Thursday, June 25, 2009

Polanie aka Victory aka Slavs (TopWare, 1996) Review

Greetings and welcome to another exciting episode of RUN STOP RESTORE!
Get ready to tickle your titties and crackle your teeth, because today, kids, we’re talking about SLAVS!

To begin this story, we have to start from the very beginning… of the… start… of… things. The Slavs are a bunch of people that nobody ever really liked, so they got pushed around, nobody told them about special discounts at the mall and were mostly not invited to birthday parties. So, during this one big drunken party, some wasted bastard got an idea to play hide and seek with everybody else, thus making that the largest hide and seek event in the history of mankind. This would later inspire the creation of the Guinness Book of Records.
Anyway, a big freakin’ hunk of people started searching for this bloody idiot and ended up migrating all around, like Western and Eastern Europe and the Balkans, being bullied by Germanic tribes, the Huns and so on. They got tired of searching after a millennia or so and decided to settle down.
Some of these guys, a part of the Western Slavic settled around present day Poland. Its people called Polanie, one acceptable translation of this word would be “people of the field”.

Which is exactly what this game is called.

Polanie aka Victory aka Slavs, is most probably the first Polish RTS ever made. It’s pretty much a simplified Warcraft clone, but not as good, I’d say. Although, this game is about Slavs, herding cows for milk, sacrificing them to pagan gods and killing each other with swords and magic. So it’s fuckin’ legendary.

It would be important to note that these developers (Reality Pump) made a sequel to Polanie called Polanie II or Once Upon a Knight or KnightShift and even announced a third installment which was cancelled in favor of shifting resources for making the RPG we now know as Two Worlds. But the most important thing here is these developers created the critically acclaimed RTS called Earth 2150. Pretty impressive.

Well, getting back to the game now.

Polanie follows the exploits of young Mirko as he returns to his land, finding his village burned, people slaughtered and cows sexually defiled. Not willing to wait for the justice of the almighty god Svantovit (or Svetovid) to set things right, he sets out on a vengeful mission of war and conquest. By the looks of things and info found on the web, it seems the game’s time frame is around VII century AD, when the Polish tribes were not yet united and before the rule of the Piast dynasty and duke Mieszko I. And this was all before the Slavs invented the technology of evolution, thus cooking up the primordial soup (iliti pasulj prebranac smućkan sa čorbom jajarušom sa puno svinjske masti i rakije prepečenice).

The game starts with a short intro movie showing an old obelisk-like statue forming the letter I in Polanie. This is actually a render of a real statue called the Zbruch Idol (named after the river it was found in). It is widely believed that this pillar idol is a depiction of the Slavic pagan god Svetovid, who is considered by some scholars as maybe the greatest Slavic deity. He is often depicted as having four heads thus looking at the whole world, holding a horn in one, and a sword or bow in the other hand, and riding a white horse. Also, there’s evidence of the existence of a great fortified temple dedicated to Svetovid at Cape Arkona, Rugen Island, present day Germany. There are records of a great statue of Svetovid that was toppled down in 1169. by the Danish invaders following the Christianization of the Slavic populace.
And yes, the idol looks like a wiener. I bet that’s the first thing you noticed, you filthy bastards.

As I’ve said, this game is a clone of Warcraft, although not as complex. There are, however some interesting details that are worth noting.
The gameplay is standard RTS but the resources management greatly limits the strategic and army development so it’s more concentrated on small squad attacks. The only resource in the game is milk… which you get from cows. No, really. The balance and the core mechanics of the game are somewhat broken because there are several cases where you can get stuck in the game, without getting a “game over” screen.

The first major nuisance is that every building you make has to be built by a peasant unit and he can only be created by a special building, not the town hall itself. But, the town hall creates almost all of the buildings (or should I say, lays the foundations) and not the peasant. You see the flaw in this? You almost always get a peasant or two at the start of a level but there’s always a valid chance that an enemy will kill them while you struggle to build your encampment, thus forcing you into a dead end.
The second problem is the milk. There’s a very small resource cap which limits your building speed drastically. The problem is that when the cap is full, you are pretty much wasting your milk (no sexual pun intended). Also, every building has a production cap of its own. There is in fact some invisible population cap but every building can produce only a very limited amount of units, no matter how crowded you are. For example, one Barn can create up to three Cows and then you have to build another Barn if you want more Cows. Alas, this counts for Barracks or any other building.

Thirdly, the AI in the game is as intelligent as a psychotic, suicidal cat. Your units can be extremely retarded and most of the time, they don’t know how to pass a narrow bridge or path. So a couple of them pass through, and the rest bounce back and start searching for another path. It’s like playing Lemmings… without the controls. The Cows are either clinically depressed or just being assholes as they frequently stay frozen while loading off the milk (again, no sexual pun intended) thus halting the resource production. All in all, the game forces you into constant micro-management of everything. And yes, the balance of units is perfected to a state of permanent brain damage. The main swordsmen, archers, spearmen and knights are ok and it can be a bit of fun to watch them all hack each other to death, but when you get your hero or magic units, you can pretty much win a whole level with just a couple of wizards using hit and run tactics. Although, those wizards are pretty fragile.

There are even instances where the enemy will come to your village, burn most of the buildings and kill off 90% of the units. But if you have just one guy hidden somewhere in a corner, even if he’s very near them, they might not notice him at all and will return to their base. Suffice to say, destroying a town hall doesn’t trigger a defeat. And ranged units can be the death of you if you’re not careful, as archers and wizards tend to shoot while pursuing enemies and frequently hit friendly units in front of them, instead of the fleeing bastards.

But, there are some cool details in this game too. At the start of a level, you have a map of early medieval Poland with different territories you can choose to attack, like in Command & Conquer.
Then, there’s the cool, but mostly annoying gimmick of cutting down trees. There is no lumber resource ingame and the forest is mostly used as an impenetrable wall. But there are certain trees that can be cut down although you have to be careful as the trees always fall to the left. So if you have a unit in that spot, it’ll get squished into a bloody puddle. I’ve had more fun with cutting down trees than playing the actual game. But, pretty much all of the trees can still be burnt with the wizard’s fire magic with the accompanying burnt tree sprites and some of them fall down from the fire and can even make a domino effect with the fall. I’d say it’s somewhat random but it’s a very nice detail.
Aaaand you can also kill bears.
Then there’s the whole cow + grass = milk, process. There is no limit to how much milk can be produced because, instead of gold mines and lumber, there’s grass which pretty much covers the whole map. Also, while eating, the Cows slowly barren the land, but you can see the grass growing back quickly enough. The only problem is that the cows tend to
drift away from your base in their conquest for food so this can really slow down your game.

Oh yeah, and the voice acting is just precious. It’s obvious that the developers themselves used their voices for the units, at least for the Polish version. And there are only one or two responses for the units, so it’s perfect for learning a few Polish words while the game eats your brain with “ak kažeš“. Dunno if the German version has different voices.
The later levels are downright broken and impossible to even start because there just isn’t any time to build an army while the enemy attacks with advanced units.

The missions are standard. Eliminate the enemy, escort missions and there are quite a few missions with no buildings and resource management, only a predetermined amount of units.
That’s where the healing shrines come into place. Almost every map has at least one sacred ground which can be recognized by some standing stones, wooden pillars etc. and your units get magically healed when standing in this area. The annoying thing is that the area of effect consists of only a block or two of land and you have to manually order every unit, one by one, to stand there and heal.

While looking at the files of the game, I noticed that the level file contains all of the levels in a very ASCII graphics fashion. Speaking plainly, you can use notepad to “draw” the map with letters and symbols. There’s even a legend at the bottom of the file explaining the various tiles and accompanying letters. It must’ve been a royal pain in the butt cheeks to make about 25 levels in this fashion. Unless they used some GUI which, again, writes the graphics tiles in a text format.

So I gotta admit that Polanie is a crappy game. But we have to take into account the fact that this is a pioneer project of a little team of people. And seeing as I’m a bit of a Slav myself, I find it very amusing and interesting to get to play with Slavic tribes in an RTS game. The game offers a quick, raw RTS fun for a few hours with more of a squad based warfare then building and improving a large army. This reminds me of a more recent Serbian RTS called Genesis Rising. It has a very similar principle of playing with a smaller squad of units and constant micro-management of their actions and powers. You could say it’s kinda like Cannon Fodder or Darwinia, only with a more RTS oriented gameplay.

Getting the game is not that troublesome these days, but it would be nice if some fans would be willing to completely translate the game, or, even better, to see if the developers themselves would like to do that.

Polanie aka Victory aka Slavs, boys and girls. An unpolished gem from Poland that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Well, I’ll be off to slaughter a few baby cows… the family’s gotta eat, you know.

No comments:

Post a Comment