iUbes: 2 Review
RTS games, no matter how good they are, often demand players to put a lot of effort into micromanaging their units to be competitive at the highest levels. iUBES: 2 takes this micro away and instead adds some extra complexity via critical building placement and a very fun cylindrical map system.
iUBES’s shakeup of the micromanagement side of RTS games reminds me of Shiro Games’s recent casual RTS Northgard, which gave usually idle villagers something to do no matter what. This move made it far easier to focus on the important aspects like growth and combat.
iUBES takes that micro reduction a step farther by leaving the troops – in this case, intelligent cubes, or i-cubes – completely out of the player’s direct control. Instead, the strategy is all about resource management and a heavy emphasis on building choice and placement.
The plot is kind of lacking, mostly a bare-bones RTS with no background for why we have intelligent cubes, but the online multiplayer is a neat story by itself. Players start at the edge of a grand campaign map and play stored versions of other real players’ strategies; it’s not actually simultaneous head-to-head gameplay. Say you build a certain set of buildings in a unique way, well, the game copies that and throws it at another online player. So waiting for a match isn’t a problem here.
The environments in the game look great for the blocky style; snow-capped mountains, flowing plains, oceans and tropical jungles give great variety. A simple bracket box outlines the warriors who are otherwise identical to every other one of your iUBES. While simplicity over realism in graphics can do a great job improving clarity, as evidenced in the shift between Sid Meier’s Civilization V and VI, iUBES might be taking it too far.
During matches, so much action can be happening at once that I often lose track of if I have a mill or a granary somewhere, or if I lost an armory… or was that a forge? Battles can look cool, but can also be a confusing glob of blocks. The lack of good UI makes building placement confusing. Sometimes I plopped down a building only to find that my iUBES moved it to a different location and built it there, resulting in odd layouts i didn’t expect or want.
The game shines, however, when it comes to the strategy behind the maps. Players start on a map that spans the inside of a cylinder, with its own sun and correct shadows. The idea of the cylinder is that each 1v1 battle starts with two distinct routes to the other player, multiple battlefronts. In practice, I have found that one main front develops, with the longer route around the cylinder being the site of skirmishes, but also the occasional last push to victory.
That push to victory is easier said than done. iUBES spawn from your military buildings to attack the nearest enemies. Where you build them determines the front, but when you build them is also important.
There is an impressive amount of advanced buildings, but unfortunately they rarely came into the picture during the 20 minutes of match time developers tout is usual. Only one nearly hour-long match involved more than two advanced buildings. I’ve found that the best tactic available was to max food and housing before pumping out the anti-building pyromancers, messing with my building placement to get the best attack angles.
The only indication of who is winning is in a percentage listed at the top of the screen – below 50% and you’re losing. Military domination is the only victory condition, but without being on the verge of victory or defeat, it’s hard to gauge what the percentage meter indicates. Being lower than 50% is a vague indicator that you’re probably doing something wrong. The game gives detailed stats but little direction of what good stats are.
The graphics and writing are minimalistic to the extreme. I’m constantly traveling this holiday season, so I do appreciate that this tiny game ran flawlessly on my aging laptop. The tradeoff is that it’s easy to get a bit bored and occasionally confused by the graphics. The writing, though funny at some points, can sometimes be unclear or grammatically incorrect. This is something that might be expected from a small team, but it’s still worth pointing out.
The music in the game, I think, will be underappreciated. The menus and the game both had several decent tracks. The electronic music fit the i-cubes feel and got me pumped and ready.
RTS music is so often boring or annoying, so i am quick to judge that aspect of a strategy game. It’s a mark of a good soundtrack when I get dozens of hours in and don’t mute the music.
The map and tactics involved really make this game, but the control scheme nearly broke this game for me. You can do most movements and actions with just the mouse, and you have keyboard movement and hotkeys for every building, but you can’t tilt or freelook the camera at all. I get that freelooking isn’t really a RTS thing, but when you introduce a cylindrical map it is a must to be able to get a quick read on the tactical situation.
Having to awkwardly move the camera around was as annoying as parallel parking. The only way to actually “look down” involved a mess of complicated moves and forced the camera to be completely zoomed out, and trying to zoom in completely ruined this tactical perspective. Perhaps it’s the need for constant and quick information in RTS games that made this so frustrating for me. I hope we can get updates from this still-new game.
While the autonomous iUBES and the really innovative map make this game different and exciting, much of the strategy is similar to existing RTS games. Playing another person’s recorded strategy rather than that person is a novelty. It’s neat in the sense of always having a match, but also takes some of the excitement out of going toe-to-toe with another human in real time.
For its graphical style, variety in gameplay and lower-budget feel, I wouldn’t say this game gives RTS fans the best value. Some people don’t care about graphics, but the pretty factor is important to me, especially when a reduction in graphics doesn’t bring that much clarity to the screen with it. The control scheme was as frustrating in my latest match as it was when I started.
Ultimately there are a fair number of RTS games that offer more satisfying real PvP online play for that $20ish USD price tag. The other concepts – from the cubes that manage themselves to the really fun cylinder maps – are great additions that shake up the RTS genre, and I am hopeful that the developer will continue with his stated plan for more updates and tutorials. If you have the money and want to try out these neat new mechanics, Iubes: 2 has plenty of great moments. But for its current price you might wait for some substantial updates, a sale, or both.
- Good music
- Innovative cylinder maps that affect gameplay
- Automated workers allow more complexity in the strategy of building and timing
- Horrible camera controls and no option to rebind controls
- Few things from proper building placements to warrior effectiveness are made clear to players
- Simple graphics can quickly become a hard to decipher mess