Our mission to save your race continues! After liberating your home planet from the Alien invaders it’s time for retribution. You’ll take command of the Libra II class space carrier and take on the enemy empire in this real time space strategy game. Build fleets, take over planets, research new technologies, fight the enemy and win! Blue Libra II introduces a number of improvements over its predecessor, amongst them the highly anticipated multiplayer mode.
What We Think:
It’s not Blue Libra II’s fault that it just happened to follow on the heels of Torchlight II, nor can it be blamed for coming across my desk about two days after I started to get back into multiplayer FPS. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it didn’t take a little bit of personal effort to tear myself away from shooting people in a shiny, high-budget military shooter which shall remain nameless in order to play a low-budget RTS that looks a bit, well, amateurish in comparison.
So I’d resolved to be as fair as possible to Blue Libra II. I would judge it, I pledged, based on its own merits, not in comparison to other unrelated, albeit much fancier, games. Like the parents who try extra hard to make sure one child doesn’t feel less loved—even though his brother’s a varsity wrestler and his sister made the Dean’s list again — I promised Blue Libra II a fair and impartial hearing.
I was a little surprised, therefore, to find that I actually kind of like the game. I admit to a bit of apprehension when I first launched it. There was a splash screen for Orator Games (the developer), and then a menu that looked a little bit like the side of an arcade cabinet from around 1983. You know, that sort of too-digital font, lots of primary colors, a vague suggestion of Tron. I seem to remember a grid—“grid” meant “computers” in the 1980s—but I could be wrong.
At first I had no idea what I was doing. Not like the game was too complicated; I actually didn’t know where I was supposed to click. There was a map of planets. Each one had a sort of ring around it. Thanks to the glow effect that’s present in most of the game, I couldn’t tell that one of the rings was different. After some clicking, I managed to hit the right one. Turns out that was the starting level, luckily for me.
Also note, that on the version tested for iPod, the ships would get hidden under the tutorial text and thus impossible to select in order to move the tutorial forward, something that the devs will hopefully address in an update.
Blue Libra II pretty much takes the idea of the “zerg rush” and makes it a core game mechanic. If you’re not familiar, the zerg rush comes from another space RTS—the mother of them all, really—called Starcraft. Essentially, the idea is to swarm your enemies with masses of cheap units as soon as you can. The idea is that you can overwhelm them with sheer numbers. It’s a little like the movie Zulu, or Aliens. Well, here things are pretty much set up to make that happen almost automatically.
You see, one of the interesting things about the game is that everything is constantly building units: planets, your capital ship (the eponymous Blue Libra herself), space stations — everything makes something, at a constant rate. You have to actually stop things from building units, otherwise they’ll just crank out fighters, or destroyers, or what-have-you until they run out of resources. Since resources pretty much make themselves, it becomes more of an issue of deciding what to build, capturing planets and stations (which produce units) before the other guy, and hitting that critical mass where you’re going to overwhelm the enemy with ships, given enough time. It’s like they took the RTS genre, boiled it down, and made the simplest, most condensed version of it they could.
You can improve various aspects of your fleet, like how fast ships fly, how quickly you can capture things, etc. At its core, though, Blue Libra II is a game that is designed to remind you of the golden age of RTS, when you could learn how to play one game (say Starcraft) and seamlessly move to Age of Empires with barely a hiccup.
Around the sixth level I started to wonder if I was doing something wrong by simply building hordes of cheap fighters and swarming the enemy. I’d forgotten about research entirely, and dutifully began buying skills at the end of the level. At that point I was basically just waiting for the enemy to die, so I was looking for something to keep my mind occupied anyway. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience. There was something pretty appealing about cranking out hordes of tiny ships and sending them, wave after wave, to harass and overwhelm.
In fact, the mechanics of the game are part of the interest; an interesting (and suspiciously tablet-friendly) mechanic whereby you click on the fleet of interest and draw, freehand, the path you’d like it to travel, a little reminiscent of Galcon Fusion HD. Sure it’s a gimmick, but it works really well — I’ve wanted to see something like that in the Total War series for years.
On the other hand, the size difference between the ships means that it’s extraordinarily difficult to select the Blue Libra if any of your other ships are nearby or in production. Since they take off of the top of the flagship, you’re bound to click on one instead. Eventually I just stopped building ships if I wanted to move my big bruiser, which I hope was not the intended result.
So I haven’t finished my campaign of revenge against the alien invaders who’ve overrun the universe yet. I find I enjoy Blue Libra II most in small bursts, and so I haven’t completed the campaign yet. Still, I suspect I will. There isn’t a heck of a lot of depth here, really, but there isn’t much depth to checkers, corn hole, or Battlefield 3, and I enjoy playing those a great deal.
There’s something to be said for distilling the RTS experience down to its most basic elements. It’s not a game that I’ll think about much when I’m not playing, but I can definitely see myself firing it up for a quick round or two. With some of the truly amazing titles that are being released, indie and otherwise, I’m surprised to find that there’s still room on my gaming horizon for such a garage-band, just-the-basics RTS. But, I’m happy to say that Blue Libra II was a pleasant surprise.