Freebie Gamer: Julian Benson gets hooked on AIRMECH, a wonderful free strategy game you can play through your web browser.
For the past few days I’ve been getting my hands dirty with the alpha version of Carbon Games’ AirMech. Playing like a spiritual successor to Technosoft’s Herzog Zwei, the game is both a throwback and a deeply modern game, lifting elements from the best examples of strategy titles from the past 20 years.
Much like Zwei you play as a commander on the battlefield, directing the assault and capture of the enemy’s outposts from the cockpit of a mech – one that, at a tap of the shift key, can transform into a jet.
At its simplest, the game pits you against an enemy AI commander. You both control fortresses at opposite ends of the map, and between you are a chain of capturable outposts. To win you must destroy the enemy’s fortress.
The departure from Zwei’s formula begins with a nod to the likes of DOTA. At regular intervals your fortress spawns a group of three infantry that will start marching towards the enemy’s base. You can’t influence or command them, but they’re vital to your success.
They’re the means with which to capture the outposts between you and your enemy, outposts that produce cash and work as a factory to bolster your numbers. Each one needs four of your men to enter it for it to be brought under your control. Should the enemy’s mobs enter they’ll detract from your possession of the building, so control of an outpost can often seesaw between you and your opponent as you each fight frantically to keep the other’s mobs out as yours march in.
The lack of control isn’t limited to just your mobs – the troops you build can’t be directly controlled either. You can issue them simple commands – attack enemy, hold position, patrol path, link to another unit – but you can only do this when you’re in jet form, and you can only issue orders to one unit at a time. This may sound like it would make for a frustrating way to fight, and it would if you were wanting a traditional RTS, but it makes for a tense and frantic game that’s not quite like anything else.
Production is kept simple. Cash is the only resource and you can only build one unit at once. The build menu is accessible at any time by pressing ‘Q’ and there are only ever eight units to choose from.
Once a unit is built it can be picked up from the roof of your fortress or any of the outposts in your control. Keeping you in a hands-on roll with production means that you can never step away from the action. A 40-minute game can be a breathless brain-melt of an experience, and yet also compulsive. By never giving you a breather, the game never lets you form grand tactics: every outpost is fought for, every inch of ground battled over. I’ve not been so invested in a win in ages.
AirMech is free and can be installed into Chrome with the click of a button. Although there are ways you can speed up your unlocks in the game with microtransactions, I had a fab time by playing with the vanilla set and unlocking new units by playing for them.