Facebook has seen its fair share of city-builders in the last year, but while the genre is rather saturated at the moment, very few of these titles involve the concept of raising armies and battle. With only a handful that do — such as recent iterations of My Empire or City of Wonder — Blue Shell Games has a fairly unique app on its hands with Urban Warfare.
Though similar to the Playfish and Playdom titles, Urban Warfare takes an altered approach with units, supplies, and defenses that reflects real-time strategy games. Though basic and suffering from a lack of style, the title boasts an interesting core. Its potential shows in the continually growing number of monthly active users (currently near 345,000).
For some unexplained reason, everyone in the universe of Urban Warfare is at war with everyone else. Players are tasked with the construction of their very own city in this chaos, but, the outcome isn’t to create the best looking metropolis. It’s to house and raise an unstoppable army.
The way it works is simple enough: as players level, they can construct a variety of homes, to allow their population to grow and various businesses (gas stations, markets, pubs, and so on) to earn periodic income. Once a cash flow is established, the army can begin to grow.
Starting with a barracks, users can choose to train soldiers that range from simple scouts, to machine gunners, to full-on tanks. With each unit, the overall attack and defense strength of the city increases according to the cumulative attack and defense stats of every unit made. As one might expect, the longer the training time, the stronger the unit (purchasing items with virtual currency can expedite the process).
With an army now growing, players can engage in one of the game’s core elements: battle. This works similarly to City of Wonder in that players can choose to attack any player within their level range (including friends) and receive a bonus of experience, coin, and steel. The results are determined by the attack and defense points of each city, but this can’t be predicted, as the game only ever shows an enemy user’s level and their top units (not all their units). It’s also possible to loses units as casualties, so it pays not to be reckless.
Once players reach level 10, they can then begin constructing buildings that will produce steel, which becomes a requirement for constructing both ships and airplanes via their respective construction sites (Shipyard and Air Force Base). Once these buildings are available, the ability to manage resources, population, and units begins to reflect a strategy title. It’s not terribly in-depth, as it consists of merely building the best unit for the optimal amount of time — which will vary based on level — but the idea is there. That said, if there were a form of rock-paper-scissors balancing between units, along with a means to gather intelligence on enemy armies, legitimate, asynchronous strategy would become possible.
Aside from the obvious social mechanic of battling other people, friends can also visit one another to receive bonus coin as a sort of donation, or they can opt to steal. That said, the latter appears nothing more than a cosmetic choice, as it still involves simply clicking on one of your friends’ money-making structures. Beyond this, battling friends allows for wall-posted brags and even posts about a bounty for their defeat. Gifting, leaderboards, and the occasional text-based event requiring friends to click a wall post for a reward are also available.
Though Urban Warfare has an interesting concept, the game lacks any real style, with a drab and static appearance. There’s nothing truly gratifying about winning battles as it just goes to a win/lose text screen with the results, nor is there any life in the city. A little bit of pizazz (like Mercenaries of War) in the former and a bit more liveliness (like City of Wonder) in the latter would go a long way. Even decorations can be a problem, as it isn’t possible to rotate anything, which can be a problem with structures like roads.
There is also a concern with spam, as when we first began playing the game, we received a number of email notifications about our city being attacked (when friends were involved, at least). Thus far, it hasn’t occurred again, but many players would find even intermittent emails annoying.
Overall, Urban Warfare is not a bad game, and its competitive concept is fairly rare for Facebook. The dull presentation and lack of flair likely contribute to the low DAU count of 25,000, but with an art update and a bit more depth to the strategy elements, Urban Warfare could catch on.