by James Sterrett
Article Type: Review
Article Date: February 12, 2003
Product Name: Laser Squad Nemesis
Category: PBEM Tactical Strategy
Developer: Codo Technologies
Publisher: Codo Technologies
Release Date: Released
Sys. Spec: Click Here
Files & Links: Click Here
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Many years ago, some unknown British game designers released something called UFO: Enemy Unknown, better known among the many who played it as X-Com. This smash hit and its next two sequels demonstrated the Gollop brotherís mastery of the art of designing and programming tactical wargames, but the corporate world ripped the X-Com franchise away from them, and then 1) failed to complete a promising first-person squad tactics title, 2) applied it poorly it a spaceflight setting, 3) vigorously abused it through twitch action gaming, and 4) left the franchiseís broken, bleeding body to feed the hyenas. The Gollopís next project, Freedom Ridge, was transferred into other hands as well. Disillusioned by these machinations, the Good Brothers Gollop retreated to their secret base and beavered away on their next product: one which would become self-funding and would not be prey to the whim of Mr. Tweedledum Graysuit. Fortunately for all of us, Laser Squad Nemesis (LSN) shows the Gollops didnít lose their design touch along with their copyrights.
|The Spawn attack! Metal walls are indestructible - and everything else can go boom. |
As you may have guessed, LSN is based on an unusual business strategy. Players cough up $25 to subscribe to the email server for six months, which nets you an unlimited number of games against other subscribers and the ability to issue as many challenges as you like to non-subscribers, albeit using a limited set of units and maps. LSN was deliberately and self-confessedly released in a somewhat unfinished state last year, with the intent of getting subscription money flowing to keep development funded. LSN still isnít finished now, a year later. LSN may well *never be finished*. Apparently, the idea is that the Gollops will keep improving it as long as thereís money to do so.
|A hotseat game: Marine planning: Grenadiers and grunts will close and kill while snipers cover. |
While this sounds like a strategy out of a feel-good self-help book, the results for LSN players have been quite good. Over the course of the past year, LSNís interface has lost its rough edges, a solitaire tutorial mode was added, and the graphics, never bad, have steadily improved. Even more exciting for long-time players, the play balance has been steadily tweaked on the basis of win/loss statistics and input from fans, and the initial two factions, the Machina and the Marines, were joined by a third faction, the Spawn. A fourth faction, the Greys, is in the works, along with another major graphics upgrade and a boxed release that will include an X-Com style solitaire campaign game and increase the number of units in each faction from 6 to 8 ( more info ).
|Mech planning, same game: flatten the terrain with missile tanks. |
The point of discussing the business plan before the game is to drive home the point that LSN is not static. This review reflects LSN as it stands at version 2.06. Wait six months, and LSN may well be on version 3.somethingand if the past is any guide, it will have gotten better in the process. On to the game itself!
|A Mech missile wave impacts, taking down a sniper. |
LSN is a play-by-email (PBEM) we-go turn-based wargame of squad tactics. You find an opponent, either by knowing their LSN handle or email address, or by using the LSN matching service, and challenge that person to a game. The emails come and go with turn results and orders files as each of you puts in orders for the next ten-second turn, sends them into the LSN Central Computer, and it replies with an email that lets you watch the results and gives you your next set of orders. The downloaded client also allows hotseat games should you wish, and will walk you through several tutorial battles, but the primary mode of play is email. While the list of commands you can give may seem spare in some respects, the Gollops have in fact pared down your options to the essentials: the mud has been washed away, leaving only the gold in the pan. You canít crouch or go prone, any more than you can shift bishops into rooks in chess; but you still have all the options you need for thoroughly complex strategies.
|But the remaining sniper takes down a missile tank... |
At the start of play, you purchase your units. Each of the three factions has six units at the moment, with point values varying between 1 and 4. The Machina are slow, heavily armored, and pack a heavy punch. The Marine units are cheaper, which tends to make them more flexible, but the Marines have sacrificed firepower and armor for speed. The star of the Marine show, though, is the Grenadier, who bloops out a silver soccer-ball of death which bounces around a bit, and then explodes. Skilled players can achieve significant mayhem by bouncing grenades around corners into enemy hideouts: as the best strategy guides for LSN states for Marines, ďGrunts spot. Grenades kill. The rest is filler.Ē Putting that dicta into practice, however, can be challenging.
|While the marine strike force sneaks into position and plans its final assault. |
The Spawn move faster than a buttered snake and rely largely on close combat attacks. The Spawn include one unit thatís a walking bomb, and their few ranged units die when they run out of ammo. Death is only the beginning for the Spawn, however. While the Machina and Marines reload ammo at their immobile HQ units, the Spawn rely on the Queen, a massive grub that eats the bodies of the fallen and turns them into eggs, which promptly hatch into new Spawn soldiers. All three factions have a very distinctive tactical feel, and require different approaches both to command and to defeat. The Marines bounce around taking snapshots, the Machina blast the opposition away, and a Spawn charge is fearsome. Preliminary information on the Grays suggests they have a unit that shoots bombs through walls, a psionic controller unit, and even that they might expend health as ammunition! The combat damage model retains enough randomness to be interesting, yet the play balance has been carefully tweaked to ensure that the primary determinant of victory is skill.
|Heavy losses ensue, but the Marine's grenades do the trick. |
The downsides of LSN are few. If you insist on a single-player game, then youíll have to wait for the boxed edition. The bugs that come up get squashed in short order, the number of options in the game is steadily growing, and the user community is usually quite friendly. If you donít like tactical strategy games, then you wonít like LSN. If, however, you enjoy squad tactics, then youíre very likely to enjoy LSNand find yourself compulsively checking your email for new turns. Once again, the Gollops have demonstrated their mastery of the tactical strategy genre.
Laser Squad Nemesis