Storm: Frontline Nation is loaded with strategic and tactical depth.
Storm: Frontline Nation is smack-dab in the middle. Colossai Studios’ turn-based strategy game occupies the neutral zone between encyclopedic franchises such as Hearts of Iron and mainstream fare such as the Civilization series. But this captivating saga about an all-out global war in the near future is anything but a middling effort. A tremendous amount of depth and replay value are the big positives here, along with aggressive enemy artificial intelligence that turns every campaign into a war for survival.
Anyone who has experience with voluminous games of grand historical strategy, such as Europa Universalis, Hearts of Iron, and Victoria, will immediately know what Storm has in store for you. The main difference here is the time frame. Where those games deal with history, Storm: Frontline Nation deals with the very near future. It is January of 2012, immediately following a war that has caused oil exports from the Middle East to be virtually shut down. As a result, economies have collapsed, and big players in the USA, UK, France, Russia, and Germany are fighting over the scraps, namely oil resources in places like the North Sea and North Africa. The story campaign takes place in Europe and North Africa, where you take control of one of the big five nations noted above and deal with hundreds of conquerable provinces and cities. Victory conditions involve everything from building up an army, to sending a spy to steal research from an enemy capital, to simply building facilities like naval bases.
You can also forgo the story and go for the open campaign. This option features some 45 nations, including all of the smaller nations in the region, such as Spain, Egypt, Greece, Austria, Slovenia, and so forth. You get a ton of replay value, because every country comes with a unique range of pluses and minuses. Running Greece, for instance, is a whole lot different from running the US, so moving down requires big changes in how you conduct yourself with neighbors. Situations where you might want to throw your weight around tend not to work out so well if you have only a tiny military and not a whole lot of cash at your disposal. Some of the playable countries seem ridiculous, though. Taking over countries like Montenegro, Morocco, and Estonia is nearly pointless, because they just don’t have enough power or territory (although having just two territories to look after sure does cut down on the management duties) to provide an interesting game. Choose one of them, and you’re generally stuck either trying to survive onslaughts from bigger enemies or staving off boredom while watching the big guys go at it for black gold.
In campaigns, you play as the leader of an entire nation in a far-reaching game of geopolitical conquest. On the main map screen, you guide the fortunes of your country through turns that last a month of real time. This is where everything begins. Here you declare war on the Swedes, produce conventional units like tanks and planes, sneakily order up weapons of mass destruction like nukes and biological weapons, stage covert ops like assassinations, ink treaties with those nice guys in Russia, advance research levels to gain nifty new weapons, and so forth. While the sheer number of things to do is impressive, most of the options are somewhat scaled back from those in other grand strategy games. There is no massive, varied cultural tech tree as in the Civilization games, for instance. All of the tech levels earned generally just open up bigger and better ways to kill enemies, like suitcase nukes and bioweapons such as anthrax and smallpox.
The options stop well short of kitchen-sink territory. At the same time, this doesn’t quite make Storm more manageable than many of its genre predecessors, largely due to a terrible tutorial system of blurry videos that walk you through the interface and some strategic and tactical features. Fully interactive tutorials would have made a big difference. Visual quality is dark and murky as well, making it hard to tell units apart at times. Audio is equally unhelpful, including a musical score that sounds like something heard over the closing credits of a straight-to-DVD action flick, and repetitive unit acknowledgements that consist of nothing but the unit name, often mispronounced. Still, at least the interface is intuitive for the most part. You have to fiddle around at times (uh, how do you build a nuclear research facility again?), although generally you can work things out in no more than a few minutes of experimentation. Story mode also provides many missions that serve as guideposts pushing you in the right direction when it comes to building your navy for eventual North Sea attacks or getting a spy over to the UK to see what it’s up to, for example.