Netstorm: Islands at War (PC)

front-cover

I guess this is a game about… lightning. Great box, team.

In a world above the clouds people live on the scarce islands of land that float among the winds. This world is ruled by a cruel emperor and you are part of the revolution to depose him. You’ve been captured and imprisoned but you’ve freed your priest of the Furies and are ready to fight for freedom here and across the skies. Use your tactical acumen to place buildings, gather resources, and crush your enemies!

Netstorm_Russkaya_versiya_3

Did I say tactical acumen? I meant floating islands and buildings.

History

Netstorm was developed by Titanic Entertainment which, as far as I can tell, is comprised of 8 people and was published by Activision. A demo was released a month before it released proper and a simple exploit allowed users to unlock the full game with it. The game itself had bugs within, particularly in the multiplayer game mode. It was possible for players to force opponents to crash the game, securing easy victory. Both of these exploits significantly hurt sales. Activision kept the servers up until 2002 and now fans maintain enough servers to play online for diehard players.

The game is considered abandonware so downloading it is just a click away (http://www.abandonia.com/en/games/216/NetStorm+-+Islands+at+War.html).

Netstorm was released on October 31st, 1997. It’s competition was Curse of Monkey Island (PC), Colony Wars (PS1), and Age of Empires (PC)

RisingStormprogress8

There are also some 3D remake projects rolling around the web.

Nostalgia

Have you ever had to stop playing a game, or at least stop progressing, because there was one level you couldn’t beat? TV tropes refers to something like this as “That one level,” and Netstorm has one helluva “That one level.” It’s called The Noose and it’s a level with a big gimmick. The player’s starting island is surrounded by a special unbreakable bridge. The bridge has a few breakable segments but the rest can’t. The player can’t build bridges to the enemy island or nearby resource clusters so… how do get out? I didn’t figure it out for years. Apparently when a building is destroyed next to a bridge it breaks the bridge segments around it. So what you have to do is build a building next to the breakable parts of the noose and destroy those buildings yourself. But this is something that’s never explained in the game, it’s something that’s not even incidentally noticeable. I had to cheat to level select to skip it when I was a kid. It’s super annoying and it’s the first level of the second chapter.

Noose

Look at this nonsense! How is someone supposed to figure this out?

Gameplay

The game is about building buildings, building bridges, and building units to gather resources. Some buildings attack other buildings, other buildings absorb damage, and other buildings have other strange uses (Did building stop being a word?).  You can build bridges off of your island in order to reach resource nodes (Storm Geysers) and buildings.

The buildings and units you can build are limited by your knowledge. Then you need to build a workshop that correlates to the element of knowledge your building for and select it as one of the buildings that workshop is producing. If you don’t have the knowledge to build something then you’ll have to beat the level without it.

NetStorm - Islands at War_3

It’s less of a tech tree and more of a tech pile.

The four elements are Sun, Rain, Wind, and Thunder. Each element has a unique quality and theme. Sun buildings are simple but competent, Wind are quick and cheap but lack durability, Rain buildings are a little weird but useful, and Thunder buildings are incredibly powerful but are expensive and difficult to use.

Some advanced mechanics: Every building you destroy gives you a portion of its cost to you in storm power and the explosion can damage nearby buildings (Note: Defensive buildings don’t generate damaging explosions.) It’s cheaper to build more workshops of lower levels but that’ll hog your island space.

city-netstorm

Space management can get a little crazy.

You claim victory over your opponent by immobilizing their priest, capturing him, bringing him to an altar, and sacrificing him to the Furies. It’s sort of interesting how you can be victorious without destroying your opponent’s stuff. It’s all about this one little vulnerable guy.

netstorm

The sacrificial ritual has its own music and dialogue that all players can hear so everyone knows it’s going on.

The Gush

The 3D art for the encyclopedia’s models look really good. And each entry has a bit of flavor text that fleshes out the world. The humor in that flavor is dark but still hilarious.

xbow

The Nimbians are a people with a fully developed culture. Their art, government, and religion all serve the war they fight and their fighting serves their art, government, and religion.

I’m not sure if the soundtrack is dynamic but it certainly seems it. The beginning of each match has tranquil music that picks up as the buildings start going up, the lightning start arcing, and the whirligigs start their bombing runs.

The first two chapters of this game have a really great difficulty curve. They’re not too hard but not too easy either.

The opening cutscene for this game is surprisingly good.

netstorm-islands-at-war_2_big

GRAPHICS!

Every element has the same types of units but it’s incredible to see how little tweaks to their design can make them feel so different and unique.

This game can get incredibly chaotic, and it’s meant to. An enemy can sneak bridges behind your island and unload a pile of hurt on your workshops or other valuable structures. It’ll keep you on your toes to make sure nothing fishy is going on. The AI isn’t that bad but high level multiplayer can get dizzying.

labyrinth-netstorm

I mean, what part of this seems difficult to follow?

The Kvetch

It’s sort of impossible to play the multiplayer anymore. Maybe I just couldn’t find a good server but there was never anyone else online. The multiplayer was supposed to be the big draw and it’s disappointing that it’s impossible to get a game going.

The Noose. (I’m still mad)

Some units and buildings just aren’t good… well… one is. The Arc Spire. It says it does 50 damage, more than anything else in the game! But it just creates a damaging wall between it and another Arc Spire, so an enemy has to be dumb enough to move into it or maybe it damages things structures between it too… I dunno. It just seems pointless.

The last chapter is ungodly levels of hard. It’s really unfun.

Dust Devils are generated by Dust Devil Generators. The generators can be destroyed, the Devils themselves cannot. I’ve played this game for years and still don’t know how to counter them effectively.

The Verdict

For the low price of FREE it’s simple to see why this game is worth playing. It’s got solid mechanics, fun flavor, challenging gameplay, and’ll entertain for a few hours at the least. I recommend this game without nostalgic interference. But when you get to The Noose, give it hell for me.

Next Week: Mount and Blade

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