Real Time Strategy (RTS) titles like Iron Harvest on Console are a rare beast. And even rarer is a Console RTS that has a control and user interface (UI) system, which isn’t a finger twisting nightmare on a controller. But it can be done. Halo Wars and Sudden Strike 4 have nailed the UI in an RTS for Console gamers, and Iron Harvest…almost did.
Set in an alternate history Europe, circa 1920s. With the coutries of the time like Poland and Russia, being renamed to be similar…but different. And at the center of this particular version of 1900s warfare, is diesel-punk mechanised war machines. There are all shapes and sizes. Nimble bipedal beasts, capable of tearing across the battlefield like a Star Wars AT-ST or six legged behemoths that carry huge artillery guns on their backs and even massive airships to support the ground units. You name it, there is a diesel powered machine in this game. It’s very impressive.
And Airships are cool.
It’s an awesome premise for an RTS and one of the main reasons I was so interested in this game. The other being that Iron Harvest is one of the few true successes of ‘kickstarter’. First coming out in 2020 on PC, it received super-solid reviews. Now it has found its way to next gen console. The Complete Edition on PS5 is loaded with content, with all the expansions and campaigns that have been released over the last 12 months. Literally hours and hours on content then bolstered by Multi-player as well.
I have not covered it all, but I have played the main story campaign. I was pleasantly surprised by the standard of the story and characters. Especially considering this is a RTS focused on iron-clan death dealing machines. The human story at the games core, is about a ‘Joan of Arc-esque’ girl, who comes to lead a rag-tag group of Polania resistance fighters. While also trying to save her genius father from the hands of the evil occupying Rusivet army.
We’ve been here before.
Each nation in Europe has its own campaign to play through with a great variety of missions. The mission structure and RTS unit development gameplay loop is identical to other RTS’s that have come before. In essence it is a traditional close combat RTS, akin to Company of Heroes in scale of combat arenas and unit management. The diesel-punk units and setting are a fresh take for the genre, but the underlying systems. Like resource gathering, base development and unit production is the same as any RTS I have played in the last 15 years.
It could be argued, If it ain’t broke… and all that. But if a game is going to crib from the best in the space from the last few years. Then the important lessons already learnt by those who came before, should also be adopted. Company of Heroes, granted is PC only, has one of the finest balances of in-game units in a RTS of this squad scale, combat space. And Halo Wars created the must-use template for RTS controls on controller. Unfortunately, Iron Harvest did not use either of them as guiding lights respectively.
Careful how you tread.
Iron Harvest is still great fun, even if the all important controller integration is less than intuitive. Base building, enemy targeting and use of cooldowns is very manageable without mouse and keyboard. Baffling to me though, was the simple decision of the camera being inverted. Its control on the x-axis is the opposite of all other RTS’s I have played on console, with no way to change it in options. Crazy. This meant the first hour or more of play was me re-learning my camera controls.
The diesel-mechs are the star of the show. With various sizes and shapes to be developed as the base grows. At Iron Harvest’s heart is the well proven Rock, Paper, Scissors units system. So planning is key….a certain “strategy” you could say. But the punishment for the wrong strategy is high. As the game has a very unfriendly check-point system. Before attempting a big push, the strategic minded gamer will do a quick-save. Only prudent. But the save only goes back to the most recent checkpoint which in some cases for me where 15 or 20 minutes in the past. So, a failed push will result in a massive penalty in my time, resource gathering and development. This was at times…hugely frustrating.
Some good looking beasts.
Graphically the maps and machines are awesome. When the hulking metal beasts blow through a wall and debris flies, it looks great. The Campaign cutscenes and English voice work however leaves a lot to be desired. I would hate to even take a guess at the resolution and framerate of them, but it would not be good. There is a UI and text scale option in settings to increase the UI size is a nice get, as that is often a major issue when PC games migrate to console, the UI is too small for couch-gaming. Downside is that the UI design ends up obscuring units making selection of them a bit tricky.
But when all is said and done, I still really enjoyed Iron Harvest. RTS’s are rare on Console, so some allowances need to be made to have the opportunity to crash out on the couch and play a deep strategy title. It is still a fascinating setting, with great map and unit design and lets face it…Mechs are just freaking awesome.