Review by Doug.

Reviewed: 10/11/01 | Updated: 10/11/01

An entertaining, if unremarkable, RTS game

Metal Marines is a rather old real-time strategy game, predating such games as Command & Conquer and Warcraft. (The About box says copyright 1994.) It's fun to play and is reasonably long, but it has a few flaws.

Metal Marines has a somewhat interesting story, although you shouldn't expect too much from it. Much of the background information is only contained in the game's Help file, which is actually quite useful. Although the background is interesting, once the game starts, the story turns into ''Congratulations, Commander, you've won this fight. Now go attack here. Watch out, they're heavily fortified.'' (It's hard to do much with a single horizontally scrolling like of text.)

In each mission, you and your opponent each occupy a separate island. You start with three bases that you can place anywhere on your island, and then you can build units to attack and defend with. Once built, units can't be moved to another place on your island. You start with some units already built and some money to build more. As time passes, you get more money at a relatively slow rate. You need energy to attack, which also accumulates as time passes, but I've finished the game and have never run out of energy, so it's completely irrelevant to game play.

The screen is divided into four windows: your island, your enemy's island, the window that lets you select a unit to build, and the window that lets you send and receive messages and set the game options. (Your enemies will taunt you in the one-player game. It gets old fast.) You can see all of both islands, but you can't see any of the enemy's units until you attack the are that you want to look at.

There aren't that many different types of units in the game, and some are useless. Your offense consists of missile launchers and Metal Marines. (There is also the ICBM that launches antimatter missiles and is impossible to defend against, but it costs so much and takes so long to built that it never gets used.) Missiles can be repeatedly fired at the enemy, but take time to reload. They can be shot down my enemy interceptor missiles, but they are hard to reliably defend against.

Metal Marines are soldiers in big metal robots, although they appear small on the screen. They wait on your island at the place where you built them until you send them to attack a specific place on the enemies' island. They land on your opponent's island and shoot at everything they can reach until they are either destroyed by the enemy's gun pods and Metal Marines or have destroyed all enemy units in the area. You can't control Metal Marines once they arrive at their destination; they attack the nearest enemy unit. They also defend against attacks from enemy Metal Marines within a limited radius.

The game has some balance issues. Metal Marines are easy to defend against by building gun pods that cost half as much as a Metal Marine. If you don't ''build up'' your Metal Marine (which is difficult to do because it costs three times as much as building a Metal Marine), one gun pod can destroy two Metal Marines before it is destroyed by the third one. Built up Metal Marines are effective, especially in groups, but they are very expensive and can still be stopped by enough cheap gun pods.

Missiles, on the other hand, are harder to defend against. You can build Interceptor Missiles to attempt to shoot down missiles your enemy launches, but unless you have a lot of them and a lot of expensive radar units, they'll usually go through. A missile launcher costs half of what a Metal Marine does and can be ''built up'' for twice the cost of a Metal Marine. Built up missiles fire in pairs from the same launcher, so they are harder to intercept and do more damage to the targeted area if both get through.

Even though defending against missiles is hard, a perfect defense is possible; enough interceptor missiles can even shoot down a Metal Marine transport, so a good strategy in some levels is to build only a lone missile launcher for offense and invest the rest of your money in making your island secure with many interceptor missiles and gun pods to protect them from Metal Marines.

Despite the imbalances in offense and defense, one glaring flaw is worse than the others. You can build ''camouflage structures'' on top of your bases to make them look like ordinary terrain to the enemy. Camouflage structures can only be destroyed by missiles, and once destroyed, they cannot be rebuilt on top of the same base. However, the camouflage units all look the same and any human player will quickly suspect the presence of a base underneath.

The AI, on the other hand, completely ignores them. The AI tends to attack random locations on your island; if it discovers units in a specific location, it sometimes doesn't attack there again to destroy them. Missiles are launched repeatedly at locations where you have no units. To make up for its inability to fight strategically, the AI starts with far more resources than you do. In some levels, the gap is so overwhelming that you just can't mount an effective defense, so all you can do is put camouflage units on your bases, build some missile launchers, and keep pounding away until you win. Even if you have NO other units, the AI takes a long time to find all your bases and destroy them.

The game is over seven years old, so don't expect great graphics and sound. The terrain and units are made of bland-looking tiles, making the graphics mediocre even by 1994 standards. Sounds are just some muffled explosions and what is supposed to be guns firing.

There is a mutiplayer mode, but it requires that you call a friend using your modem or connect to another computer in the same room using a null-modem cable. I've never gotten it to work, but I imagine it could be fun. (This might be like reviewing Bomberman and having only played its one player mode, but with no way to play over a network, its multiplayer mode won't be played often.)

Even though it has flaws, Metal Marines is still a fun and challenging game, although nowhere near as deep as more recent releases. If you see it in a store's bargain bin, you might want to pick it up, although it's not worth specifically trying to hunt down a copy. Being nether exceptionally good nor exceptionally bad, Metal Marines for Windows earns a 5 out of 10.

Rating: 5

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