|Aaah, finally. We are now defineately over the wave of Doom clones, and are entering a C&C wave instead. I love real time strategy wargames, and was therefore very excited when Napalm arrived, more than half a year overdue. The first impression was a bit of a disappointment. Napalm did not come in a box, but in a single CD case. The manual was sized to fit this case, which means tiny, and not very extensive. After a problemfree installation, the second disappointment came: no intro. FMV clips are common in most C&C games, but in Napalm there are none at all. ClickBOOM has said that the CD is filled to the brim with game files, but this is not true. There are 174 megs of files and the rest of the CD is filled with CDDA music tracks, 20 in all. The music is OK, but 500 megs of it is a bit much, and I think that the space should gave been used otherwise. The graphics in Napalm are very large, and look very good for being 8 bit. You really need an 060 and a graphics card to get the most of it, as this is the minimum recommended setup for hires (640x480) play. If you haven't got both of these, you will probably have to settle for lores (320x256). Playing in this screenmode is rather difficult, as a single building can cover nearly a third of the screen. The pictures on this page are all from the hires mode.
When I overcame the initial little dissapointments, my feelings toward the game grew increasingly affectionate. Napalm is the first decent game of its type on the Amiga since Dune2, and probably the most eagerly anticipated game in years. Has it got the gameplay to live up to the expectations of C&C-starved Amigans? Yes and no. Napalm plays much like you would expect a C&C clone to play. The controls are intuitive if you are used to this sort of games, with only a few, rather brilliant, innovations making them different from those of Red Alert. An example of such an innovation is the multiple production orders. While building lots of units on Red Alert could be a pain, Napalm allows you to easily set up a production queue, with just a few clicks on the mouse. Another innovation to the interface is the way (electrical) power is measured. On Red Alert, it was impossible to tell how much excess power you were producing once you had a large base, because both the production and usage meters were at the top. In Napalm, you just click on a power plant, and the number of green or red dots on the display will tell you how large the excess production, or lack, of power is. If no dots are displayed, you are producing just enough.
But, as you would expect, everything is not perfect. For every nice feature you find in Napalm, you should be able to find a nasty bug or flaw. For example, allied units have an AI that makes them fire at attacking units automatically. This is a nice feature. The downside of this is that you cannot force them to ignore units nearby. When I, for example, order a unit like the awesome building demolisher called Bastard to attack a an enemy factory, it might ignore my orders, and attack the oil driller standing next to it instead. The Bastard is very good for taking out buildings, but bad at taking out units. By the time it can resume its attack on the factory, it (the factory) will probably have managed to produce a powerful unit to take out my expensive Bastard. Another annoying feature of the allied AI is that units will always move towards whatever they are ordered to attack. If a rocket tank is standing next to an enemy chopper, and I order it to attack, it will move under the chopper, where it can't attack it (units can't fire into their own square). A similar flaw also exist in Red Alert. A flaw that doesn't appear in Red Alert, however, is that units tend to want to move closer to a building after having blown it up. In a game where the developer's foremost consern seem to have been the creation of HUGE explosions, this is a big problem. Napalm has many gameplay flaws like this, too many to mention here.
Mision briefing madness
Another annoying feature of Napalm is the mission briefings. Before each mission you are presented with a female voice first giving you a description of the mission, then summing up the mission objective. The description and the objective are not always fully coherent. There was for example this mission, where you at first were told that you had to capture an enemy scientist, and why this was so important. At the end of the briefing, it turned out that to capture him, you had to blow up the base he lived in. I suspect that the mission description was a lame attempt to make a standard "destroy everything" mission sound more interesting. It was not successful.
Sometimes the briefings are simply illogical: On the "UEDF" (United Earth Defence Force, the good guys) mission 12, you have to infiltrate an enemy base. No problem so far. But after you have completed the mission, you are informed that the spy found out about a secret allied convoy, which you must protect. Now why on IO would the enemy know about an allied convoy, while the allies didn't? The crowd goes quiet, Albert Einstein is shaking his head, and everyone recognizes the stupidity of it all.
But, of course, the most important feature of a mission briefing is that it lets you know what to do. It's just too bad that Napalm doesn't even manage to do this every time. On the Robot (bad guys) mission 6, you are instructed to "Send a spy to the enemy base". This is very confusing, as there are more than one building in the enemy base, and there are no unit called "spy" in Napalm. Through experimentation, I found out that "Send a spy to the enemy base" actually meant "Capture the enemy command center". Hmm, I suppose that it is easier to infiltrate a building after having killed everybody inside it...
The difficult bit
Napalm is a very difficult game. Even the most skilled Amiga players are likely to pull out hairs in frustration at times. The reason for this difficulty is not that the enemy AI is superior, nor is it that the enemy have too strong units. The reason is money. While you would become very poor very soon if you had to keep repairing your buildings, the enemy seems to have loads of cash all the time. Repairing buildings in Napalm is very fast, so this means that you'll need overwhelming force in order to destroy even relatively weak structures.
The computer also seem to rebuild demolished structures rather quickly, at least in the later missions, and they don't have the limitation of having to build next to an existing structure, like the player has. I once tried to prevent them from rebuiling a section of their base by scattering my units throughout the area where the base used to be located, leaving no room for buildings. This worked for a while, until my units suddenly moved away from the potential construction sites by themselves. To say that I was annoyed would be an understatement.
There are two basic types of good games: There's the solid, but unexeptional game, and there's the flawed masterpiece. If I am to put Napalm in one of these bags, I think it would have to be the "flawed masterpiece" bag. It has great graphics and good music. It is not extremely stable, or very fast, but overall the technical implementation is good. The controls, which are a very important aspect of games like this, are very good. Napalm has thirty challenging single player missions, so it should last for ages.On the other hand, there is a multitude of gameplay flaws. Despite these flaws I've managed to have good time playing Napalm, and I suspect that it is a lot more fun to play against a human opponent. Let's hope that we will see a "Napalm 2" in the not too distant future.