Review: Home Wars

By Ian Boudreau 12 Jul 2017 0

Review: Home Wars

Released 13 Jun 2017

Developer: Insane Dreamers
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Available from:
Steam

Dedicated strategy gamers are an interesting breed: they’re demanding and detail-oriented, they’ll root out delicate unit imbalances in a thousand possible match-ups, and they’ll master the most twisted technology trees developers can devise. And yet, they’re also remarkably forgiving. Which is why Home Wars, a game about fielding battalions of plastic army men and vehicles in a war against hordes of bugs, might be worth a look for our readers.

Mind you, this is a qualified recommendation. Home Wars, which launched June 13 on Steam, doesn’t make the best first impression. The “bucket of army men” theme can’t quite paper over the fact that it’s a harsh game to look at, from the menu design to the spotty texturing. The interface isn’t exactly elegant, and it takes a lot of digging through the manual (and even the Steam forums) to even discover the keybinds for certain essential commands. Not knowing exactly what to do as a campaign begins means you’ll be doomed to failure.

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I was just about ready to write the game off as another silly Steam experiment until I started looking at the user reviews, which Steam considers “Very Positive” with 85 percent of them giving the game the thumbs up. This, I felt, warranted further investigation.

The first thing I learned was that I was playing it wrong. Home Wars is structured like a simplified Total War campaign, with individual rooms and hallways representing territories to conquer. While you’re taking over new areas, you’ll also have to build up your base. This is always located in the child’s bedroom, of course, because this is where plastic army men always live. Taking over territory means you’ll have more plastic, metal, and chemical matter to process into refined materials with which to raise new armies and construct special buildings. It’s crucial to send out early scouting parties to snap up territories in your first couple turns.

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Your enemy is the gigantic horde of arthropods massing in the other end of the home, which are after the same territories you are. The vanguard force is made up of ants and mosquitoes, but these are quickly joined by tougher opponents like cockroaches, houseflies, and eventually scorpions and enormous spiders. The bugs aren’t clever, but have the clear advantage of numbers, showing up in vast swarms that, bare-bones graphics notwithstanding, can often be intimidating to watch bearing down on your forces.

Fortunately, there is a wide variety of green plastic hardware to unlock and recruit. Infantry, armor, artillery, and aircraft all have separate tech trees to invest in, and each one has at least one super-unit to bring to the field. Under infantry, you can pick up stinger missile-equipped anti-aircraft troopers, assault soldiers with plastic shotguns, marksmen and snipers, and eventually a bipedal mech. There’s also an astonishing level of detail and customization, all the way down to the rounds your army uses. Your rifle infantry, for example, has four kinds of 7.62mm ammunition to pick from, and the game tracks your ammo stockpile for every different weapon caliber. (Keep an eye on this if you don’t want your assault troops shouting at you when they’re swarmed with beetles.)

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Each army you field can hold up to 30 individual units, but you can bring as many armies to a battle as you want. Positioning these around the house at vital choke points, mustering for large-scale assaults, is as key to the game as the real-time battles. You’ll want to have as steady flow of reinforcements marching forward from the child’s bedroom to make sure you’re able to hold off major bug offensives.

The battles themselves take a few different forms. You’ll have to either defend your own outpost or attack a bug nest, or in some cases you’ll need to capture and hold control points scattered across the floor of the room you’re in. Special missions will sometimes pop up, too, in which you’ll be tasked with attacking a convoy or defending a supply drop. Regardless of the mission type, army composition will usually matter a lot more than real-time unit micromanagement, and in many cases it’ll be the obstacles and mines set up by your sapper (definitely have a sapper) that do the most damage to the enemy bugs.

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While I haven’t been able to work out whether it’s at all tactically advantageous, you can hit “Q” to take first-person control of most battlefield units. This is, if nothing else, wildly entertaining, and running around blasting ants and roaches with a shotgun (possibly while shouting “GET SOME” at your monitor) can even help take the sting out of a losing skirmish. Helicopters and jets are janky at best, but flying headlong into a swarm of bluebottles and wasps is thrilling nonetheless.

Home Wars could certainly benefit from some quality of life improvements, such as a “quick start” or tutorial section in the in-game manual, which itself needs a bit of fleshing out. I had to scour Steam forums to work out how to rotate obstacles like barbed wire and dragon’s teeth before placing them (it’s left control + mousewheel), and I needed a Steam guide to work out what the correct starting moves in the campaign were. But Insane Dreamers has been pushing patches out steadily since they released their game, and they’ve been admirably responsive to the feedback they’ve gotten from their players.

Taken together, Home Wars is a bit of a jalopy of a strategy game. It’s a bit ugly and doesn’t explain itself well, it probably could use a bit more work… and yet there’s something incredibly charming about it. It’s a challenging game that has a surprising level of depth and a healthy sense of humor about itself. It’s all the more impressive when you learn that Insane Dreamers is a tiny studio of just a handful of programmers – none are artists. The only other game they’ve made is a casual title called Cursor Challenge. For their second time out, Home Wars is a genuinely remarkable effort, and for the right kind of particularly forgiving strategy gamer, there’s a lot of fun to be had here. For everyone else, this is a studio to keep your eye on.

There's a lot of strategy and action to be found in this army men versus bugs title, but the rough edges and slapdash production quality may be too much for many players to look past.

Review: Home Wars

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