Developer: Hothead Games
Price: Free
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad 2, iPhone 5

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★½☆
Gameplay Rating: ½☆☆☆☆
Playtime: Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Replay Value Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Hothead Games’ Rivals at War starts off with an incredibly intriguing premise: it turns the kind of 6 on 6 team deathmatch modern FPS games into a strategy game, where players must load out their team and control the entire team in battle, hopefully leading them to victory against their opponent, who is a real player. Players can sign up for campaigns to compete in battles against others to try and achieve glory and earn great rewards. This seems like a really cool game idea, right? Hothead Games has come up with a real winner!

Except instead of doing that game I just described, Hothead Games has come up with an app where the player simply turns the crank and feeds the ‘game’ money in order to achieve a very empty satisfaction. Welcome to Rivals at War, the game that barely is a game.

The whole thing is card-based, with cards for different soldiers, stat upgrades, and tactical boosts. Other than configuring the initial loadout, the player has literally no control of what will happen in battle. The game just makes the player watch while everything else happens. Thankfully, the battles can be skipped, which takes some of the interest out of it, but why watch most of the time?

The battles give players coins, which are spent on healing warriors, and buying new card packs, which contain upgrades and new soldiers. Now, most of the really good card packs cost bucks, which pretty much require spending money to get. And later unit types can be unlocked using bucks. So yeah, this is definitely a game where he who spends the most will do the best.

This game has the exact same problem as the Big Win sports games, which is that by taking everything about the actual game out of the player’s hands, it winds up being, well, pointless. And the battles are uninteresting to watch too. The sad thing is that it works for Hothead because they keep cranking these out. Apparently all it takes nowadays is to put forth an interesting premise, and then provide the absolute minimum in making it work. No interaction needed! Why have game designers been working so hard, it’s all so unnecessary!

I question whether it’s a game at all. It’s basically just a gussied-up random number generator where players can pay to change the input values. There’s practically no emotional connection to be made here at all. So here’s my recommendation: don’t waste your time or money on Rivals at War. Free to play games can be better than this. Supporting this will only encourage companies to create lazier experiences like this. Because that’s what this feels like: a lazy attempt to make a strategy game with an interesting concept without actually doing so.

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