Version tested: Windows Phone
The rise of mobile devices has refuelled the turn-based strategy genre, and you won't find a better example - at least on Windows Phone 7 - than the slickly designed Armed.
Forgive us for being so shallow, but it's impossible to ignore how good Armed looks nestled in the palm of your hand. Pinching the screen alternatively zooms out the camera to a bird's-eye table top viewpoint, or allows it to delve right in among the rumbling sci-fi tanks and laser-fire-filled action.
You'll be hard-pressed to pick a favourite between the two camera styles. The more panned-out perspective offers the best overview of the battlefield, but you'll still need to scroll across the game's map to keep all of your forces in check. At the same time, you'll be forced to zoom in to properly select and manoeuvre individual troop units, which can become a little fiddly from too great a distance.
Players receive an allowance of funds each turn and must strike the right balance in finding the best outlets for their money. This means building and reinforcing your base while keeping your production line churning.
Advanced technology is unlocked slowly, with trees of upgrades to acquire until you get to the really juicy stuff. Still, it's easy to get carried away and splurge your latest paycheque on some of the pricier offerings too early in a match, which is something you will suffer for later.
Units range from tanks and walkers to defensive structures, missile turrets and laser cannons. Each can also receive temporary buffs, which are handy if you spot your enemy closing in. Highlighting and commanding your troops is as simple as touching and dragging a path for them to follow. Multiple units can be highlighted at once and grouped together to move en masse.
You'll need to regularly engage your opponent to keep their numbers culled, but just as important is the dash to secure the battlefield's control points. Capturing these allows them to be built upon, and the more control points you own, the more funds you receive.
The game's systems succeed in juggling plenty of balls at once, and when your turn ends the results of both you and your opponents' actions are played out at the same time.
It is vital, therefore, that you foresee your rival's next moves. Even after Armed's step-by-step tutorial is over, there's a definite learning curve of knowing when to attack, whether more control points are needed to build up forces or when to relinquish control to avoid a rusty war of attrition which could see your resources squandered.
Armed also has a heavy multiplayer angle that is playable simultaneously online, but only if you can find a partner. More likely you'll want to play correspondence matches at your leisure, or better yet local multiplayer, which involves passing your handset back and forth. Handy in case you find sourcing another person with the game and a Windows Phone 7 device a problem.
The game's single-player offering, meanwhile, simply offers matches against the AI. It's a shame that there is no real campaign to speak of, but the lack of a tacked-on story is excusable when Armed developer Sickhead has concentrated so firmly on the game's mechanics.
Priced at £2.99, Armed also features a generous demo which lasts up to an hour, which should be more than enough time for you to make up your mind on whether to lay down more money.
A fresh iteration on a time-worn formula, Armed's mechanical guts are clearly harvested from the genre classics of old. Yet its well-oiled presentation and nuanced gameplay sparkle with a quality that's more than a lick of paint deep.
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