There is a phrase that is commonly linked with any discussion of the co-op in an RTS: "comp stomp." The phrase refers to the typical situation that occurs when a group of players team up to take on one or more computer opponents and proceed to thrash them about the place. This can be fun for a few matches, but the novelty quickly wears thin as the computer does nothing new or interesting each time you face it. AI War, Arcen Games’ first outing into the gaming market, shatters this stale and repetitive formula to create something that’s not quite an RTS, not quite a 4X, but completely fun and, most importantly, completely co-op.
AI War certainly looks like a typical RTS at first glance. You gather resources (metal, crystal, energy, and knowledge in this case), build ships, use a tech tree to upgrade units and unlock new ones, direct your fleet of ships against the enemy, and watch from a distance as the two fleets duke it out. However, AI War does away with the typical RTS convention of seeing who can get the most resources first and build up the most forces by removing the one element in that scenario that makes it so stale and repetitive: the resources. "But wait," you might be saying, "didn’t you just say you gather resources??" Yes, you do. The AI, however, doesn’t. It starts off every campaign with all of the ships and resources it needs to wipe you out. In fact, if the computer decided to, it could eliminate you at the very start of a campaign in the blink of an eye. This slight shift, something that to me, as long time RTS player, seems so obvious and simple that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before to this degree, turns AI War from a typical RTS into a constant struggle for survival against what can be two difficult and crafty opponents. "Comp stomp" is thrown out the window and replaced with an overall structure that is closer to an action/adventure game where, as you progress further, you gain new abilities and more powers, but the computer has more ships (some of which you can’t even build) and new tactics to throw at you as well. This is where playing with a friend, or two, or seven, really pays off.
Give the gift of co-op.
Co-op in AI War starts as early as the lobby screen. Players are allowed to pick their starting positions before the campaign begins, and some of those starting positions include extra incentives (such as ships or resources) so new players may get a little extra advantage at the outset. While players could pick whatever starting point they wish, it is best to consider the ramifications of picking points on opposite ends of a map that can include up to 120 planets. Travel between the different planets takes place via wormholes, accessed via each planet’s map. A planet that is "5 hops" away, then, may take as much as 8 or 9 minutes to travel to; and in a game like AI War, those are some very long minutes. AI War is also not the kind of game where you complete an entire campaign in one sitting, unless you really feel like powering through. With drop-in/drop-out co-op and the ability to save your progress, however, it makes tackling something that could last anywhere from 7 to 20 hours more manageable.