It's not often that a game impresses me. In fact it's so rare, I could count on one digit the number of games that have excited me this year - until now. That's because what we have here is an action/strategy game verging on brilliance. So good, that it not only makes me wet with excitement, but drenches most of the opposition by pissing all over it.
Set in a not too distant Utopian future, Hostile Wafers sees world unity and peace threatened by several well armed would-be dictators. Having done away with weapons long ago, the world's governing bodies have something of a problem - they've got nothing but a few pointed sticks and some nasty looking rocks to throw at these guys. That is until the top secret Anteus project is resurrected - a fully automated ship requiring just one human to control it-you. And if you couldn't have guessed, there's only one of these things left.
The beauty of Hostile Waters is that you can play it purely as a strategy game if you want to. On the other hand you can also get every bit as involved as the units you command, by jumping into a vehicle and taking part yourself. After just a couple of hours you're completely captivated, pulled into the screen through a subtle blend of thought and reflex, unknowingly contorting your face into a hateful sneer as you execute a succession of enemies. Then in stark contrast you're ripped back to normality by a cut-scene of touching brilliance, showing you how the paper-frail divide between an idyllic peace and a bloody war could be crossed by your merest failing.
It's not long before you're drawn in so much that you start to actually care. Even though the narrative often verges on corny over-sentimentality, you can never help but feel important. In Hostile Waters you're not a nameless rookie on a ship's roster, trying to make a name for yourself; you're the elite, the one person who can reverse the imminent tide of destruction that threatens humanity. It's the fact that you believe it that makes the game so bloody good.
By Hand Or Command
At the start of each mission, you have to build up an attack force. Each unit can be customised to your liking, which adds a huge amount of diversity to your tactical choices. Augmentations range from extra armour to cloaking devices and machine guns, ft's totally up to you whether you spend all your resources on two or three ultra-hard vehicles or seven or eight wimpy ones. And because you're not confined to a predefined set of units, there's literally no limit to what tactics you can employ.
Rather than being piloted by humans, every vehicle must be fitted with a Soul Catcher chip, an ex-army ace's brain stored on silicon. Each one has their own area of expertise, ranging from flying transport ships to piloting attack choppers. Once you have a sizeable team together, the authenticity of the whole thing is exhilarating. Team members act intelligently and autonomously whenever danger arises, talking to each other in typically bravado-laden terms, with gratuitous swearing to boot. Tanks and aircraft attack in waves, and your units use evasive manoeuvres and teamwork to dispose of them. Just watching the battles is worth the entry fee alone.
I'm In Control
Rather than falling into the trap of over-complicating the command interface, Rage has included a completely separate screen from which to issue orders, pausing the game and allowing you to think over your next move. Once you've done this, you simply jump back into the action and watch the whole thing unfold. However, the most incredible way to experience Hostile Waters is by getting involved yourself. Man an aircraft and take to the sky, gunning down bogeys in tandem with your hugely intelligent computer-controlled units. During the heat of a battle, there are few other games that equal Hostile Water's atmosphere and authenticity, its thrilling, adrenalin-pounding action and excitement. And there are so many different ways to tackle each mission.
You can approach a level by building a squadron of helicopters, assigning them as your wingmen and navigating round a beautifully rendered coastline in perfect formation to flank the enemy, or just use a frontal assault of ground units, backed by air support. Both ways will provide you with a completely different experience and set of obstacles to overcome, showing just how freeform and intuitive Hostile Waters is. And with a limit on the amount of units you can build, massing troops and charging the enemy base a la Command & Conquer thankfully isn't an option. Add to this a captivating storyline written by veteran comic writer Warren Ellis, with more twists than a portion of curly fries, and you're left with one of the finest games, not only of the year (so far), but in the history of action/strategy gaming.
Close But No Classic
But that's not to say it's not without faults, which is why I said it was verging on brilliance, rather than saying it is brilliant. Firstly, it takes way too long to get your hands on some of the more impressive units and weaponry, which can make the first few missions annoyingly repetitive. Then there's the Al, which is undoubtedly some of the best I've ever seen during battles, but tends to be overly passive in less hostile situations. After you take out one of the enemy's bases, you'd think they'd come at you with all they've got to stop you regrouping and doing any more damage. But more often than not, the enemy tends to just sit back and wait for you to come to them, which gives you more than enough time to gather resources and build up your attack force.
While I can almost turn a blind eye to the two criticisms above, it's hard to ignore the fact that there's absolutely no multiplayer options to Hostile Waters, whatsoever. I can understand why there are no Internet options, as it's pretty demanding on even the most powerful PC, but the absence of LAN-play is a mystery. If Rage had included co-operative and deathmatch options, Hostile Wafers would probably have gained Classic status.
Playing Hostile Wafers has been the most entertaining gaming experience I've had since I first tried Counter-Strike. It's a perfect blend of strategic planning and manic action, backed by a thrilling storyline and a captivating sense of realism.
You feel like you're actually there, making a difference, fighting for a better future of peace and harmony. But before you reach this gameplay-unfriendly ideal, you'll have the time of your life fighting the war to achieve it.
Download Hostile Waters
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP