KING Art Games’ ambitious real-time strategy game Iron Harvest has been released and successfully combines classic RTS gameplay with an interesting and unexplored setting. Here is our review, based on the PC version. The game is also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
We actually first laid eyes on Iron Harvest almost exactly a year ago, when we met with the developer at Gamescom. Besides their claim that they were going to bring back classic RTS gaming they also announced their release date: 1.9.20 – a date derived from the fact that Iron Harvest takes place in an alternate reality version of 1920 dubbed 1920+, a world conceived by artist Jakub Różalski.
It’s a world not too unlike our own (if you went back in time about 100 years), where nations are struggling to recover from a Great War and we focus on three sovereign nations that mimic some familiar names: the Saxony, the Rusviet and Polonia. There’s conflict between them, but although things look like they would have in our own version of 1920 they also have access to something that – to this day – we don’t, and that’s hulking mechs. They’re not the futuristic type we see so often in games, but metallic beasts that give the game a steampunk-like aesthetic whenever they’re on screen.
Each nation has their own mechs, aligning with their preferred tactical approach, giving them an increased sense of identity. Where one nation’s mechs are highly mobile, another’s will focus more on firepower, with a third preferring melee-type combat. Because every mission can be tackled in a number of ways (with optional objectives that can help you through a risk-reward mechanic that gives you reinforcements), this makes for some good gameplay diversity and replayability – even in single player.
Each nation has its own storyline in the single player mode, and the story-driven approach (complete with cutscenes) makes you care about the characters you’re playing with – especially during the early missions where it’s all about small squads and not strength in numbers. Story delivery is done through cutscenes and voiceovers, but even though the in-game environments look gorgeous and detailed the animations in the cutscenes hold the narrative back a little. I realize these mechs are supposed to move in a somewhat clunky way, but it’s done to a point where it almost feels like the animation is glitching. The voicework is nothing more than decent either, even though they’re a major part of the world-building experience in the game.
As someone who’s more interested in the single player campaign of RTS games than its multiplayer aspects, I thought Iron Harvest was great in giving me something I hadn’t seen in quite a while – a story campaign that was more than just a series of mission objectives. Sure, the delivery isn’t as impactful as it is in some of the classics in the genre, but I stayed interested throughout and would definitely enjoy more time in 1920+.
Having said that, I did dip into the multiplayer portion of the game as well, and found a nicely balanced experience. The developers have spent a large amount of time gathering feedback from players pre-release, and it clearly pays off – something I have no doubt has also benefited the single player mode, where no one approach seems superior to the other one either. During one playthrough I was tempted to go for a few mechs that I was able to repair and put to good use, while during another I completely disregarded them and still came out successful thanks to some guerilla tactics.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that if you’re looking for a classic RTS experience Iron Harvest is more like the year 2005-experience of Company of Heroes than the 1995-experience of Command & Conquer, with relatively little emphasis on base building and resource gathering, even though you still have the ability to crank out your very own mechs from a mech factory.
Besides the mech angle Iron Harvest 1920+ doesn’t do anything drastically new in terms of gameplay, but the world of 1920+ is one of the most interesting takes on the RTS in a long time and the gameplay is well balanced and allows for plenty of replayability. Definitely a solid recommendation for classic RTS fans.