HexWar are one of the most prolific publishers of turn-based strategy around. A visit to their website reveals home-grown games spanning ancients, medieval, age of rifles and both world wars. How, one wonders, can they have spawned so many games in such diverse settings in such a short space of time? Well, as someone who’s reviewed a lot of them, I can tell you the answer. They’re all essentially the same game, re-skinned and given a new set of scenarios. Battle for Tallarn looks an awful lot like the sci-fi iteration of the HexWar in-house system. There’s a lot of tanks so, as you might expect, the mechanics place an emphasis on facing, turret weapons and attacking weak side and rear armour. There’s infantry too, who can creep into terrain inaccessible to vehicles and hitch rides on transports.
As a fun extra there are flying units, dreadnoughts and damn dirty great Titans striding over the battlefield too. Visuals aside, the game’s biggest nod to 40k and its chief differentiation in the HexWar stable is that units can have multiple weapons. Some a more effective against certain types of targets than other. A Multi-Melta, for instance, will hit armour much harder than a Lascannon will. You can’t always fire all your weapons: indeed they vary in range and some of them are close combat only. Between this selection and trying to maximise flank and rear attacks, Tallarn would seem to have the basis for some solid strategy.
Unfortunately, poor design and weak scenarios leave the game a rather tired, repetitive experience. Problems begin at the beginning with the tutorial campaign. It’s piecemeal in the extreme: one would hope most gamers don’t need an entire scenario to teach them to move by clicking on a unit and then a target hex. It’s possible to fail some of these “tutorial” problems due to capricious randomness. Playing one several times in order to win and unlock the next just so you can learn the rules is frustrating in the extreme.
Then there’s the odd decision to give many of the tanks a two-hex movement range. One hex if you want to move and still fire. This results in some suspension-shattering anomalies like vehicles being no faster than infantry. But the real killer is that it kills any chance of a war of maneuver. For all the emphasis placed of outflanking the enemy, the game provides few tools to put this in to practice. By the time your flankers have inched around the sides, your main force will either have destroyed or been destroyed by the opposition.
Light tanks do exist and they do move faster, but they’re also so fragile as to be useless. Their main function seems to be in fooling the weak AI in the game. In one scenario where I had to defend an objective, I won by using light tanks to lure the enemy away from the vital hex. Had they attacked my defenders instead of chasing harmless scout units over the board, I’d probably have lost. Other scenarios have almost no scenery or force variety and degenerate into random duck-shoots in the middle of the map. Playing these on “hard”, where the enemy force assumes ridiculous proportions, is almost impossible.
Later on, things do improve. Bigger units have bigger movement ranges and a bigger selection of weapons. They also tend to see action on bigger maps with different objectives. One mission, which had me defending a line of objective markers, suddenly saw the game spring to life. The AI units lunged for those markers with appropriate desperation and my defence was fraught and tense. Even then, though, it was hard to escape the feeling that my victory was more down to lucky shot rolls than decent planning.
Still, in these missions the game becomes less of a tiresome grind and more involved and challenging. Plus, there’s a certain pleasure to be had from watching dirty great Reaver Titans stamping all over the enemy forces. But it’s too little, too late. Randomness still dominates over strategy. For all the advertised variety of campaigns and missions, playable as either side, only a handful are worthwhile.
Besides, even when things come together there are still various small niggles to endure. Facing, as noted, is important in the game. Yet the arrows you click on to change a unit’s direction are imprecise, requiring a click bang in the middle to work. In one instance a tank I’d selected decided to reverse itself off the map before I could give it a command. The interlinking narrative of the campaigns is flat and lifeless in the extreme.
If you were hoping for better from the multiplayer implementation, you’re in for more disappointment. There’s no online play at all, asynchronous or otherwise. Solitaire play involves a lot of dull grind to find the minority of scenarios that are actually fun to play. HexWar‘s in house engine might have been acceptable for spamming out thin strategy games in the early days of iOS development. In this age, on this platform, it’s not good enough: not even at a bargain price.