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Small-scale Warfare
Enemy N-Gaged



The heat and humidity suffocated like a hot, wet blanket draped over my head, clinging to my face and stealing my breath away. I turned to Foster and watched a bead of sweat trickle down his forehead and over his ruddy red cheeks as he hitched the bazooka higher onto his shoulder. It was now or never, either we took out the enemy ammo dump and made it over the river or we may as well dig our graves. McKinney glanced nervously my way and placed a trembling hand on his rifle, clutching hard against his chest like an old, much loved friend. He knew that the next minute would decide if we lived or died, we all knew it, but nobody spoke.

Foster drew in a long, deep breath and brought his eye closer to the sight before moving it away again, stretching his neck and steadying his nerves before shutting one eye and setting himself again. I watched the slight but noticeable twitch as his finger slowly began to wrap around the trigger, our teeth gritted as we stood helpless ready to meet our maker, or God willing, to take the pathway to glory. I closed my eyes and prayed, though I felt certain no God could spare time to hear my prayers as all around me innocent men, women and children died needlessly. I saw Foster tighten his grip then slowly begin to squeeze the trigger, there was an almighty boom and a flash followed by the sound I'd prayed I wouldn't hear;
"Wayne! Have you cleaned the kids' Guinea Pig cage out yet?"
Damn, it's the real enemy! Time to regroup. I gathered Bordelon, Page, Foster, Schwab, Fardy and McKinney together and slipped them in my pocket until we had time once more to fight our way to victory on Ikusa Island.

Ikusa Island for N-Gage is the very impressive follow-up to the much lauded Pathway to Glory. Gone are the bleak war-torn European maps to be replaced by the lush forests and green grass a fictitious island chain set somewhere in the Japanese occupied Pacific.

        



PTG Ikusa Islands is a turn-based real time strategy game which in itself makes it a fairly unique creation. It also draws on the strengths of the original PTG and adds cleaner graphics, improved AI, far more appealing maps and has a very polished feel to it.

Before the game even starts you are bombarded with a soul-stirring soundtrack and extremely high quality artwork to perfectly set the scene for the trials ahead. Mission goals appear as both text-based instructions and as a rousing briefing from your commanding officer. By the time you and your squad of troopers get dropped into the heat of the battle you're ready to kill just about anything that crosses your path for the honour of your country.

Each game starts with your squad in place and a mission in need of their attention. Each trooper has a certain number of "Action Points" which I prefer to think of as "Stamina Points". Moving or using a weapon takes up a certain number of action points and this varies depending on the circumstances. For example just moving from one location to another will take more action points for a trooper carrying a heavy bazooka than it will for a trooper carrying a rifle. The number of point required for any given action are shown on screen before you commit to that action allowing you to judge if you can get a trooper to where he needs to be and still have enough reserves to take out the enemy and, if necessary, get out of there again.

Troopers who carry weapons have a blue visible quadrant in front of them which shows the area they will automatically protect even during the enemy's turn, provided that trooper has enough action points left to actually fire his weapon that is. Troopers can be hidden amongst the regular smatterings of fauna and flora, behind walls or storage crates and even inside buildings which automatically become transparent so as to keep your trooper visible at all times. Once at your chosen location a trooper can be left standing, a risky strategy with the aggressive enemy AI, or made to kneel or lie flat. Remember to stand them up again before you move them though, unless your under threat, as moving a trooper on his knees or crawling on his belly takes far more action points than having him stand up and walk normally. Once positioned you can rotate your trooper to face in one of four directions and so have him protect that area. A clever touch is that as you move your trooper from standing to kneeling so the blue arc before him, which displays the area he automatically protects, becomes narrower, then narrower again as you lay him flat.

The maps are well designed and very nicely rendered with lots of buildings, walls, trees and trenches to protect your troopers. You can also take control of fixed machine gun positions or commandeer deserted vehicles as you go.

All the usual line-of-site weapons are included but to mix things up a little RedLynx have added a mortar. No longer is it enough to just lay all your troopers down in a row behind the nearest wall because with the threat from air strikes and now mortars you really need to think long and hard before you hang your men out to dry. The need for thought, planning and strategy is real and a rarity in any game let alone a mobile game.

If the music sets the stage for this epic campaign then the sound effects and graphics keep the atmosphere tense. Your troopers bark slightly repetitive acknowledgements as you instruct them, and the weapon sounds and explosions, while not likely to bring on PTSD, are accurate enough to not destroy the illusion. Fire and explosion effects are cleverly done and further add to the overall look and feel of the game.

        



To aid your strategy decisions you can view an overhead plan of the battle area with men, gun emplacements, large and small vehicles all shown. The colours are wrong for me with enemy troops rightly in red but with your own troops in blue. I prefer green for my own troops but this is used to depict unoccupied guns emplacements and vehicles instead. Friendly forces appear in yellow.

The key to success is undoubtedly your men. Each trooper has a main weapon and a secondary weapon which is usually a grenade or a first aid kit. First aid kits are used on fellow troopers to boost their health levels. The stats for each trooper include their branch of service, nationality and experience level. There's no details on whether shooting accuracy or stamina increases as experience increases but it would be great if it did. If the going gets tough you can, in some cases, get your radio operator to call in an air strike and "neutralise" those stubborn threats.

Completing a mission involves achieving a stated objective or killing all the enemies in that level. Once complete the music fires up again as images of all your troopers are paraded before you along with any medals or promotions they've earned. Of course those who gave their life for the cause are shown as "killed in action" which, along with the solemn music makes you feel almost guilty at having not protected them better. It's the personalising of the whole situation that changes the the feel of the game from just a pile of squished sprites to a real, blood and guts death or glory fight against evil and that's no small achievement on a mobile phone trust me.

Further personalising the experience are the improved communication features. Field radio messages can be recorded into your handset then sent to all of your teammates. Messages can also be left directly on the battlefield and are visible to your allies only for the next two turns.

Playing solo is a challenging and ultimately very rewarding experience but if you want to take the gameplay to another level there are several multiplay options. Multiplayer battles are enacted on either a local or global battlefield. The global battlefield caters for up to six players, either ranked or filtered, commanding up to 48 troopers and sixteen vehicles. Six players can also play a local battlefield using Bluetooth connectivity or in hotseat mode (where a single N-Gage is passed to each player in turn). Playing a human foe introduces time limits so you'll need to be quick as well as clever.

        



Ikusa Islands is that strangest of beasts, a sequel that takes all the winning parts of the original game and improves on them. You'll need your wits about you against an enemy that thinks mercy is a weakness and victory an inevitable conclusion but hone your skills and you'll soon be tasting victory. The game is tough to master which makes it all the more rewarding when you do.

Pathway To Glory Ikusa Islands is an atmospheric and absorbing example of what can be achieved on a mobile handset. People are quick to point out that the N-Gage is no PSP but there again it's a fraction of the cost and, last time I tried one, the PSP makes lousy phone calls. If there was ever a compelling reason to own an N-Gage this is probably it. A winner.



Graphics
Sound
Longevity
Overall






For more details on this title visit the official site at: http://ikusa.pathwaytoglory.com
More also at Nokia's site HERE
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