Quantum Collapse RTS in Review – Wiping the Haha from the face of humanity

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Quantum Collapse is humbly dubbed by its creator, “the best RTS game for Iphone”, and it may well be, depending on how well-done you like your war games. Rather than the mystical RTS championed by Warcraft and others of its ilk, Quantum Collapse is characterised by hard machined lines: guns, missiles and explosions which were pioneered in the genre’s most prolific forefather of them all: Dune II, and its clone, Command and Conquer. Owing more to Grand-dad, Quantum Collapse faces you, the Administrator, with the challenge of saving humanity from the fearsome alien race, the Haha.

Real Time Strategy games, unlike turn-based games like Civilisation have no other purpose than war. Thus, each mission in Quantum Collapse depends on a fight of some sort. Whether escorting a unit, holding the fort, or supplying a massive invasion force, your job is to fight.

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At your disposal are a host of military units, buildings, commands, ‘spells’ – in fact, this iPhone title gives some miserly RTS games from yesteryear a run for their money. But great units are nothing without a great gameplay system to back it up. Unfortunately, that is where Quantum Collapse fails; its controls, AI, deployment, and a host of navigation actions are just short of optimal, and sometimes, horrid.

Presentation
Quantum Collapse has some very good graphics; and it has some very bad graphics. Where its engine excels is in rendering explosions, firepower and particle effects. Xeron, your fuel and one of the only two manageable resources (the other is power) is an intense blue-white dynamic blob. But, it is bettered by the wild explosions and ‘spell’ effects which are triggered by easter eggs, military buildings such as turrets, and attack units, the best of which is the ponderous Atlas. While properly strategising is preferable, zooming in to watch first hand as your pieces are torn apart is great fun. Afterwards, the carnage is clearly visible as ‘bodies’ don’t disappear, but become a part of the environment.

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However, apart from explosions, Quantum Collapse is quite plain. Buildings and units are typical utilitarian fare, but are highly pixelised when zooming in. Since I’ve played the RTS genre since Dune II, I am not worried blocky units; what does bother me is the landscape. Mountains, fissures, beds and plains – Quantum Collapse is a melange of differing terrain for the user. The problem is that much of it is indistinguishable. Mountains and fissures are especially hard to suss out, but plains’ elevation differences are sometimes impossible to spot. Since the graphics are completely sprite-based, zooming in will not really help you. You might just figure out that what you thought was a mountain, is actually a ‘lake’ as your unit suddenly drops in and slowly wades about.

Purdy, ain't it?

Purdy, ain't it?

Quantum Collapse features a hand-drawn back story which will appeal to some players and annoy others. It is a tad juvenile, but when combined with a ‘meh’ text, it is something to skip. In the same strain, any text in the game is tiny – enough so, that reading the story, mission debriefs and in-game easter eggs is tiring. Buttons too, are small and sometimes hard to ‘push’.

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Doesn’t sound too bad does it? Not really. Shoddy puns aside, both what I like and dislike about Quantum’s sound is that there isn’t any. Effects? Sure, many. But, no music. This means that users can bop to Aha as they blast the Haha through the game’s campaign. But, the Norwegians don’t fit the mood; at least, not exactly. Neither does Armin or Madeleine Peyroux. Changing tracks in the middle of the game is also not yet possible, so be prepared to enjoy silent running.

Gameplay
While the above is just a commentary on the game’s cosmetics, the backbone of any RTS is how it plays. Quantum is surprisingly better than I thought it could be. Though not beautiful, a positive consequence of the simply tattooed environments and units is fluidity. This RTS cuts through mechanical problems which the iDevice might be up against with a better-looking graphics engine. You can zoom in and out, further than any other game I have played on any platform. Carnage from on high or from the blocky feet of your fallen soldier, any perspective is possible, and in the end, smoothly rendered.

You can get closer, but why?

You can get closer, but why?

In a few other reviews, Quantum’s tap interface has received some knocks, but I would like to show my support for what I reckon is a truly innovative control scheme. Every unit is selected by a single tap, or in the case of group, via gestures. On the iPhone’s 3,5 inch screen, I can see no better method for selection and deployment; Javier’s system just works. However, it suffers several hiccoughs: when deploying a unit in a crowded venue, your command may be mistaken for the selection of a different unit. Thus, it is necessary to zoom in and out of the map to accurately deploy a unit to a free zone.

The other hiccough is with AI. Units which move to a populated area can ‘push’ other units out of the way. Imagine a small human engineer pushing the monstrous armoured Atlas vehicle across a screen. It happens often with every mobile unit and can be disastrously effective in wiping out large portions of an army who are strategically placed.

The final hiccough is with pathfinding. Units’ AI is at times, atrocious. Units often move past their intended destinations, or head in the opposite direction. While the latter can be understood if there is an environmental block, its occurrence is not accompanied by any obstacles. When many units are in a built-up area, they get lost or ‘stuck’ and become redundant far too easily. Pathfinding is just poorly implemented.

Fortunately, interacting with units, including queuing and activating special commands is generally great. A single tap will reveal what extra commands are available and then, a pop-up menu will allow you to do some smart attacking, researching, or whatever diabolical thing you have up your sleeve. Sometimes however, ‘buttons’ don’t activate, so it may be necessary to repeat the same process over and over.

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Difficulty
I start most games in the easiest mode available, unless there is no learning curve. Again, inept gaming on my part has kept me from moving exploring too much. Medium is playable, but I would advise in testing the waters of Quantum before settling on a difficulty for your campaign.

Quantum’s tutorial section is great! Basically, you will be run through a handful of missions, some of which take an hour or so to complete, in order to learn the basics of the game. In that time, you will receive a brilliant crash-course in units, buildings, mission types and gestures. It is one of the better tutorial systems I have encountered among RTS games, and especially on portable platforms.

Capturing the RTS feel
Suffering through poor AI and frustrating pathfinding may down your spirits, but, an RTS game is also built upon the frantic pillars of pace, frenetic building, attack and balance. Quantum deals all in spades to its customers. Building units is done in a couple of clicks and you can set buildings to produce offspring to be sent anywhere. Targeting is great, fighting rocks, and pace is nearly perfect. The builder units are a tad expensive and slow the game down a bit. You are also not really able to establish more than one base – an item which forestalls quick-conquering the enemy, but in the end, is forgivable.

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Conclusion
So how does Quantum Collapse compare to other iPhone RTS games? Quite well, to say the least. But, it will depend more on your expectations than its own merits whether it is the platform’s best RTS. My own vote is yes, but that does not mean that in its present state, Quantum Collapse is a grab. No matter how good the tutorial is and its great selection of units, Quantum is a fun, but frustrating experience. Why do units sometimes run in the opposite direction? Why do they go past their instructed stop-zone? In the same vein, pathfinding is disastrous, especially when coupled with the ‘pushing’ bug. Add to that an uninspiring graphical topography and unit-design, Quantum Solace is a frustrating mix of good intentions and poor design.

In its current form, Quantum Collapse is unworthy of a grab, slinking from our base with a Tap.

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App Summary
Title:Quantum Collapse (v1.1)Developer:Javier Davalos
Price:$2.99App Size:9.9 MB
  • Smooth game play
  • Real RTS feel and game play
  • Lots of units and ‘sposions
  • intuitive selection and deployment scheme
  • Poor AI and pathfinding
  • No iTunes Library access
  • many interface problems
  • tiny text and hard to push buttons

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For War strategy lovers, have at the following articles:
Mecho Wars in ReviewUniwar in ReviewReign of Swords in Review

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