Version Reviewed: 1.02
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Trenches is no run-of-the-mill strategy game. Set in World War I, Trenches features real-time battles in which you command the British troops in their quest to vanquish the Germans. On the surface it seems simple enough, but the well-balanced units, an adaptive enemy AI, and the sheer fun involved here make it a great strategy title. Unfortunately, there are some downsides to the game; the difficulty of moving large numbers of troops, the limited campaign mode, and the small scope of the game in general make Trenches feel like it could be so much more.
Each battle has your troops on the left, and the enemy on the right; the goal is to reach the other side of the screen. To spawn troops, you spend "credits" that are earned by killing soldiers or simply waiting. Troops are controlled by drawing lines (think Flight Control!), though they will advance of their own accord. There are trenches and barbed wire placed on the field, which can be used to further your strategy: hunker down in trenches, and attack the enemy while they're exposed to the barbed wire.
The units range from snipers, infantry, and mortars to bombs and poison gas. Artillery is expensive and only strikes once—but it'll decimate any nearby troops in an instant. Basic infantry units, however, are super-cheap and make for great rifle fodder. All unit types need to be utilized, because your enemy is oh-so-willing to take advantage of your carelessness. Got all of your troops huddled together in one trench? Too bad; you're about to get a giant bomb dropped on you. The enemy AI rarely exhibits stupidity.
The Campaign mode is fun while it lasts and you can play through on three difficulty levels, but it's really just a tutorial. The heart of the game is meant to be the Skirmish mode. Here, you fight single battles. The usual easy/medium/hard levels are here, but there's also an adaptive AI setting. In this mode, the computer adapts to your tactics, which results in an ever-changing challenge. It's a terrific addition, and goes a long way towards enhancing replayability. Also, should you beat Campaign mode, you'll unlock the Zombie skirmish mode...in which the Germans are replaced by zombies! From there, you must struggle to survive as long as possible until the horde inevitably overwhelms you.
Overall, the controls work well, but one of my problems is that moving large numbers of troops is difficult. You can shake the device to call a retreat, but there's no way to mass-select groups of troops. This is supposed to be addressed in the coming update. Production values are also good; the cartoony graphics and sound effects are both solid. OpenFeint integration brings achievements. Humor sprinkled throughout turns the gritty atmosphere of war.
I found Trenches to be a lot of fun, but whether or not this holds replay value is up to you. The main problem here is that there's no direction to the game; while Skirmish mode can be both challenging and fun, there's no sense of progression other than the OpenFeint achievements. The good news? Thunder Works Games is hard at work on updates. The next one is said to include new min-game modes such as Capture the Flag and King of the Trench as well as extending ways to play the campaign. What we have so far, however, is still good. The simple fight to reach one side of the screen is made much more complex by well-balanced units, and the game is simply well designed. Trenches is an excellent RTS (real-time strategy) game with no direct goals to urge you onward. If that sounds fine to you, go ahead—give it a try.