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SummaryPuts the Sim on Sci-fi sims and does so with great missions and fantastic gameplay.
The GoodIndependence War is probably the finest attempt there ever has been of bringing a semblance of realism and strategic complexity to the otherwise arcadey world of space "sims". The premise of the game is that you aren't in control of some Star Wars-like starfighter that is able to zip around space with the same physical constraints as an F-16 fighter plane, but that you are the captain of a light strike corvette that has to contend with inertia, mass, constant movement, etc... enough to change the rules of gameplay and introduce a more realistic edge, but not so much as to bog down the action and entertainment as in previous attempts like Elite, or MS Space Simulator.
The game does take a dip in the space opera waters, and comes laced with a tipically epic and end-all-be-all sci-fi plotline in which two factions (the commonwealth and the indies) fight for space supremacy. One does so for their typical "rebel colonists" ideals and the other does so because of said rebels resources and control of space, which prompt a reactionary and overzealous president to negotiate shady political maneuvers and send people to die recklessly on all out war and.... Holy shit! Is it just me or that sounds waaay to much like what's going on around the world lately??? Well, here's hoping that the next NATO summit doesn't end like the one on this game!... Anyway, you also have an Obi wan-like digitized ghost, some extraterrestial elements, betrayal, etc.. The plot does, shall we say... "pay homage", to Wing Commander 4, specially with some elements like the shadowy black ops militia, the deranged war-monger texan yelling for war... uh.. well, I figured he was Texan, y'know?:) and other recognizable ideas, but overall it's all quite good, and it's presented via some mighty spiffy fmv sequences.
As mentioned above, the new physics as well as the interface and other gimmicks make a hell of a change when compared to other "space-sims", making the game take a much more strategic approach to combat situations. Instead of doing everything from a cockpit, you alternate between a series of battlestations (you are, after all, in command of a cap ship), so you have the command center from where you review objectives, communicate, etc.; the pilot's station for navigation and flying; engineering for power allocation and damage repair; and finally the gunnery station which is able to switch from a standard "fps" viewpoint to a padlock-like display that will be most reminescent to players of real flight simulators and provides a more strategic view of combat situations.
Sounds like too complicated? We are not even halfway there. You have multiple flying modes, from hyperspace-like "teleportation" to LSD.. whoops, "LDS" drive that allows you to trip out in space at near light-speeds, as well as "standard" space flight. Said space flight involves the already mentioned physics factor, so turning at high speeds is accurately modeled, acceleration and reverse thrust is adequately handled, and you can also cut your engines and strafe and slide while your inertia does the driving. To aid you in keeping tabs for all those variables you have a pletora of auto-pilot options that allow you to match speeds, range, course, dock, etc. as well as other navigational aids suchs as trajectory displays on your HUD, multiple targeting and individual component targetting (say you want to just shoot the weapons off your enemy), auto-tracking turrets, missiles, etc.. etc... etc... I could be here all day listing the features available on I-War, and believe me, all of them are used in the game at one point or another, so it comes as a great surprise to see that the game integrates all of them so seamlessly and painlessly. It still takes a while to get used to I-War, but once you do, all the other space-sims star to feel like... I dunno... Inferior. And that's before we even get to the mission design!!
Clearly distancing itself from the patented Chris Roberts "go to the nav points, shoot everything and repeat" mantra, I-War features some of the most stellar mission designs I have ever seen for a game of this type. There is simply no "filler" material on this game! Each mission plays like a one-of-a-kind affair that has it's own set of rules and challenges, some even offering branching paths that take the plot different places. You'll test your mettle against battlestations, dispose of toxic waste, rescue freighters, infiltrate shipyards, disable battlecruisers, evacuate bases, tow mega-nukes out of range and escape it's shockwaves, etc. etc. etc. Even the final mission managed to be a standout and avoided the standard "all-out fights" that have become so common in this genre.
The BadThere are some minor technical difficulties, like some resolution incompatibilities that make videos play in weird aspect ratios, or throw you to windows to see a video an come back for the game (??) but the main gripes I have with this game is that the mission design relies way to much on puzzle-based missions. Surely a byproduct of their uniqueness and originality, but still annoying as hell. Games like Tachyon, Freespace 2 or even Crimson Skies had their share of unique missions but you were never left stuck on any of them because you didn't think of doing exactly what the designers intended you to do...
Other than that there's also the fact that until you get in the mindset of the game things can get pretty hairy. The interface is very complex with dozens of keystrokes to keep track off (this is one game that is NEVER going to make it to any console) and a gameplay premise that calls for some serious re-thinking of time-honored game mechanics. As another reviewed noted, fights in I-War can turn out to be jousting matches that make little or no sense, and he's absolutely right! If, you make the mistake of handling it like other space shooters. Combat on I-War involves strafing runs, auto-pilot handling, using missiles, keeping your range and other concepts such as aiming to a target with your REAR weapons instead of hitting afterburner and slamming head-on against the incoming baddies, while proceeding with standard dogfighting techniques. You either get on with the program, or you are toast. And that's a fact.
Oh! And remote controlling other ships can be suicide most of the times as other reviewers noted, since your crew apparently decides to take a lunch break whenever you do this.
The Bottom LineDifferent take on the whole space shooter subgenre that manages to improve on just about every aspect you can think of. Sometimes too brainy and complicated for it's own good, but otherwise an excellent game that breaks the mold and shows us what "space simming" is all about.
If you even remotely care about these types of games then don't even think about it, this is your holy grail.