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Paying for the same game again: Reviewing ‘Soldiers Inc.’

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Soldiers Inc.

Rating:
Star3
Star
Star
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Star

Overview: Essentially the exact same game as Plarium’s previous title, Total Domination, minus a modern/near-future reskin; an okay game gradually growing worse by the publishing company becoming increasingly greedier in its business practices.

Facebook games have acquired a negative reputation among more… discriminating gamers for being cheap time-management exercises designed to suck the most money out of mindless rubes while providing the least amount of entertainment or sense of accomplishment in return, even going so far as to produce multiple “different” games using the exact same gameplay mechanics and graphics engine. Zynga, famous for the Mafia Wars series and at least ten identical Farmville spinoffs, is particularly guilty for starting this trend. And Soldiers Inc., one of the latest major Facebook titles released by Plarium, doesn’t do its creator any favors by reinforcing the status quo. Especially now that other recent browser games (most notably Last Stand: Dead Zone and the defunct Wasteland Empires) have started implementing actual unit control during attack phases, becoming crude but functional honest-to-goodness Real-Time Strategy games in their own right. Meaning not only is Soldiers Inc. somewhat insulting in its naked unoriginality but it is also becoming increasingly archaic as well.

Soldiers Inc. puts players in command of a forward operations base for the private military corporation known simply as the Syndicate, one of two overarching PMCs profiting from the chaos and civil unrest in the fictional African country of Zandia in the turbulent 2020’s. All praise the many faces of Blackwater/Acedemi, patron saint of the military industrial complex! May they keep us safe from those Chinese commies represented by the Zheng Shi Security Combine!

Crass jokes about Call of Duty-esque nationalism and political soapbox comments aside, Soldiers Inc. is essentially the same time-management game Plarium pioneered in Total Domination then refined in Pirates: Tides of Fortune and Stormfall: Age of War before being given a contemporary/near-future coat of digital paint. Players start with a curiously square base, build up an economy that gradually collects resources over time, research technologies along an almost identical tech tree when compared to previous games, then build up an army over a period of hours or days to go raid NPC enclaves or trash rival players’ bases. There are three main resources to manage, one primarily for defensive units, one primarily for offensive units, and one “money” resource that both types eat up like candy in both training and upkeep. And that’s it; there is nothing else that veteran Plarium players would recognize, certainly nothing outstandingly new at any rate.

That is not to say that the game is completely rubbish, Plarium’s formula is solidly addictive although antiquated and it’s still possible to progress through the game without paying a dime (as the writer of this article prefers to do with all his browser games) although it’s now much harder then it was when covering Total Domination about a year ago. But it is a step back considering how Facebook games actually are advancing to the point where they can start to be considered “proper” games in terms of depth and complexity.

Finally, the question that has to come up when discussing a free to play game and one that Facebook games frequently score badly in, just how “free” is free? Free in Soldiers Inc. is playable but lags behind much more generous titles by a great deal. For starters, if having Total Domination charging you real world money for every section of wall and defensive turret to passively boost your overall defense annoyed you, prepare to remain annoyed. In addition to arguably essential defensive features, the game also offers tantalizing economy buffs, enticing speed buffs to decrease the time spent on research or unit production, powerful battle group units that increase in overall effectiveness the more units of a specific type they are sent out with, vanity items galore (several of them providing gameplay bonuses that are so powerful they’re disgusting,) and a field hospital where you can instantly revive destroyed units all for real-world money.

While it is possible to play without these extra perks and Plarium runs global events on a bi-monthly basis that can net players diamonds (the in-game micro-transaction currency one buys with real money) as well as other benefits like powerful units, it has changed from when my Total Domination commentary was published about a year ago. Then it was possible to net nearly ten dollars worth of in-game currency by the event’s conclusion, since then there have been a number of changes both publicly announced and subtly made in the background. Rewards have been diversified, attacks on the non-player strongholds don’t pay out in event items as often, and while there is no empirical proof as yet, more then one gamer swears that the durability of enemy units has been slowly increased over the past year or so.

Verdict: A decently engaging game based on a tested if not particularly innovative formula. Unfortunately even within its particular market there are superior products available and questions about the publisher’s business practices, whether they are truly avaricious or not, are beginning to emerge. A cautionary three out of five stars.

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