Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Iron Harvest: an RTS in the Scythe Universe

Iron Harvest: an RTS in the Scythe Universe

Directly adapted from the Scythe board game, Iron Harvest finally arrives on consoles and PC with pretty promises. By tackling the RTS genre, the game immediately confronts a juggernaut, Company of Heroes, wanting to roll on its flower beds. However, is it capable of raising itself to the level of a saga that achieved its acclaim almost 15 years ago? Adaptations from board games to video games or vice versa have very rarely been very successful. Monopoly only really works well on a table with friends or family, while walking the virtual world of Azeroth in WoW is more enjoyable than its hardcover version. It does happen, however, that certain titles make their hole and successfully convert to the other "genre". Scythe is one of them, with a universe that lends itself extremely well to video games.

Created by Jamer Stegmaier, an American board game enthusiast, Scythe is what you can literally call a nugget in the table game world. With a rather original universe, the game looks at the confrontation between the Polonians and the Rusviets during the interwar period. The First World War is not the one we have known: in this alternate reality, huge metal robots fought alongside men, dramatically increasing the loss of life. In the countryside, the iron harvest began, in order to provide for the manufacture of mechs. Europe is healing its wounds, as a new Soviet threat hangs over the Old Continent. The storyline is similar in every way in the video game version of Scythe. This is also the great quality of this Iron Harvest, the context benefits the genre and the mechanics. The atmosphere is felt perfectly on every battlefield. From melodies that perfectly transcribe the atmosphere to voices very precisely suited to the characters, the whole game offers a very beautiful harmony.

Iron Harvest gameplay

Besides this very nice atmosphere, Iron Harvest has a very well done “bestiary”. In addition to the traditional units of grenadiers and fusiliers, there are mechas. In these revisited 1920s, tanks and other tanks did not exist and were replaced by immense iron soldiers. With their own skills and attacks, they manage to renew the genre without difficulty, or even bring a whole new dimension to RTS. The outcome of a battle will be changed very quickly thanks to these robots. Building an army only made up of mechs can be good for you, but it will also be double-edged. In fact, some units are particularly effective against these armored units. It will therefore be essential to compose your army in a thoughtful and strategic manner.

Nevertheless, Iron Harvest will be criticized for resting too often on its laurels, or rather on those of others. Drawing loose inspiration from what the acclaimed Company of Heroes franchise has done before, IH is sure to benefit from proven mechanics. Unfortunately, instead of picking up a few ideas here and there and improving them, Harvest is just doing a simple copy and paste here. So much so that we sometimes wonder if this is not a DLC from the CoH saga. Traditional human units are taken directly from the SEGA franchise. For example, the engineers here also make it possible to build the bases of your staff on the battlefield. The headquarters provides access to base units, while the barracks offers a greater variety of men. Finally, a small peculiarity linked to the title, the workshop is used to make the various mechas intended for fighting or for reconnaissance. Each of the units has its own abilities and skills. After being used, these must recharge for a certain time, which can sometimes be rather long in combat.

Iron Harvest other scene gameplay

Arranging your HQ well is essential in conquering victory. It will also be necessary to negotiate with the various resources dotted around the battlefield. Two in number, these resources are essential to hope for victory. Iron and oil are necessary for all units and buildings, and running out of them can be detrimental to your battle. You will face enemy units in order to take control of these wells and deposits, and thus amass as many resources as possible. Once your base is established, you can tackle the missions. And it is clear that on this point, Deep Silver has once again taken advantage of the competition. The objectives are almost in all respects similar to those of Company of Heroes. Sometimes you will have to prepare to endure the enemy waves, sometimes the objective will be to take several control points. Sometimes it will also be necessary to rescue an entire village or a particular character, but that is not enough to diversify the whole. It is true that the set still works just as well, but it is regrettable that the developers did not show more imagination.

Despite this very “Company of Heroesian” spirit present in each of Harvest’s mechanics, it all works very well. The battlefield offers action all the time, and the clashes between units are quite nervous. The control of the soldiers is rather well put together, with nevertheless a certain rigidity in their movements. This rigidity, unfortunately, adds to the too many finishing problems that Iron Harvest suffers from. During games, slowdowns and loss of frames are very common. The game too often pauses for one or two frames, which often breaks the rhythm of the battles. The voices of the characters are not bad, but sometimes they start late. Iron Harvest really looks like it's been tweaked in a hurry, without the developers getting involved enough in its development. The good news is the game tracking is looking pretty good. The developers are already working on a patch and promise new content every week.

Iron Harvest battle gameplay

Finally, it’s mainly the visuals that Iron Harvest disappoints, and that’s the least we can say. Without being particularly ugly, the game seems to have been developed in the early 2010s, on an obsolete engine. The cutscenes do the job pretty well, but the results are directly more bitter in the game. The explosions and other destruction are for their part well done but the sets, units, and other environmental effects are absolutely not convincing. For a game to be released in 2020, on consoles and computers with ultra display settings, the results are almost painful to see. The characters benefit from nice modeling, without however reaching the height of expectations. If these characters have a rather interesting and well put together story, they fail to mark the spirits and stand out, the fault of a nonexistent charisma and conversations without any interest. The acting of the characters even seems parody. In fact, a touching scene where a character mourns the death of a loved one almost makes you smile, which is probably not the desired effect ...

Iron Harvest from KingArt Studios

Conclusion

By tackling the RTS genre, Iron Harvest takes the crazy gamble of walking on the flower beds of the now cult Company of Heroes. If I can say this, the challenge is nicely met, it is not without having freely taken inspiration from CoH. The resemblance is obvious, even in the smallest details of the mechanics. Of course, we can't put the fault on the developers for taking inspiration from things that work, but the lack of originality is glaring here. From the development of the HQ on the battlefield to the different units, CoH's influence is felt tremendously. An influence which nevertheless succeeds very well in Iron Harvest. Two games with very similar mechanics, but with very different worlds. The “uchronic” context in which Iron Harvest takes place is simply irresistible. Just like in the board game from which it is adapted, the confrontation between Polonians and Rusvietics lends itself perfectly to the genre. Controlling mechas instead of traditional tanks brings a whole new lease of life, with new mechanics of their own. Unfortunately, this is the only point that sets Iron Harvest apart from the reference. The few flaws that are them and, are not going to work in his favor. The game would have deserved a lot of work on the rework, especially in terms of battlefield animations. On the aesthetic side, despite the beautiful Polish lands that we take pleasure in surveying, Iron Harvest does not shine by its visual qualities. If it was released in 2020, there is every reason to believe that it was developed on an engine that has not been improved for a few years. The modeling of the characters is in the pickup, as well as unconvincing environments. Despite this bitter observation, Iron Harvest remains a good game, especially for anyone who has never touched Company of Heroes. You can get more details about the game by visiting the official website.

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