Fresh from the bronze halls of Nitrome comes Steamlands, a game that mixes strategy, defense, and building genres with a steampunk exterior to make a final product that begs you to become addicted. A great war has left Europe in ruins. Even though the last of the machines have been disassembled, pirates still roam the land with their patchwork tanks built from scrap. As a lone mercenary commander, you must pick up a spanner and build your own war machine by scavenging parts from defeated pirates. Embark upon dozens of missions in this expertly-crafted game of combat, strategy, and on-the-fly steam tank construction!
Steamlands is equal parts combat and construction, and you'll spend just as much time preparing for both. The branching overworld map allows you to choose missions one by one, often taking different paths if a particular level has you completely stumped. Before each mission begins you get a chance to buy a few upgrades and gather gossip from the local citizenry. Gossip, as it turns out, can be essential, as these sometimes-bemonocled folks know their pirates and will hand you valuable combat tips for a very low price. Or they'll tell you useless factoids, either way, it's worth the cash! You also get a chance to rebuild your tank before trekking out into the desolate outlands, so be sure to move armor to the front and fit guns in prime locations.
Ears filled with gossip and tank armed to the brim, you're ready to make tracks. Use the lever at the bottom center of the screen (or the [z] and [x] keys) to move your machine forwards and backwards. When you see pieces of scrap armor or guns laying on the ground, slide your mouse over, pick them up, and stack them on your tank. You'll want the biggest, strongest pieces of armor in the front and, usually, on the top of your vehicle, as that's where you'll be absorbing the most fire from your enemy. At all costs, you must protect the engine room. Without that engineer shoveling coal into the furnace, you're up Gear Creek without a brass paddle, so shield your little buddy as best you can.
Don't take too long building your tank, as the pirates up ahead aren't going to sit around and wait for you to give them the OK to attack. Enemy tanks are built in vastly different ways, sometimes with loads of guns on the top and sides, sometimes packed with armor, etc. Your tactics will vary widely with each battle, but you can rebuild your steam tank at any moment, moving blocks and adjusting gun positions to shield damaged pieces or provide emergency cover. You'll have to manage tank location, gun targets, repairs, and vehicle reconstruction all at the same time, so suffice it to say, Steamlands gives you plenty to think about (and plenty of possible courses of action) during combat.
With free-form tank building, upgrades, numerous types of armor and guns, you'd think Steamlands would be finished piling on the cool things to experience. But it's not! Scavenger units, for example, can be deployed to sabotage enemy vehicles, adding a bit of espionage-like action to the battlefield. You can even design your own flag, which is an excellent touch for those of us looking to live out our steampunk tank commanding fantasies (I know I'm not the only one)!
Analysis: A strategy game is nothing without rich, delicious strategy, and Steamlands has you covered on a number of fronts. From the building standpoint alone, you're free to use and repair any kind of armor you find, from small bronze blocks to bigger iron boulders, and being able to refit them to just about any location is an extraordinarily powerful boon. Gun placement is a science unto itself, as depending on the firepower you have available, you may want to have hidden guns that peck away from a safe location for slow, guaranteed damage, or stick some blasters on your front end and watch the explosions ensue. It's your call!
From a combat perspective, you naturally have the ability to play in any way you please, adopting an offense or defensive position as you see fit. Being able to simultaneously drive your tank while targeting with guns (individual guns or even groups of them tied to macro keys) lets you evade while stabbing forward, which works even better than you might think.
Despite its seemingly complex construction, Steamlands plays as simple as any other casual browser game. Everything is largely drag-and-drop, from welding armor to your tank to targeting the enemy with your guns. Keyboard shortcuts go a long way to simplifying the interface, but even with mouse/key control, there are still a few minor scrolling issues to be found. Nothing a little forethought won't take care of, naturally.
Steamlands is a phenomenal game that takes aim for a casual browser strategy experience and hits the bullseye dead-on. It's about as perfect as you can get, with Nitrome's usual flair for presentation, balanced gameplay that increases in complexity at just the right rate, and deep, interlaced levels of strategy that allow for fine control of your weapons, your tank, and your experience in general. A massive accomplishment from every perspective, Steamlands is something you want to play. Like, right now!