The result, in the single-player campaign, is a game that draws you in, ramps up at just about the right level of difficulty, and continually keeps you saying ‘just one more level, then I’ll stop.’ This isn’t so bad at chapter five, when a map can be conquered in around ten to 15 minutes, but by the time you’re at chapter ten and the levels are taking half an hour or more Dark Conflict can be a dangerous way to burn through your valuable free time. It seems crazy that something with such basic presentation can be so enthralling, but watching an enemy missile-launcher or mega-tank destroyed by a precisely timed bomber raid is a real ‘fists in the air’ moment. You’ll cringe as your precious interceptor squadron is destroyed through your own incompetence or lack of observation. You’ll breath long sighs of relief as an embattled infantry unit lives to fight another day. The Advance Wars style might have gone, but the feeling that you used to get from playing it – thank heavens – remains.
And even those who hate the new look Advance Wars will find something of value in this package; online multiplayer. You can battle a friend or an anonymous opponent, with an option for the game to find someone of the same skill level as yourself. From the drubbing I took this morning, it appears to be seamless and lag-free, and there’s voice chat, for those who like it, plus a facility to design and upload your own maps for other players to use. Local Wi-Fi multiplayer features remain, boosting the player count to four (sadly with four DS handhelds and four cartridges only).
In the end, the new darker look and story isn’t going to be the thing that drags everyone into the first of our new groups. It’s the sort of revamp that only the sort of miserable teen hardcore gamers who moan about anything cute or colourful will go for – and who wants to listen to them? What will, however, keep anyone who tries Dark Conflict playing is that it contains an incredibly tight and well-polished version of one of the finest strategy games around. If you have a DS, try it, because you really don’t want to spend the rest of your life in that miserable second group.
Not everyone will like the new direction, but beneath the change of style Dark Conflict is a superb iteration of Advance Wars, and the new online features will keep it locked in your DS for months.