It’s fun to watch a game evolve, whether it’s a state-of-the art groundbreaker like DOOM, whose second incarnation promised “play over telephone lines,” or a nifty little strategy game like Domination, the grandfather of Massive Assault Network 2 (MAN 2), which brings all the turn-based goodness of Domination to the internet, with fairly positive results.
For the many unfamiliar with this series, the basic premise is there are two opposing sides, on a world usually populated with small islands. Conquer each island (or part of an island, for the larger bodies of land) by being the only one with troops there, and you gain resources, granting more money to build more troops. Each side has more or less identical forces, differing only in artwork and name (e.g., each side’s tanks have different names and paint jobs, but same movement, damage, cost, etc.). The variety of units is limited; there’s usually one unit for each task, and that’s it: one light land unit (a three wheeled buggy), one medium land unit (a tank with more speed and firepower), one heavy land unit (a big robot, more speed), one medium and one heavy artillery, and so on. There is no randomness to combat outcomes or movement, so the game overall is like chess, with much better graphics. The strategy comes from building the right mix of forces, and achieving the maximum damage output from each unit every turn.
The AI is fairly merciless, as its complete understanding of the movement and range limitations of its and your units gives it a huge advantage – at least for the first few games, where the player is still learning the basics. Past that point, it still plays a competent game, being a bit too eager to flood the field with cheap units leading to the occasional dull turkey shoot being its only vulnerability.
If you know and loved the previous incarnations of MAN 2, you’ll get into the groove of things quickly, although there are a few innovations that make getting the newest version worthwhile for the series fan.
The big enhancement is true internet play, as you can now conveniently play in real time against other people or computer players, online. MAN 2 doesn’t really lend itself to such play, as a good game can take hours, and there’s nothing for you to do while your opponent is taking his turn, other than watch your forces being destroyed. The game automatically converts to play-by-mail mode as soon as a player logs out, and this is the ideal way to enjoy the game, taking your turn, then logging in an hour or a day later after your opponent has a chance to make his move.
"The big enhancement is true internet play..."
Overall, the game has been heavily streamlined, to the point that a new player might well get overwhelmed at how easily most things are done (e.g., there’s no save option, players should just know that everything is saved automatically). It’s an easy thing to forget about a piece — you generally can only see an island at a time, and there usually a half dozen or more such islands — but the game automatically informs you of any piece you’ve not moved, and similarly lets you know if you’ve missed any firing or building opportunities.
It’s all slick and runs flawlessly, and fans of the series will love the improvements. On the other hand, if you don’t like slow, turn-based strategy games, there’s nothing here that will change your mind. There are some nice explosion graphics, and an auto-camera zooms in on “critical” battles to make them easier to appreciate, but, bottom line, this is chess. If you like that, you’ll like this. If you’re not a chess fan, this won’t change your mind.
+ Easy to learn.
+ Not real-time.
+ Pleasing graphics.
– No offline play (?).
– Hard to see “Big Picture.”
– Slow games.