So, what if you took Company of Heroes and slapped some mechs onto it? Well, that’s pretty much what sold me on Iron Harvest, the latest offering from KING Art. The studio is mostly known for their point-and-click games, so one has to wonder how that transfers to an RTS. Well, as a fan of Company of Heroes and the setting they went for here, I had to give it a look.
Excellent aesthetic and setting. I’m gonna start this review off with what originally brought me to this game: it’s aesthetic. If you’ve ever played or seen the board game Scythe, the same artist lent his talent here in Iron Harvest. In fact, the two share the same universe, that being an alternate 1920s Polish-Soviet War with mechs. The game pretty much already had me at alternate history 1920s, but mechs on top of that just makes it even better.
When you add onto that setting the excellent art, you’ve got quite the package, one that is dark, gritty, and honestly one of the coolest I’ve seen for an RTS. Sure, the graphics aren’t really pushing any boundaries here, but I gotta give the game some credit for taking such a cool setting and really embracing it, giving me a ton of cool wallpapers in the process.
Cool campaign mode. Usually, with RTS games, I try out the campaign, but ultimately end up spending most of my time in skirmish and multiplayer. Iron Harvest is one of the few I’ve played where I actually did the reverse. Not only is the campaign an excellent teaching tool, but it’s got quite some effort put into it. This isn’t just a campaign thrown together as a series of skirmish matches, there’s a full-length story told from three different perspectives with cutscenes and actual writing to back it up.
The levels can have you do anything from escorting an artillery train across the map to finding and rescuing citizens in the middle of a city-wide battle between two factions. There’s a good amount of variety to go around and it didn’t feel like I was simply repeating the same mission type over and over like a lot of other RTS games end up doing with their campaigns. And while the writing may not be the best I’ve seen, it was fine for what it was and was nice a complement to the gameplay.
Slow and clunky gameplay. Okay, so I did just praise the game’s campaign mode, but the overall gameplay is ultimately brought down by just how slow and clunky it is. This is the kind of RTS where you’re going to be spending more time building, moving, and managing units than actually taking down enemies and completing objectives. It takes forever to kill things, takes forever to move anywhere, and by the time you actually get in combat, all you do is hit right click and wait, there’s not a whole lot to do after the fact.
The game attempts to break up this monotony with unit abilities, but you usually get one per unit and most of them are situational, so the most I would end up doing while in combat was shuffling around units for better positioning. What makes it worse though is how clunky it is. It’s hard to describe, but the combat just doesn’t quite “feel” right. For example, managing multiple units can be a bit of pain, with units constantly getting stuck on the terrain, pushing each other around, and taking the most awkward path to get to where I want them to go. The pathfinding in particular is terrible, as the game does not appear to calculate for moving multiple units, instead just clumping them all together and slowing down the whole pack in the process.
Given that, you’re kinda forced to micromanage a little, which can be a bit of a pain when you have a bunch of units fighting in one small area, and even more of a pain if you’re trying to get each unit to cooperate with the game’s dodgy cover mechanic. The overall gameplay is just not intuitive, and it felt like I was spending more time wrestling with units and movement then actually playing the game.
Lack of depth and substance. So, this is kind of an extension of the previous con. Not only is the gameplay slow and clunky, but it’s also lacking in depth. This is perhaps most noticeable with the base building side to the game, which, for an RTS, is laughable. You get your HQ, your barracks, your workshop, and that’s pretty much it. Sure, you can build cover using engineers or deploy an aid station as a medic, but compared to what we usually get from RTS games, Iron Harvest offers the bare minimum.
The same could be said for resource management. You’ve got your mines and your oil pumps. That’s it, that’s the extent of resource gathering. And you can’t even build these, there’s a limited number per map that you fight for control over.
The sheer simplicity of these mechanics, along with the game’s straightforward combat, leads me to believe that this is a game rushed out of development and released unfinished. In fact, it pretty much was as it launched without its advertised co-op mode and has a roadmap laid out for its first several weeks. Now, I don’t know about you, but an RTS launching without advertised features and having a roadmap just doesn’t sit right with me. At the time of writing, the co-op mode has been added, but ranked lobbies, leaderboards, and even something simple like being able to auto-cast abilities are all not present.
Subpar AI. Now I wouldn’t say that the AI is necessarily terrible here, but it has a bunch of issues that need to be noted. Perhaps the most glaring of these would be its inability to properly use cover. It wasn’t uncommon for an AI unit to run right up to my cover, take cover on the other side of it, and then proceed to send half of its force over the other side to take cover on the same side as my unit. Granted, I have a hard time with the game’s cover mechanic myself, but you would think the AI would be smart enough to know not to take cover alongside my own units.
That’s not the only issue though. The AI also likes to leave units standing still while I bombard them, will watch me capture its buildings right in front of it without doing anything, and behaves in such a predictable manner that it really removes a lot of the challenge. Sure, I can ramp up the difficulty, but when the AI repeatedly sends the same units, from the same direction, to attack the same building over and over, it does become a bit easy to work around.
Iron Harvest may have a great aesthetic and setting going for it, but the gameplay is slow, clunky, and lacks the depth necessary to compete with other RTS games. It feels like a game rushed out of development, which is evident in the fact that it already has a roadmap and is still implementing features. Given that, perhaps this may be a game that I end up recommending in the future once its been fixed up a bit, but as it stands, it’s just not worth it.
You can buy Iron Harvest on Steam here.
I was provided a review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.