July 9th, 2012 | By Joe Grogan
Hexagonal grid turn-based-strategy: it may be a mouthful, but it’s a genre that’s been picking up a lot of steam in the mobile market lately. In hopes of achieving the same levels of success that Great Little War Game and similar titles have seen recently, One Man Left has given us Outwitters.
In this multiplayer-only turn-based-strategy, you take control of either the red or blue team on a variety of maps. Your goal is simple: capture the enemy base. Of course, that’s easier said than done, as you’ll have to contend with either one or two human opponents who are not usually easily outwitted (see what they did there?).
Gameplay wise, there isn’t anything in Outwitters that will strike you as new. In fact, if you’re a veteran of the strategy genre, you may very well find it lacking in depth. There are two bases; one yours, one your opponent’s. Your mission is to move across the board, avoiding or destroying enemy units, and stand next to the other base in order to capture it. Each turn you are given five points to spend on movement, attacking and building new units, and for every one of the bonus spaces you control on the board, you earn one extra point. There are six units to be created, every one straightforward and common fare in strategy games: runners, soldiers, medics, snipers, heavies and bombshells.
On paper, it all seems like exactly what you’d expect from a game that bills itself as a turn-based-strategy. In practice, though, I found Outwitters to be somewhat light on the strategy. To be more precise, the game is too easy to muscle through without actually needing to use strategy. Each turn you earn five points, and since heavies cost four points to build, you can create and move one each turn. This meant that most rounds, I just found myself building an army of heavies around my base and advancing toward the enemy line. Most games have some way to prevent this, be it different elevations or special defensive abilities, but Outwitters just lets you steamroll your opponents with brute force. In games that are meant to favor brains over brawn, this is generally frowned upon. It can be argued that, being a strategy title, players will adapt and develop gameplay styles to counter such rushes. However, you can’t count on hypotheticals when creating a title. Everything should be polished by the developers before it rolls out of the studio doors, not by the fans after the fact.
On the plus side, what Outwitters lacks in the gameplay department, it makes up for with supplementary features. The most significant of these is the “league,” which is essentially just a ranking system, though it feels much more substantial. For starters, there are two types of matches: league and friendly. This allows players to take the game and its mechanics for a spin before jumping in to play with the big boys, which is a slow and comfortable approach. Secondly, the league also functions as a matchmaking system, only pairing you with opponents of similar skill. Again, this doesn’t seem like anything you’ll really notice, but you will. It transforms the ranking system from a simple leaderboard to a pivotal gameplay mechanic that keeps lower players from constantly getting into beatdowns with the best players in the game. This, in turn, allows players to stay relatively within their skill level while transitioning from lowly newbie to professional powerhouse.
The other thing that makes Outwitters fun to play is the various character packs. The game comes with one team skin: a variety of angry sea life. If you aren’t satisfied with these personalities (And you’d be well in your rights not to be, because who wants to conquer the world with a burly fish?) you can purchase more directly from the app. There are currently two packs on the market — the Adorables and the Feedback — and more are on the way. This feature doesn’t really add anything tangible to the title, but it certainly breaks up the monotony of seeing seahorses punch each other for hours on end.
Artistically, Outwitters is par for the course. Like most hexagonal grid turn-based-strategies, it features cutesy landscapes and characters with a somewhat mischievous soundtrack. To its credit, there is a nice variety of locations ranging from factories to islands to fantasy sugar lands, but nothing about them will blow you away.
And, well, that’s about it. The review may be short, but that’s only because Outwitters is a very simple title. Simple doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but don’t be surprised if playing the game feels like reading a textbook on strategy titles. Everything looks and feels great, and the league system is an important innovation for the genre, but in the end it all feels like one long déjà vu experience. To borrow a phrase from Jeremy Clarkson’s review of the McLaren MP4-12C, “There’s no…zing.” There are many better strategy games available, Great Little War Game included, though Outwitters has the benefit of not having a price tag. It’s a great option if you’re out of funds and looking for a new game or if you’re new to the genre, but if that doesn’t quite describe you, there are plenty of better options out there.