Storm: Frontline Nation is a strategic wargame set in an alternate reality where armed conflicts break out across Europe and Northern Africa after the world's oil reserves run dry. Storm marries the turn-based strategic campaigns of Civilization to the tactical combat of Advance Wars, a rocky relationship that offers brief bursts of excitement amidst too many rough patches.

It sounds like a complicated combination, but Storm is actually a fairly straightforward game once you get past the steep initial learning curve. The tutorials are nothing more than gameplay videos accompanied by poorly-translated text, and it can take hours to figure out how to accomplish basic objectives like improving your citizen's loyalty rating or repairing a damaged bridge.

I say "objectives" because Storm features a unique mission system which commissions you to complete time-sensitive challenges every few turns in exchange for rewards of resources, technology, or diplomatic brownie points with other nations. The missions are randomly generated, but if you choose to play as the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, or France in campaign mode, you'll receive additional story missions that must be completed to win the game.

Every campaign game starts with you staring at the same strategic map of central European territories, sort of like a Risk board if you chopped off all the continents worth conquering. If you're playing an open campaign you can command one of the 45 countries involved in the conflict, managing resources and manoeuvring military units to conquer the region. Every turn you collect resources from territories and cities you control, and allocate them to research new technology or produce units and structures.

Everything you build in Storm is either a tactical weapon, a military unit, or a building which will allow you to build or maintain more military units. Your options for diplomacy are equally limited, amounting to little more than trading or demanding resources, negotiating treaties, and declaring war. You can choose to spend resources on researching new combat technology across five different tech trees with ten levels each, but they're cluttered with too many barren levels that just suck up your time and resources. Outside of combat, there's not much to do in this game.

Storm: Frontline Nation

Thankfully, when conflict inevitably erupts, the game switches to a turn-based tactical combat mode in which two opposing forces must deploy tanks, infantry, and air units to attack or defend control points scattered across a randomly-generated map. It's a more complex and detailed turn-based strategy game in the vein of Advance Wars, and it's a blast to play.

Next page: Multiplayer and shortcomings...

The best part of any Storm match is the turn-based tactical battle that erupts when opposing forces meet on the battlefield. A hex-based map is randomly generated based on the terrain of the contested territory, and each side deploys their forces to either annihilate the opposition or capture/defend a number of control points.

Each side issues orders simultaneously, then watches as their orders play out in real time. Random environmental variables like terrain height and weather conditions affect your troops' combat effectiveness, creating plenty of opportunities for surprise attacks and thrilling come-from-behind victories as players try to guess their opponent's next move.

Tactical combat is only an intermittent part of playing the campaign, but there's also a skirmish mode in which you play through a tactical combat encounter against the A.I. or online opponents. Frankly, it's a lot more fun than wading through a full campaign game.

However,  the strategic mode feels like an afterthought. Given the steep learning curve and confounding interface, I suspect the developers at Colossai Studios focused on building a great tactical wargame first and a well-rounded video game second. Diplomacy is ineffective, and you're A.I. competitors declare war seemingly at random. On multiple occasions I was unable to complete or dismiss diplomatic missions from my queue, even after the countries involved had either declared war on me or been eliminated from the game.

The strategic map is just plain unattractive, with poorly-rendered structures and units sliding atop flat territory tiles like pieces on a chessboard. Unit selection is shallow, and every country fields the same complement of 20 different infantry, armour, air and naval units. There is no support yet for ships or jet fighters in the tactical combat mode, so all naval battles are auto-resolved while fighters can only be called in for strafing runs during tactical encounters.

Also, online multiplayer is stunted. There's no server browser or player matching service to speak of. Instead, one player must host a game while the others manually type his or her IP address into the server browser to connect.

Storm: Frontline Nation: Specs

  • OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7 Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 or 100% compatible Memory: 1GB RAM Hard Disk Space: 2GB Video Card: DirectX 9 compatible with min. 128MB video memory DirectX®: 9 Sound: DirectX 9 compatible
  • OS: Windows XP, Vista, 7 Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Pentium 4 or 100% compatible Memory: 1GB RAM Hard Disk Space: 2GB Video Card: DirectX 9 compatible with min. 128MB video memory DirectX®: 9 Sound: DirectX 9 compatible

OUR VERDICT

This game is difficult to learn and even more difficult to master, but players who stick with it long enough to understand the mechanics of combat will discover a challenging tactical wargame with some neat tricks. If a little light politicking and some heavy-duty tactical warfare appeal to you, Storm could suck up hours of your free time. That said, it's just not enjoyable enough to justify the $40 price tag. There are cheaper, better strategy games available right now, so skip Storm until the next Steam sale.

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