Global warming is going to be our undoing, but not because we will suddenly run out of polar bear pelts or ice for our afternoon drinks. Thanks to rising temperatures, more ice starts to melt, unleashing a virus that has remained frozen for millennia. But this is not any virus. It is alien in origin and it plans to evolve and destroy us. It is also intelligent, because it is who you are in the action/strategy game War Of Cells, the first online Flash offering from Lognetic.
Played from a top-down perspective, you navigate the cell using the [arrow] or [WASD] keys, while [Q] and [E] rotate the actual cell body to realign the weapons and the mouse aims any ranged attacks. Weapons come from the cell's three pods, which can be armed with various abilities based on DNA strings you unlock after each level. Some are for ramming, some shoot projectiles and others are dangerous to touch. Some use your energy, which you replenish by grabbing some nutrients out of the pool you find yourself in. Some spew trapping goo, inject viral DNA into cells or attract molecules to you. Others, like the interior of enemy cells left after you pulverise them, add to your health and also to your nutrients... more on that in a bit.
Enemy cells come in all forms and you discover different ones in different pools. As the virus you travel across the microbe-laden pools of the world, finishing different objectives. Sometimes you have to kill everything and sometimes you have to collect certain elements. Sometimes you need to find a hidden spot... sometimes you just have to avoid death. Sometimes pools are calm, sometimes they have currents that draw you in and hold you, or poisonous green globs you are best to avoid. Sometimes the pool itself is poison and you have to keep gobbling up nutrients and enemies to keep your health and energy up while you finish the task at hand. And, occasionally, you fight a boss...
Bosses are larger cells, usually armed with special enhancements... some which you can use for yourself. The main objective of the game is to defeat all twelve of these bosses. It starts off easy enough, but some fights are tough. To help you out is the ability to multiply - chew up enough nutrients from downed cells and you can split yourself, forming a new cell. This cell can be armed individually and then assigned a basic artificial intelligence to make it do stuff (basically: roam-and-kill or kill-kill-kill). This is not required (in fact, I only discovered it late into the game. Hint: you click on your arming triangle to cause a split), but it can turn the tide on some levels. On other levels it's a bad strategy. Mostly, though, it makes you feel like the mean viral MOFO you are supposed to be.
Analysis: I am willing to wager that this game will bring out a lot of "it's boring" and "I don't like it" comments. Some will also complain that unlike games like Spore's early levels and the excellent game flOw, there is no real sense of evolution. I'd be inclined to agree — if you play War Of Cells along those lines it is a bit of a half-baked idea.
Likewise the levels are not terribly challenging (though you can try a higher difficulty if you feel overly dominant). They vary a little, while the increasing appearance of toxic conditions and sucking tides shake things up. The rival microbes also become more dangerous and aggressive. But you'd have to dig deep to hit any REAL challenge from this game.
So what's the hook? It comes in the variety of ways you can play War Of Cells. The sequences you unlock pave the way for many different strategies and combined with the cell-splitting makes for an interesting mix. It seems novel, but it gives a lot of replay value. Granted, this renders War Of Cells a bit limited in who it appeals to, but if you find the spark in its core, you'll appreciate what it does. It's a classic case of the journey versus the destination. If you are the type of person who always keeps the finishing line in mind, this game is not for you. But if you are just happy being a nasty alien virus hellbent on destroying the planet...