action and RTS games. The story and dialogues are well acted and excellently written (by comics writer extraordinaire Warren Ellis, of Planetary and Transmetropolitan fame -- so expect some marvelous, witty and crazy science-fiction ideas, as well as a lot of swearing... which can be turned off at your leisure). The playability is really good once you get used to its small quirks and, for those old-timers among us, it's very reminiscent of the great classic Carrier Command -- just not as open, gameplay-wise, due to its mission-oriented nature. Thumbs up!