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Genre: Strategy & War
Min OS X: 10.4    Graphics: 64 MB VRAM

Darkwind: War On Wheels
July 19, 2008 | Michael Wuerthele

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Pushing cardboard chits around a table was and is a favorite past time of many an erstwhile computer grognard. The list of games is long and varied, but one of the standouts from the eighties and early nineties was Steve Jackson Games' Car Wars. Darkwind: War on Wheels by Psychic Software is plainly not Car Wars, but there's enough similarities to the concept material to invoke an eighties flashback for those old enough to remember them. While predominantly free, should you spend any of your valuable time on this?

Chapter the First: They Say People Don't Believe in Heroes Anymore
Darkwind at the face is simple. Take your car, get your gang, go massacre other drivers, repeat. Sure, it sounds just the same as Interstate '76, Carmageddon, or Death Race 2000 (minus the bedamned tombstones!). Hold on there, Master Blaster, this isn't a twitchy game- it's turn based, more akin to tabletop Car Wars or the old Apple II Roadwar 2000 in mechanics. Yes. Turn based vehicular mayhem, in 2008. Wait! Don't stop reading yet! To achieve some modicum of success, Darkwind's combat does require a precision not found in most of the aforementioned vehicular manslaughter games. To this end, they've implemented a unique preview feature for your moves. As you decide where you're going to move, a silhouette of your car appears, giving you a general idea of where you're going to end up as you complete the move. I say a general idea, as the accuracy of this preview greatly depends on your game character's skill as a driver. Oh, did I forget to mention? Darkwind is not just vehicular destruction and gearhead-esque car customization, it also has role-playing elements like skill advancement, and a robust in-game economy!

Chapter the Second: Speed's Just a Question of Money
As a subscriber, you've got the option to trick out your vehicles. While you can build in-game in the web-based engine and resource manager, you're best off pre-planning your build with one of two tools- either the Negasonic version, or the Greymatter stand alone application. Either does the job, and is just a matter of personal preference, really. This allows for a great amount of customization, and is welcome to the world, as the static designs that non-subscribers have access to lack a certain flair and become predictable after a while.

Chapter the Third: Again You Have Made Me Unleash My Dogs of War.
Darkwind is about vehicle combat, yes, but vehicle combat is a means to an end. There really is no "You" in the game- your in-game entity is your gang. Through vehicle combat, you advance your gang's skills and equipment loadout. Vehicular combat isn't without perils, as the in-game injury system is harsh. No sickbays, no curing spells, no magical tonics. Got a bad wound? That member might be out for two weeks. While time passes quickly in the Darkwind universe, that's a long time for your star race driver to be out. One of the more valuable sets of gang statistics is your Fame and Reputation. Reputation advances positively for hunting down raiders or other miscreants, but negatively for smashing the more law-abiding members of society. Fame just continues to spiral upward as you progress in the land of Evan. Both are public statistics, and influence both human players reactions as well as NPC reactions to your gang.

Chapter the Fourth: Paradise! Two Thousand Miles From Here!
MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), of which Darkwind does qualify, get repetitive to me. Grinding drives me crazy with rage. How many rat-equivalents do you need to smack around before you get to go beat up something else? I think this is a natural state, though, as the game has to appeal to all levels, from the beginner to the seasoned veteran. Psychic Software has mitigated this in a limited playing area with the additions of leagues and ladders for the subscribers. With the addition of scouting between cities, and frequent content injections, Darkwind has a lot to do and see in-game no matter the skill level of the player or the composition of the gang. This is a breath of fresh air in what I consider a very stale and one-sided genre of gameplay, where even the behemoth in the market seems destined for repetition.


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