Developer: Xpressed
Price: 0.99 (Introductory Sale)
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★☆☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★★★
iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★★☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★☆☆
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Hardcore fans of the strategy genre have been overjoyed by one of the newest entries to the App Store arena, and with good reason: UniWar has made its debut! So what’s the buzz about? UniWar is a turn-based strategy game, but more importantly, it’s a feature-packed turn-based strategy game complete with online play, and it’s priced for a dollar. Yep, you heard me: one dollar. Even though it doesn’t offer much in the way of innovation, the execution is phenomenal; I’d even say that it tops similar DS games, which retail for $30+, and it doesn’t have much competition in the App Store.

img_000112The price made me suspicious at first. A dollar! Surely nobody would release a complex game for a dollar…I thought that developers were moving away from that nonsense. But despite my apprehensions, I clicked that “BUY IT” button, and UniWar was definitely a worthwhile purchase. If you’re a fan of strategy games at all, buy it. Now. That’s all you need to know.

If you need a bit more justification before purchasing, allow me to explain what UniWar actually is.You play as one of three races (just like genre mainstays such as Advance Wars), and your goal is to capture all of the enemy’s bases while defending your own. Combat and maneuvering are turn-based, and as the genre title suggests, strategy is a must. You won’t see anything exceptionally new here, so veterans will be able to jump in immediately.

With each passing turn, your bases generate credits that can be used to beef up your army, which is composed of individual units. The units are dependent on which race you’re playing. The humans Sapiens, for example, can have Marines, Tanks, Helicopters, among others. Regardless of the label applied to the unit, they’re classed as Ground Light, Ground Heavy, Aerial, or Aquatic. While it’s your turn, you can maneuver your units around the map, order them to attack, repair them, and so on; some units have special abilities, but the tutorial/campaign walks you through things nicely.

img_000313Controls are simple, and I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say that they work. Click on a unit to select it, click somewhere to move, etc. The game also supports both landscape and portrait orientations, which is a boon if you’ve got bigger fingers. (I like portrait mode myself.)

The general gameplay is solid. I’m personally a (not-exactly-talented) fan of turn-based strategy games, and Uniwar is certainly a classic one. It neatly masters the “just give me one more turn!” sensation that’s key to games like these, and there are plenty of play modes: Campaign Mode (an extended tutorial/scenario-based campaign), Solo Mode (basically freeplay), and VS Play (local multiplayer). But what separates Uniwar from its fellows on the iPhone is its online play mode, which is a valuable option not found in many games.

The UniWar servers are already thriving just days after the game’s release. You can play anonymously, but I highly recommend creating an account, because you’ll be able to manage up to a whopping twenty games at once. UniWar also features email updates, which help you manage all of those games. (Unfortunately, I’ve kept mine turned off, since managing the emails themselves gets to be a ridiculous task if you’re juggling too many games. UniWar doesn’t combine messages, and the Mail app doesn’t support message threading.) The online mode supports plenty of options—all the maps are unlocked, and you can pick your race, the number of starting credits, etc. Games are usually drawn out over a few days, as most players don’t sit around waiting for you to take your turn.

img_000113Playing with the asynchronous multiplayer greatly extends the life of the game—particularly because the computer AI has no scalable difficulty. It’ll be interesting to see if the devs include an option in a later update, but there’s no word so far. Some players have found the AI challenging; others found it too easy; and others were simply satisfied. Personally, as a genre fan whose strategies could nevertheless use a lot of refinement, I thought that the AI was very easy in Solo mode, while the Campaign mode provides much more of a challenge as the missions progress.

UniWar has other flaws besides the single-level AI. The user interface seems a bit tacky—to enter text, you have to go to a different typing screen, and the arrows on multipage screens (like the map select screen) don’t work; instead, you have to swipe to see the next page. The game lags while the enemy takes its turn, and the different maps for solo mode have to be unlocked one by one. The game’s insistence on unlocking maps and the fact that you can’t skip the early missions in Campaign Mode is particularly annoying for seasoned players. Also, the total lack of innovation is somewhat disappointing; some novel unit abilities or a map editor would have made UniWar more unique.

In terms of presentation, UniWar is good, but not great. The graphics are simple, though they’re the best I’ve seen in a game like this on the iPhone; I found them slightly underwhelming but serviceable. The audio, meanwhile, consists mainly of simple sound effects, but it’s not overly annoying.

But all told, UniWar is a deep, addicting strategy title that’s sure to please anyone with even a faint interest in games of this type, and it’s earned a permanent spot on my iPod. Whether you want it for the online play, the local multiplayer, or simply the solo missions, UniWar will provide hours of entertainment for every aspiring conqueror out there. The current (insane) price of $0.99 will disappear after the introductory sale, and the developers say that it’s scheduled to rise steadily until it hits the “normal” price of $7.99—all the more reason to go for that impulse buy!

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