Conquest: Frontier Wars
Somewhere, there's a hidden temple where game developers come together to perform secret rites and mumble chants to the gods of gaming. In that temple there's a room that contains a Wallace & Gromit-style machine that has buttons marked with all the classic gaming cliches. In the RTS section there's the obligatory three sides (one human, one strong alien, one bizarre alien) combined with the need to harvest (be it crystals/spice/gold). You get the idea.
After waiting their turn, developers shove a few catchy names, some weapons and a shiny box into the machine, press the relevant buttons and, after enduring a few humorous whoops and beeps, out comes a brand new 'old' game. Fever Pitch Studios' 2D/3D Conquest: Frontier Wars looks like it's a product of'the machine'. And it is. But luckily the developers remembered to press the innovation button, which provides the necessary ingredient that sorts the credible from the crap.
Back From The Brink
Originally a product of Mr Chris Wing Commander Roberts at Digital Anvil, the game was dropped by Microsoft, allegedly because Bill Gates couldn't work out how to play it. Thankfully, after a period of uncertainty, Ubi Soft has stepped in with its bottomless cheque book and saved the game from ignominy. Initially it was designed along 3D tactical space combat lines, but time has seen it morph into a more traditional RTS. Although it seems to want to pretend to be more of a Homeworld, the storyline and layout of the missions belies the pedigree behind it.
Conquest revolves around the battle between three (no big surprise, although there were initially supposed to be four) races, after humans jump through the wrong wormhole and end up in the middle of an intergalactic war. The battlefield is a 2D/faux 3D space landscape, pocked by planets, nebulas, antimatter fields and wormholes. Each feature has its own advantages or disadvantages: flying through a cygnus nebula, for example, will make a ship increase in speed, while an ionic nebula will cause a ship to lose its shields. You don't have to litter space building up factories and the like either. Instead planets need to be captured and secured, and buildings slotted into a doughnutlike ring around them.
First of the three sides are the humans or Terrans, who have a balanced military that requires the presence of all ship types in order to produce a strong fighting force. There's a strong whiff of Starship Troopers (the film) to the proceedings, and your briefings are regularly interrupted by TNR (Terran Naval Radio) broadcasts, sponsored by the bizarre superstore Implant Heaven. Which has nothing to do with being stuck between Jordan and Melinda Messenger.
The Race For Space
The Celareons are the Ordos of the game, with a highly advanced technology that relies on cloaking and surprise attack. They also have the unique ability to be able to build their own wormholes. Last, but not least, is the Mantis, a race of predatory warrior insects who command vast armies of small lethal ships. Miens don't get great press in gaming, alien insects even less so. OK, so they do a lot of damage and piss people off, but then so do rabbits, but strangely no visionary has ever pictured them flying starships. Rabbits can be terrifying as anyone who has ever seen Monty Python And The Holy Grail, or watched Watership Down as a child can testify.
Man Your Wormholes
The typical gameplay formula of harvest, build and kill, is still firmly entrenched in the game, although Fever Pitch has added some challenging elements to comhat the usual 'program your collector and sit back and make a cuppa' mentality. The three main resources (ore, gas and crew) can only be found in certain areas, be it in nebulas, asteroid fields, or on planets. All sides needs every resource, but each needs one in particular to grow efficiently - Mantis need lots of crew to fly their swarms of starships. Celareons need shed loads of gas to power their technological advancements - so each resource will become an important strategical point.
Perhaps one of the most interesting features of Conquest: Frontier Wars (and one that's not really been seen since Fate Of The Dragon) is the multilevel map design. A single campaign can have as many as 16 different systems, all connected by wormholes and supply points. Sounds a little too much to handle? Well the game has that covered too, with admirals that come with their own military bonuses that can be assigned to control different fleets, and who will keep things ticking over nicely at home, or provide back-up or diversionary forces when needed. And the developers promise that the A1 will not trundle your ships off into a kamikaze mission through your nearest enemy's base, unless you tell them to, of course.
Conquest: Frontier Wars looks like it will have some interesting features, smooth and relatively hassle-free playability and an easy-to-use interface. The multi-level map in particular looks like giving the game and the genre as a whole a much-needed and literal, new dimension.
But as soon as someone produces Killer Bunnies From Outer Space, I'll be first in the queue.
On the surface Conquest: Frontier Wars is a throwback to the days of Starcraft and Red Alert Looking minimalist in every sense of the word this space odyssey conspires to hide its best attributes for as long as possible.
The introduction sequence certainly does little to get your juices flowing; watching a punyTerran spaceship get pulverised by a monstrous alien juggernaut is fairly standard procedure in sci-fi plots.
The ensuing story involving humans poking their noses into an alien war that frankly doesn't concern them, is again relatively orthodox RTS escapism. It also has to be said that including just a single human campaign is pretty lazy. Why the warring Mantis (an evolved insect race) and Celarons (a collective energy mass) are not worthy of having the story told from their perspective is a mystery. But that's not to say you can't experience life as an alien; both the quick battle mode and the multiplayer game at least allow you that honour.
But like we said - that's only the surface... One of the reasons why Conquest is so good is because it introduces new gameplay elements throughout the game at just the right time. It also knows when to raise the stakes that little bit higher, and most importantly, it provides you with a reward every time you dig deeper.
Take collecting resources for example. Unlike some space-based RTS games where you monotonously search for one resource, Conquest contains three; ore, gas and crew must be found in order to construct your headquarters, refineries, shipyards, spacecraft and upgrades etc. This means the gameplay emphasis is constantly shifting from one resource to another and lends to the feeling that you have to be analytical in what you can or can't build. Command Points (CPs) are also awarded for expanding your empire, but should you run out of CPs, manufacturing stops.
The different races also have different resource requirements allowing scope for plenty of underhanded tactics should you feel the need. It's worth noting that the tech tree for all three races is enormous. Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes something bigger, better and more powerful.
This is none more evident than when you build a Naval Academy (or alien equivalent) and suddenly find you have six Admirals ready to kick arse. These computer-controlled fly-boy heavyweights will command an entire fleet in the style that suits their personality. It effectively means that all ships under the command of this AI Admiral reach a new level of intelligence and even go so far as to prioritise targets, cover each other and retreat when the odds are weak.
Conquests full of surprises, in fact, playing it is like bursting a really big pussy spot: just when you think you've squeezed everything out, along comes some more. Then later on, some more... and then some more... Suddenly it's easy to see why this game has taken four years to create. The depth is stunning.
Aesthetically, things aren't quite as impressive, but again, closer inspection reveals more than you bargained tor. The spectacular 30 dogfights boast real-time damage, smoke trails on wounded craft and some great explosions. The slick under-construction animations are also notable for their individuality depending on the race you are playing as. Sound is nothing to shout about but doesn't impair the overall feel of the game.
One part of Conquest that would worry anyone is the way missions are played over several systems at once linked via wormholes. Complex as it sounds, the interface does its job beautifully and allows you to flick from one system to another effortlessly. Multiple systems also mean the implementation of supply lines. By placing jump gates on wormholes, you are effectively seizing control of the system and establishing a supply line, which gives you access to resources throughout your empire. However, if your jump gate is destroyed the supply is cut and you must rely on the resources in that system alone. It may not sound like much but one broken link can have numerous and far reaching repercussions, especially if you have a stranded fleet in need of immediate repair and resupply.
King Of The Wild Frontier
Incredibly, with so much going on and so many potential complexities Conquest is one of the easiest 'pick up and play' strategy games we have ever come across. Obviously there are failings when it comes to the plot, lack of campaigns and to a certain extent graphically, but don't let any of that or its immense depth put you off. Conquest is a quality game that will force established RTS designers all over the world to sit up and pay very close attention indeed. There can be no doubt about it; Conquest: Frontier Wars is a true star.
Download Conquest: Frontier Wars
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Conquest: Frontier Wars Screenshots and Media
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