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Game Over Online ~ Argentum: This is War

GameOver Game Reviews - Argentum: This is War (c) Ionside Interactive, Reviewed by - Fwiffo

Game & Publisher Argentum: This is War (c) Ionside Interactive
System Requirements Pocket PC
Overall Rating 94%
Date Published Monday, June 10th, 2002 at 06:49 PM

Divider Left By: Fwiffo Divider Right

Argentum is an RTS title; that very statement itself in the PC world should send shivers down many of our readers. But RTS titles are far and few in between in the handheld world due mostly to the constraining factors of that platform. Chief among them is the restrictive view of a PDA screen. You can't plan much in the way of strategy if you can't see. Control is also another issue that has inhibited the proliferation of this genre on to handhelds and consoles too. It's hard to replicate the usability of the mouse even with a stylus. Argentum is an RTS title that rectifies all those shortcomings. If there were people who doubted that the RTS was ever possible on a console or a handheld, these doubts have been silenced by Ionside ipso facto of their release of Argentum. It draws much of its influence from second or third generation games even though its premise is spiritually similar to the primordial progenitor of the RTS genre, Dune II.

Argentum is set in an unnamed futuristic time for Earth. Space travel is rampant and Earth becomes the epicenter of a consortium known as the Galactic Exploration Alliance, otherwise known as the GEA. The GEA has exposure to other alien cultures including the Ni'rikei and their allies but the two conglomerates come to blows over a single substance aptly named argentum. What is argentum? That's exactly what the two antagonists try to find out. It is the primary resource of both the GEA and Ni'rikei. It fuels the economy. It provides energy. It acts as a form of currency and the Ni'rikei apparently claims it has sentient biological pretenses. All this sounds uncannily like Dune II but while Argentum's RTS principles revolve around a one-resource based economy, it draws influences from many other RTS titles most notably Blizzard's Starcraft and Westwood's Command and Conquer.

As far as RTS titles go, Argentum is easy to get into. Many of the precepts established by the canonical titles I mentioned above have also made it into the fundamentals of this game. For those who are not inundated into an RTS and I admit, there could potentially be many who have so far only used their PDAs for solitaire, Ionside has included a set of tutorials to get people going, starting from the basics like how to select and move units.

Argentum begins with a slideshow cinematic sequence where you assume the shoes of Commander Steele under the tutelage of a senior officer named Admiral Harrison. Steele is a green cadet at first. It follows that in the beginning, you're involved in small skirmishes with a heavy dose of mentorship from Harrison. There's some character development involved between the two principle characters but most of the plot afterwards is carried out in prose and in scripted events during missions. Although the first cinematic sequences had some decent voiceovers, the voiceovers are curiously missing within the game itself. That I found myself wishing the written parts spoken is a testament to the overall quality. However, the writing and scripts within the game maintain the ongoing storyline effectively, which is a good thing because the missions are classic cases lifted out of Command and Conquer or War/Starcraft. You have the usual motifs: have base-must kill enemy base, have no base-must kill power structures to bring down defenses, use hero units to bring down a base with periodic reinforcements, defend for x minutes, etc. These map designs have been done before but Argentum's rendition of them is still fresh due mostly to the effective plotlines. As the story progresses, Steele gains more autonomy and Harrison, at first a jingoistic officer, evaporates this fašade and develops a more personal connection to his subordinate.

As I mentioned before, Argentum carries some elements from RTS canons and really, there's no shame in doing that as long as one is original. Argentum carries over the bottom layout design of Starcraft. All your unit selection, minimaps are manipulated in a bar below. On the other hand, the base building element is not unlike Command and Conquer. Everything rests around an immobile command center. From here, you generate construction vehicles to create buildings, repair structures and harvest argentum. Construction vehicles implode to create buildings but the harvesting part is completely automatic like Command and Conquer. All your buildings, including the minimap radar, turrets and production structures are dependent on power plants making this the Achilles heel of any base layout.

The piece de resistance of Argentum is the approachability of the controls. I've reviewed some RTS titles for the Pocket PC in the past but none possess the intuitiveness of Argentum. One of the problems with RTS titles on a PDA is the inability to scroll around a map like one does with a mouse. Argentum solves this by putting some virtual bars around the gameplay area so if you tap at the edge of the screen, the screen will move correspondingly. Alternatively, you can tap on the minimap to move around the maps. The maps in and of themselves are not big, geographically speaking. They possess height characteristics that belong to a second or third generation RTS title. This lets you practice some classic tactics using elevation. The second thing Argentum does correctly is resolve how to select units. One tap selects a unit. One tap shows information about a unit, including status and what actions they are capable of. A double-tap will move units, buy items and generally issue orders. Although Argentum lets you play toggle to single-tap mode, I thought this system was executed much better than before and as such, it lets me focus on playing the game.

Pathfinding in Argentum is fairly good as a result. Units still take some obtuse routes to destinations but at least you will know since Argentum uses trajectory lines to show the pathfinding route each unit will take. This is effect was first seen in Tiberian Sun and it gave the game a futuristic look; something that is still preserved in Argentum. Without unit postures though, the artificial intelligence is a hit and miss for friendly units. On the one hand, if a harvester walks by, units won't move to chase it down even if you instruct your units to attack it. That's fairly smart. On the other hand, units don't know how to scatter themselves in front of turrets automatically. There are no provisions to do this manually. Some other problems are also related to the lack of unit postures. There are times where one freestanding unit will let its adjacent partner get killed and not move to help out. There are also times when a traveling convoy will get waylaid by a turret or some other form of harassment. However, in general, the artificial intelligence for both sides is pretty challenging. Your own construction vehicles, for example, will repair damaged buildings within its range automatically. Argentum carried over one of the nagging problems of Command and Conquer. While the artificial intelligence is adept at recognizing which areas to reinforce, it's scripted to rebuild structures at the same places, over and over again.

Even with the greatest artificial intelligence routines, an RTS game can still suffer greatly from the lack of balanced units. Many RTS titles from Blizzard and Westwood get their technical components done long before their release date. The last bulk of time, usually lasting months at a time, is dedicated to balancing the units involved. In Argentum, the care put into balancing units definitely shines. There's no single unit that is more overwhelmingly powerful than others. Unit queues are held at six to prevent rushing. In practice, I found that was a good number. Infantry are multi-versatile but weak against turrets. Tanks are strong against stationary targets like turrets but weak against air power. Mech-like units (quadwalkers) are great against infantry but susceptible to heavy weapons. These attributes force the player to adopt different strategies to the various obstacles they come up against. This type of challenge is the quintessential difference between a mediocre RTS game and an excellent one.

So far, I've made various references to Blizzard's Starcraft and Westwood's Tiberian Sun. This kudo is earned and not awarded simply because the unit cast for Argentum (marines, mech-like units) resembles those found in Starcraft. One of the things that seperates Argentum from all its (very few) competitors on the Pocket PC is its presentation. It's simply a top-notch title that involves some visceral cutting-edge features. Argentum features copious amounts of special effects for explosions. Units and structures all have some sort of animation, whether it is a rotating radar dish or a moving turret. Argentum also boasts real-time shadow effects, changed by the elevation of hills and mountains nearby; something that more pedestrian RTS titles on the PC cannot even boast of. The textures for the terrain are vividly smooth and they do not seem at all based on tiles. Gamma control is also provided and is an absolute godsend for PDAs, since mobile users tend not to be in an optimal viewing environment. The only hiccup with the visuals is the animation of the heavier vehicles, which seem to lack the girth and weight when they travel. A lot of times, if you look closely, the tanks appear to be gliding off the surface of the ground. The visuals themselves come with a price though. Argentum will tax your handheld, especially when the action gets frenetic and you have many units in one area. You can switch off some of the special effects to help alleviate this but Argentum features an internal performance toggle to help you out. Unfortunately, there was one time in a 'defend for x minutes' mission that had a little too much action for the automatic controls to cope with and in the end, I had to load from a previous save to prevent that from happening.

Argentum is also a taxing game in the audio department. At any one particular time, there are multiple channels of sound going off for guns and explosions. Coupled with a soundtrack, this makes it even more of a resource hog. However, none of it is worth turning off. With a new soundtrack piece for every level of the game, the music never gets old even in long drawn out battles. The care put into the music is something that every game hereafter should try to emulate. Another feature that is useful is 'hibernate'. How many times have you played an engrossing PDA game only to have someone call or have to look up a contact? No worries with Argentum because you can hibernate the game, which saves the game state as it is; do what you need to do, then start the game again to return to where you last left off. There's also multiple save slots for anytime during a level, organized by visuals rather than save names (which are hard to type in anyway), as well as auto-save between levels.

Simply put, Argentum leaves very little for others to improve on. Every refined aspect of the RTS is included in this inaugural release from Ionside. Elements like rally points, building queues and hero units are things we would expect from RTS titles a few generations later and not necessarily from a debut one. The only crucial thing Argentum is missing is a skirmish mode or even a multiplayer component. Right now, if you wish to replay the game, you'll have to go through the campaign again and Argentum's campaign is heavily structured, such that units, structures and upgrades are slowly disseminated as the plotline progresses. The difficulty also ramps up along with the storyline so it makes replaying the single component part tougher, although still doable.

Argentum makes no claim to be a tactically involving title. This isn't what Rainbow Six did to the first person shooter genre. This is RTS at its roots and at its finest. It's the very substance that turned RTS into a sport overseas and on It pays homage to a great many titles; Dune II, Starcraft, Command and Conquer, so on and so forth. The fact that it sounds and looks great is a bonus duly appreciated. The very word argentum is derived from Latin and has connotations to the word we would call in English, silver. While its titular name may be silver in this respect, its achievements, in nearly all its categories, is solidly aurum - gold all the way.

[09/10] Addictiveness
[19/20] Gameplay
[14/15] Graphics
[10/10] Interface/controls
[08/10] Program Size
[05/05] Sound
[05/05] Discreetness
[15/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer


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