As one trawls through the hundreds of thousands of games that are released on Steam every year, one becomes increasingly aware of the universal adage that is Sturgeon’s Revelation: 90% of everything is rubbish. And indeed, on Steam this revelation is in full force. Though, it isn’t quite as simple as declaring everything in that 90% as “bad” and moving on. There’s degrees of rubbishness, from “absolute rubbish”, to “interesting and perhaps with some niche appeal but ultimately still rubbish”. And then there’s the category which the vast majority of games into which some modicum of effort has been put will likely fall into: the “just OK” category.
Today’s game, WARSAW, is a classic example of the latter. Released a few days ago by Pixelated Milk and published by Gaming Company (I kid you not, that is actually the publisher’s name), it’s a mix of turn-based strategy and top-down exploration set against the backdrop of the failed 1944 Polish Revolution during the Second World War. Your job is to maintain the Revolution’s momentum while carrying out strikes against the Nazis occupying the city with your small teams of dedicated volunteers. This, I must admit, is a pretty nice premise for a game. Like a somewhat more targeted version of This War of Mine, it provides an opportunity to shine an interesting light onto perhaps a lesser-known story of WWII, something which as a former student of legal history I can really appreciate and which I applaud the developers for.
It’s just a crying shame, therefore, that the rest of the game is as unremarkable as it is. The basic gameplay when in missions is that you control a circular representation of your team exploring the streets of Warsaw and carrying out objectives, for instance making your way to certain locations, taking out a certain number of enemy patrols, etc. Occasionally, you’ll be drawn into combat with various Nazi forces stationed around the city, during which you and the enemies occupy a “two-lane” battlefield and take it in turns to take potshots at each other. Outside of missions, you have to maintain your forces and supplies as well as recruit new fighters with what supplies you’ve managed to scavenge.
I’ve seen this game’s combat compared to Darkest Dungeon, and part of me wonders whether, if I instead played that game, I would be missing much by not playing this one. The combat is turn-based, but the way it works is that you get a certain number of “activations” per turn, depending on the number of people in your party, and which skills you can activate depends on how much ammo and Stamina your character has. What this means is that if you end up facing off against a party that’s bigger than yours, it’s basically a given you’re going to lose at least one party member because you can’t heal at the same rate the enemy can damage you. The game does suggest on occasion that it is better to avoid combat, but it’s never a good sign when I actively try and do so in a game. Not because I stand to lose something from it, but because the entire mechanic is more of a chore than it needs to be, to the point that when I ended up in my third round of combat in the entire game, I was already groaning “Oh no, not more combat…”
I won’t have it said that it’s “bad” though, because it’s not. It’s just a bit by-the-numbers. Besides the two-layer field, there’s nothing about it that makes it shine particularly brightly. The different characters you can have in your team have different broad “classes” which are just about as archetypal as they can get. Some people are sharpshooters. Others are heavy weapons guys. Some are healers. Each class has special skills too, for instance there is a healing skill, grenade skill, long-shot skill… and yet none of them are worthy of note. It probably would’ve been possible to overcome this by making the combat at least feel nice, but alas, while WARSAW’s combat is functional, its genericness kind of undermines the fun that it does provide. I repeat that it’s not bad, not by any stretch of the imagination, in fact on a good day one could describe it as quite fun to a degree, it’s just that I could probably get more or less the exact same experience just by picking a random game of a similar genre in the Google Play store on my phone.
Another thing that’s lamentably average about this game is the music. A game can be made or broken by its music – an example being the Spyro Reignited Trilogy which I reviewed recently, in which the music fit the game fantastically and was very much a part of the experience which made the game just that much better. WARSAW’s music, for better or for worse, does neither. The soundtrack is made up entirely of forgettable piano loops which honestly sound a bit like the devs found them on a royalty-free site and plopped them in, hoping it’d give the game a bit of sentimentality. I pretty much tuned the music out in my mind while I was playing this game, it wasn’t memorable in any way and didn’t do the setting or gameplay any real justice. When your combat music sound exactly the same as both your home-base music and your exploration music, then it’s probably time to put a bit more effort into your sound design.
WARSAW is, I must stress yet again, not a bad game. In fact, it’s moreorless alright, even perhaps kind of good on a good day, but generally speaking “not bad” is all I could really say about it. There just isn’t that much reason to actually play it if you aren’t a massive fan of games of its type because it just doesn’t do enough to stand out. The premise is interesting and the gameplay is solid, but by and large it’s not all that original or interesting,either. It’s honestly a shame, because the 1944 Polish Revolution is such an interesting premise with a lot of untapped potential for storytelling, and yet the game itself squanders that potential almost entirely by not being overly creative. If you asked me to tell you one thing I could get out of this game that I couldn’t get out of similar games like, say, Valkyria Chronicles or This War of Mine, I would genuinely struggle a bit because this game, from what I can see, is trying perhaps a bit too hard to be like those games – or more specifically it’s trying to be WWII Darkest Dungeon/XCOM. As the late TotalBiscuit once said, if you want to stand out from “the other 90%”, then that’s simply not enough anymore. Perhaps if you enjoy this sort of game you’ll get something out of it but personally speaking, WARSAW didn’t blow me away. It’s the sort of game that I would play for a few minutes, think “eh, this is alright”, then never play again. Ultimately, it’s not as enjoyable as I’d want it to be, especially given its subject matter. Something inside me tells me that this game might have worked better as a mobile or tablet game than as a PC game, the controls are suited to that kind of format and you’d likely find a bit more of an audience there.