Back in the late 90s if I wasn’t out on my bike you’d likely find me playing ‘Command & Conquer: Red Alert’, or ‘Age of Empires’. I spent countless hours on these Real-Time Strategy (RTS) war games running through scenarios and skirmishes trying to lead my side to victory.  You are the all-seeing, all-hearing commander – a God-like presence with an isometric view of the battlefield and your task is to build your army from a small squad into an un-defeatable Goliath and crush the enemy team. There are a range of soldiers you can train and a variety of buildings you can craft to help you to victory.

Over 20 years later here I am playing a new RTS game from King Art Games, ‘Iron Harvest 1920+‘. Set in an alternate reality, and inspired by the Polish-Soviet war of the same year, Iron Harvest tells the story of 3 nations – Polania, Rusviet and Saxony and their post-World War 1 fight for control. These armies have access to ‘diesel-punk’ style mechs; iron armoured machines mounted with weapons that can be operated from inside, Titanfall style. These walking tanks can be built to help overpower the enemy infantry and swing the balance in your favour. 

Announced in 2016, the game received funding from a successful ‘Kickstarter’ campaign two years later to the tune of $1.5million, hitting its funding target and all the stretch goals. The Beta launched in March this year with the game releasing to Windows on 1st September. Console release is slated to release late 2020 – early 2021, presumably due to the next-gen console launches happening in November.

 The storyline is split over 3 separate campaigns, each with its own hero. The Polania Campaign follows Anna Kos, a young and talented marksman who, with the help of her pet bear, leads a revolution against an invading Rusviet army. Her father is kidnapped due to the tech in his mech-disabling prosthetic arm and Anna fights to rescue him.
The Rusviet Campaign follows Janek Kos, a soldier in the Polanian army and Anna’s brother. Peace negotiations are disrupted during an attack by insurgents who are trying to restart the war and, after teaming up with Rusviet soldier Olga, Janek is severely injured. With Olga’s help Janek receives experimental medical treatment to turn him into a form of cyborg and he slides into the Rusviet ranks becoming a spy for Polania.
The third storyline, the Saxony Campaign, follows the Saxonian General Gunter von Duisburg and his battle not only against Polonian forces, but inside his own camp too. The Saxony leader’s war crimes and subsequent framing of Gunter force him to go AWOL. Gunter locates his old mech and joins forces with the Polonian army.

Weaponized dust bins?

The single player campaign is quite long – 21 replayable missions in total. There are also one-off missions to carry out; skirmishes and challenges, and a separate multiplayer section.
Skirmish involves your side battling another for control of iron mines, oil pumps and strategic positions. You start with an HQ and 10 units and need to build your forces and capture locations to sway the fight in your favour. Capturing mines and pumps delivers your side resources you can use to train new troops or build new structures and defences, but these sites can be stolen by the enemy team. The winner is the team with the highest score, or ultimately demolishing the opponent’s HQ.
Challenges come in 3 modes. ‘To The Last Man’ which is a wave attack mode requiring you to collect resources, ‘Hold The Line’ a survival mode where you try to lose as less units as possible, and ‘Fortress City’ in which you get attacked from all sides and have to defend your positions.
Finally the multiplayer mode pits your commanding skills against real people, instead of the computer’s AI, bringing new challenges of unpredictability.

Graphically the game isn’t the most stunning you’ve ever seen, but the scenery has an eerie beauty to it. It portrays the war-ravaged towns and countryside well. However, I find the UI lets this down as, although it reflects the era using a damaged and rusting theme, it looks plain and unpolished and the textures are repeated which seems lazy. I also found the menus quite complicated and not that easy to navigate.

The gameplay, although not groundbreaking compared to previous RTS games, has a few redeeming features in the form of a cover system and realistic building destruction. You can command your squads to shelter behind walls, sandbags or other terrain to minimise the damage they take from enemy fire. This definitely protects your units from significant damage, but it doesn’t always work well. I quite often found soldiers choosing locations out in the open instead of in cover, making them a target.

Building destruction is a nice touch. Canons, mortars and mechs can target buildings where infantry are hiding and direct hits can punch holes in the walls. Sections of the structures can collapse making the soldiers inside vulnerable to attack. The mechs can crush low walls and barbed wire fences as they traverse the map, and the larger ones can bulldoze buildings that are unfortunate enough to get in the way. The lumbering mechs, although devastating to infantry and buildings, can be quite easily countered with well planned proximity landmines and long range mortars.

Rock and a hard place gameplay

When it comes to building your army, I found the options disappointingly lacking. There are only 3 main building types; HQ, Barracks and Workshop. HQ is the main base and the most important structure. Lose that and you lose the battle. The Barracks allows you access to train more soldiers and differently equipped troops including a variety of fighting units and engineers. Engineers allow you to craft new base buildings, place defensive structures and repair mechs. The Workshop is mech focused and can craft the more heavy, diesel-punk style machinery, at a larger cost of resources.

I found the learning curve very steep. Countless skirmishes I was outplayed by a medium difficulty enemy who overpowered my forces and countered every play to stop them. I ended up having more fun on ‘easy’ mode. Veteran RTS players would probably revel in the challenge, but I found it a little unbalanced.
Overall if you’re a Real-Time Strategy game fan, or you’re massively into the diesel-punk style, I think Iron Harvest would tick a lot of boxes. The story is very creative and the setting is quite unique. For me, however, I’ll reminisce of my glory during the late 90s.