In the discussions of what makes a particular game good game or bad, the topic of "depth and complexity" often arises. In this case, complexity refers to the amount of detail present in the game systems, and depth refers to the arc of mastery -- how long a player can continue playing a particular game while still learning new things about it, making new, meaningful choices, and having new experiences. Does Machines at War 3's complex machinery lend itself to a deep playing experience, or is all merely parts weighing down the whole?

Before we touch the game mechanics, let's discuss the controls. Real-time strategy games often make use of the entire mouse and keyboard, which makes for a tough transition to touch devices. Fortunately, Machines at War 3 does an admirable job converting those intricate tools into the simplicity of touches and swipes. You'll select commands and individual units by tapping them, and utilize the in-game menu to give more complex commands like setting unit rally points or patrol paths. Using two fingers pulls up a square "lasso," which allows you to quickly select a large group of units. The left side of the screen holds several macro tabs that you can use to store pre-selected groups, and the right holds the building/unit menu. Things work surprisingly well; though there will inevitably be times that RTS vets find themselves longing for the ease of a keyboard and mouse, the touch controls here work about as well as they probably could.

Skirmishes, campaign mode, even multiplayer — all of the typical RTS mainstays are present here (though you may have trouble finding another person to play multiplayer with. Expect long waits.) There's also a tutorial mode to explain the basics of gameplay, and, despite the numerous grammatical and spelling errors found in the text, it does a nice job of showing the player how to thrive and survive.

Getting back to the depth and complexity conversation, Machines at War 3 is incredibly complex. There are scores of units to choose from, and myriad building options and upgrades to select. These many options, however, are mostly detractors. There are so many units and such to choose from that it reduces the tactical usefulness of each.

There's a reason that each race in Starcraft only has a select number of units to choose from, and it's because adding extra complexity doesn't always lead to extra depth; in the case of Machines at War 3, it just muddles up the gameplay. Half the units are so similar it begs the question as to why they're even there in the first place, and combat is a mess of disparate units pecking away at each other. Don't expect any micro-style gameplay either, as managing your economy and your base are the real focus. Your military units are mostly commanded to move, and they attack on their own. Your job is to make those units and keep the unit-making buildings alive and supplied long enough to trash the other player. There's some fun to be had building giant, labyrinthine fortresses with laser cannons, generators, walls, and plasma shields around every corner, but it's a shallow, fleeting fun.

If you're hungry to play a real-time strategy game on your iPad, one not marred by free-to-play restrictions and the like, Machines at War 3 does an adequate job of translating that experience to a touchpad-based device and of providing a complex game for strategists to sink their teeth into. This complexity, however, comes with a lack of depth and a steep learning curve, both of which detract from what is otherwise a strong iOS RTS experience.


App Store Link: Machines at War 3 for iPhone & iPad | By Isotope 244 graphics, LLC. | Price: $6.99 | Version: 1.01 | 131 MB | Rating 12+

6.5 out of 10 arcade sushi rating