1920s dieselpunk setting explores a 'what if' world

Iron Harvest, a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by KING Art Games. Photo: Supplied
Iron Harvest, a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by KING Art Games. Photo: Supplied
I think we all love a good ‘‘what if’’ story. We’re coaxed into thinking how things could have been, or how everything would have been different if an invention came along earlier or later than it did.

Iron Harvest, a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by KING Art Games, attempts to tap this itch, taking place in an alternate 1920s in which technology has advanced rapidly to the point where mechs are used in warfare. Its new Operation Eagle expansion follows a main game release last September.

The main game’s story was centred around Polania (Poland), Rusviet (Russia), and Saxony (Germany), powers at war with one another. Each campaign had a hero character you follow throughout.

The story mode missions in the main game were OK. They’re split into three types; a limited amount of troops trying to get to some objective, a more traditional base building and army creation scenario, which usually involves taking an enemy base, and both of these combined. It’s a shame that the story itself was mediocre, with a lot of good ideas that went nowhere.

Some missions were also complete nightmares, no matter what approach you took; the Saxony campaign was the difficulty high-water mark, with missions usually full of strong enemy forces constantly pushing at your large, spread-out base.

Operation Eagle picks up after the main game, with new faction Usonia (America), led by William Mason, heading to Rusviet and attempting to regain control of a factory heavily invested in by Usonian businesses.

Iron Harvest, a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by KING Art Games. Photo: Supplied
Iron Harvest, a real-time strategy (RTS) game developed by KING Art Games. Photo: Supplied

The resources in Iron Harvest are extremely simple. You have iron, which you build mines for, and oil, for which you contract pumps. Gathering of these is completely automatic, unlike in many other RTS games. Because of this, resource points are heavily contested, and cutting off a supply from your opponent can mean the difference between winning and losing.

I really love the graphics in the game, especially the larger mech units. They all have a distinctive way of moving and project a real sense of weight and power. It’s especially cool when larger mech units bust through walls and houses, creating new routes for infantry or surprising an enemy. The time period also comes through in the look, with building architecture and unit design invoking a familiar 1920s feel. The cutscene animations could have used some work, as some of it is extremely robotic, but all in all, it’s some good-looking stuff.

The main issue I had with both the base game and now its expansion was unfortunately related to these graphics, though. There’s rather noticeable slow down when many units are on screen at once, and considering this is a wartime RTS where large armies meet, you can see how this is a small problem. Remember those larger mechs that can destroy houses by walking into them? Cool in theory, until it slows the game to an absolute crawl — and even crashed a few times.

It’s not just slowdown that is an issue. Bugs and glitches are relatively frequent and pull you right out of the world, such as when you ask all your troops to automatically retreat, only for them to run directly at the enemy. Abilities often did not work when I used them, cutscenes would be broken, some enemies would just be completely invulnerable but still attack you, and poor pathfinding can lead to squad losses that were not your fault . . . the list goes on.

Operation Eagle does improve things somewhat, though. Mason is an interesting character, and his ability to turn his mech into an automated turret system really saved a few tougher scenarios. The story is a bit better, but was still not enough to carry the game on its own, and I found myself getting bored around the halfway point.

Compared with the main game’s Saxon campaign, the difficulty was reduced and made for a nice change of pace . . .until the final missions where unlimited amounts of forces are sent against you, requiring a defence with little to no resources to hand — hey, this sounds familiar!

America’s bunkers in the expansion are amazing, however. They are flame bunkers which decimate infantry, and an anti-armour gunner can be placed inside to deter mech threats. They’re the perfect stop gap to build up some forces . . .which typically drags each mission out to be an hour-plus commitment. And those bugs and slowdowns sadly continue.

Iron Harvest has a great dieselpunk aesthetic going for it. There’s a lot of care that went into the look and feel of the game, and it really shows. But this effort is somewhat squandered by mediocre story, poor optimisation, bugs, and dragged-out, unfair campaign missions.

I can only really recommend this to RTS fans, but apart from the story and setting, there’s really not much here that hasn’t been done elsewhere and much better.

Iron Harvest: Operation Eagle

For: PC

Rating: ⭐⭐+

 - Michael Robertson

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