This change of direction is guaranteed to upset some long-term fans. To be honest, even I could have done with a few less drawn-out cut-scenes in which the various commanders discuss what a genuinely nasty business this whole war thing was and how difficult yet important it is to maintain faith during even the darkest times. That said, don’t let it be a deal breaker. This is the most thoroughly playable and addictive Advance Wars I’ve come across yet.
If anything, this comes as a result of simplification. Last time around, Intelligent Systems got a bit carried away with the new capabilities of the DS and added features like there was no tomorrow. We got CO Powers, then combined CO powers when you used different COs in a tag team, not to mention the whole ‘dual front’ concept, where two battles raged simultaneously across the two screens. Dark Conflict wisely strips a lot of this back, doing away with tag teams and secondary fronts and reducing the impact of CO powers for much of the single-player campaign. The result – particularly for newcomers – is a less complex, more immediate game where you can concentrate on the business of recon, attacking and defending, and working out the strengths and weaknesses of the various units.
What new features there are, meanwhile, do wonders for the core gameplay. A new unit experience system – while not persistent between missions – makes you more protective of your units and less inclined to treat them like cannon-fodder. Temporary ports and airports, deployable from a mobile workshop unit, make it easier to refit and repair air and naval units when the relevant bases are on the other side of the map. The new units, too, have been cleverly designed. A high-speed motorcycle unit can be deployed to do the old infantry job of capturing cities (the game’s cash-generating facility), factories and airports, which helps you spread across the map a little more rapidly. We also get an anti-tank unit that can do a similar job to the mech-gun in terms of blasting tanks, but – thanks to an automatic counter-attack – isn’t such a sitting duck when confronted directly. These, along with other units introduced later on, add new tactical opportunities (and challenges) while pepping up the already rapid pace of the action.
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