Taking my cue from the title of this game, I've decided to lay myself bare on the internet. If you click on this link, you should be able to see all my intimate details. Not those intimate details! Honestly! You lot disgust me! No, the details you'll be able to see are my 'player information' statistics for Naked War. See, normally, when you read a review, you just never know how long the reviewer has deigned to play it for. Heck, when I was working for one high-profile games mag, a freelance reviewer submitted a review of a Game Boy Advance game that, to judge from the save games on the game cartridge, he'd only played for a marathon 34 minutes). Whereas if you click on that link, you'll be able to see for yourselves that (at the time of writing), I have completed seven games of Naked War, and sent 113 turns to opponents. And I've won a grand total of zero games. What you won't be able to see, because it's 'private information', is that (at the time of writing) I've played the game for 7 hours 40 minutes. Ample time for it to ensnare me with its addictive charms.
Appropriately enough, the developers of Naked War are also exposing themselves, a bit. Having built up over 22 years of experience in videogame development on classic games such as Aquaqua, Wetrix, and Plok!, The Pickford Brothers have decided to go ahead and create their latest game without the safety net of a publisher. Instead, they're publishing the game themselves, and they've devised an innovative pay-per-play sort of system to actually allow the quality of their game to determine their financial return. Basically, anyone can download and play the game for free, as long as someone else challenges you to a game. But if you want to start games yourself, you have to pay for a certain number of challenges, which you issue to other players (although there are various ways to earn free challenges, including inviting new players).
The game itself is also reasonably innovative: it's a turn-based strategy game, but players take each turn against their opponent over email. It starts with a quick game of paper-scissors-stone, to determine who will take the first turn, and after that, the action plays out between two squads of four solders over a cartoon-coloured island that's dotted with Crates, Tanks, Helicopters, Boats, and the occasional Gun Turret. The object of the game is ostensibly simple: to collect all of your opponent's 'doofers'. Each soldier starts with one of these, but if they manage to 'demob' an enemy soldier (by reducing their health bar to zero) they acquire any doofers held by that soldier. This can account for some pretty sudden reversals of fortune if the doofers become concentrated in the possession of just one or two soldiers, but that's just one of the game's intricacies.
Because although it's ostensibly simple, Naked War is a game with enormous and entertaining hidden depth. Depths that quickly become apparent if you're up against an experienced player - which is probably the best way to learn how to play the game (although the game rules are also available in full on the game's website). Indeed, over the course of those seven completed games, I've been handed various masterclasses in strategy and tactics. I was fortunate enough to land a game early on against a chap called dunni, who took the time, each turn, to teach me the ropes. The ropes are these: it's all about the Crates, because they contain a variety of power-ups that can prove enormously useful: Shields prevent one incoming hit, while Medikits restore health.
The most important power-up, though, is the Promotion. First, it restores to action any soldiers who have been demobbed, allowing them to rejoin their team-mates in firing, moving, jumping and smashing their way across the map. Second, they increase the abilities of your soldiers. So while it might be tempting to have all your soldiers jump into the nearest vehicle, in the long-term, promoted units prove more powerful. Nevertheless, vehicles do have their uses: their weapons affect a wide area, and jumping into a new vehicle restores your soldier's health (which is why you'll see experienced players destroying empty vehicles - to prevent a potential escape route for their opponents). Other nuances that new players need to get to grips with include mastering the timing of your moves (so your team members don't run into and obstruct each other) and simply negotiating the intricate topographical complications of the maps - many of which are criss-crossed by a spaghetti-like tangle of walkways and towers.
While the game doesn't boast the latest in cutting-edge specular-aliased, anti-bumpmapped, hardware-accelerated four dimensional visuals, it also doesn't contain any obvious flaws, except for the lack of a single-player game (which looks like it will be rectified by a proposed Naked War Chronicles: Chapter 1), and the lack of a tutorial. Although it's true that playing against experienced opponents is a good way to learn the game, if dunni's comments could have been distilled into a pre-recorded tutorial, they would prove enormously useful for first-time players. The only other caveat is that, being a multiplayer game, the quality of your experience will ultimately depend on the qualities of your opponent. Good news, then, that the Naked War community has so far proven to be excellent.
One thing's worth noting though: while the game's five-minute turns and play-by-email structure might make it seem like the perfect diversion for the alt-tab office skiver, the game is actually too addictive for that. It'll take over your inbox with alarming rapidity, and it's more than likely that if you start playing, you'll end up participating in multiple games simultaneously (especially since the game's website even allows you to pick up single turns from ongoing games, or to issue a general challenge to anyone who wants to play). And it's worth starting to play it - not just out of charitable support for the independent spirit of its creators, but because it's fun and addictive, and you'll willingly give it more than eight-odd hours.
Will you support Eurogamer?