The Machines Review

The Machines by Directive Games is one of the games that I was looking for the most. I am a big fan of Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game and was a huge fan of games like Total War: Warhammer, StarCraft II, Command & Conquer and many others.  Since I start playing Augmented Reality games, I wonder how a well-invested RTS would play like in AR. In this review, we’ll take a close look at “The Machines” and see what makes it so fun and engaging to play.

What is The Machines?

The Machines is an RTS augmented reality game where players command two hero units called Champions. The need to use apply smart tactics and use strategic thinking too carefully position their troops around the battlefield in order to take out the home base of their opponent.

How Do You Play The Machines?

The battles take place inside a large arena where each player’s champions and base are positioned at the opposite side of the map. The base is static and can’t be repositioned and it’s up to the opponent to move his units to that location and destroyed it.

The Macines ARKit game screenshot
It was so exhilarating moving around the 3D environment in augmented reality (Screenshot from the game)

There are also some gun towers that players need to take them down, as those deal massive amount of damage to their units. It’s like towers in a MOBA game, you need to take them down to be able clear the path and move on. You can progress without killing those towers, but I found out that my troops were taking too much damage and at some point, I knew that I had to take them out first before anything else.

Daye champion stats screen
Daye champion stats screen

Each champion in the game (you can unlock more champions as you progress) have two abilities which he can use. For example, the champion called “Daye” has two abilities; Ground Stomp and Grenade Barrage. Using Ground Stomp, Daye jump in the are and lands to deal 200% of the base damage in a small area. Using Grenade Barrage, Daye shoots a barrage of grenades dealing 400% of the base damage to a large area. Each of the abilities of the champions can be leveled up. Also, each champion has its own stat for hitpoints, HP regeneration per second and damage per second.

The Machines game guide
He is a screenshot from the game. Just so you have a better understanding of the important objective in the game.

Once you get to the home screen of the game, you can see all the available champions, although it would be nice that once I click the champion to see the requirements to unlock them, not just seeing the message: “The hero is not unlocked yet”.

There are also more abilities that you can unlock during the game as you kill more minions (you see it on the right side of the screen), including a super ability (left side of the screen once it pops up) that can deal a massive amount of damage. It’s really important to know where to position your units. One time I just put the turrets very close to the enemy units and they just wiped them out really fast.

Those other abilities are used to provide support for your champions. You can put down turrets, provide healing and defense to your units or use attack abilities to deal damage to enemy units.

Home Screen & Game Modes

In the home screen, you can see all the available options, including viewing your player’s global stats: XP, Multiplayer, and Singleplayer games played, Multiplayer and Singleplayer total won games and your character level progression.

The game has two game modes: Single player and Multiplayer. You can start playing single-player straight away, but you need to get to Level 3 to unlock the multiplayer mode.

There is also a global leaderboard, where you can see the top players in singleplayer and Multiplayer game modes. I don’t know what the developer didn’t include the option to see my rank, this is essential.

This game is can be really punishing if you don’t know what you are doing. You really need to think smart and fast. Just tapping the map like crazy won’t do it, it’s all about strategic thinking. It takes some time to get used to it, so it can take quite a few games to improve your skills and understand the weak points of the map and how to take advantage of them. The most important thing is to adapt to what your opponent is doing. To master this game you need to play lots of multiplayer matches, and I mean, a lot.

Speaking of Multiplayer, it took me along time to a player to play against. I can just assume that there are just not too many players playing the game, at least not at the time that I am playing. I do wish that this game gets a very large player-base so we can find matches quickly through the day. Without a large player base, the game will lose some of its attractiveness because how many single-player matches can you play before it’s getting tiring, repetitive and boring. In my opinion, the strongest part of this game is its competitive multiplayer game mode. Small player-base can be an issue for any multiplayer game and I do hope that this game won’t have these type of issues.

If the game had some sort of campaign or a progression system for single-player, this might be different but it doesn’t.

I also wish there was an option to player against a friend, not just a random player. This can be really awesome. My brother downloaded the game, but I didn’t find any option to invite him and play against him. Also a seasonal competitive mode might be really good for this game. The global leaderboard is nice, but come on, the chanced of many players to appear there are low. They should just make it like Overwatch, with seasonal ranked matches, don’t you think?

One last thing. Each match is limited by time 10 minutes if I am not mistaken. After the timer reaches zero if there is no winner the match will add in a draw.

A short Tutorial

Tutorial screenshot from the game The Machines
The trainer, the tutorial of the game.

When you start the game you get to play a short tutorial that will teach you the basics of how to play The Machines. It’s a really well-made tutorial that will get you learn the basics in no time but it’s not in-depth either and I would really want to see some more tutorials that can teach players more about tactics, rather than just the basic.

You can also repeat the tutorial by choosing this option from the settings menu. One problem that I had with that option is that once you start it and want to go back, you can’t. There is no back button to get back to the home screen. In the regular game modes, you do have a back button, which is more like a surrender button.

Graphics & Level Design

The graphics quality is absolutely insane. This is by far the best looking ARKit game I got to play so far. There are so many details on the map it’s just unbelievable, with beautiful rocky mountains, super detailed terrain and flowing water—this game is just stunning!

The Machines map level from top view
The entire level viewed from a top position.

I’ve read on the official website that the game uses 4K textures and physically based lighting. The game was developed using Unreal Engine 4, which is known for its superb light rendering. The Machines certainly raises the bar for other ARKit games to follow.

Now, this gets even way better in augmented reality. The fact that you can move around the environment makes all the difference in the world. It’s so beautiful watching how the big rocks move as you change your point of view. It like flying above a real surface, but not too high, so you can enjoy the beauty of it. Everything just worked so smoothly with no noticeable lag, this is really impressive stuff here.

I was really impressed with the character design in HoloGrid: Monster Battle, and  Follow Me Dragon although ‘The Machines’ game doesn’t have such detailed characters, it was able to impress me and immerse me way more than those two other games.

Cool graphics effects in the AR game The Machines
Check out those cool graphics effects! With sound it’s even much better.

The graphics effects and the high-quality sound really help to enhance the overall gameplay experience as well. Directive Game has done a really great job here, again, I’m very impressed.

The Machines home screen screenshot
This is not what a home screen should look like, even in an augmented. Maybe developers haven’t figured out yet how to make cool UI screens in AR.

The thing that I like less was the home screen’s UI. It just looks, lazy cheap and unorganized, like the developer took those 3D models and threw them on the floor. The presentation of the champions is really terrible. I first didn’t even know what those objects were; this is not the way to showcase them. Those are some things that I really want to see improved as well in future updates. The combat UI was spot on, I have no complaints about it.

AR Experience & Immersion

The surface detection worked well but I’ve seen games with faster detection. I think the reason that some games have a faster detection time is that it depends on the size of the game. Some game just asks you to find a small area and allows you to enlarge it, other games like “The Machines”, have a fixed level size that you cannot change. At least I didn’t find any way to resize the map.

Playing the game The Machines outdoors
Playing the game The Machines outdoors. Can you tell that it’s a virtual 3D objects, outdoors it looked like part of the word, seriously.

I tried spawning the game on the table and it didn’t work. I finally gave up and just play it on the floor. I would have preferred playing it on a table so my back won’t hurt. You can easily spend 5-10 minutes in a battle (If I remember right, the game is limited to 9:55 minutes), so it’s better to play it on a surface where you don’t need to crouch or look down all the time.

In the settings menu, you can find a button that says “Calibration” but it’s grayed out and doesn’t work. I tried activating it during the game or after spawning the game but it was still grayed out. The only thing I could do if I want to change the positioning of the game is to close the app and reallocate it. This something that I certainly want to be improved.

As I mentioned earlier, the game is designed so well in AR, that you just feel a need to move around the environment and inspect it from every angle.. The maps are relatively big, I think about 1.5m by 1m (~5 feet by 3.3 feet). This is why you need a relatively large space to play the game. I was able to spawn it inside my little room on top of everything that was on the floor, so as long as you have some visible surface, even a small one, you will be able to generate the game there. But as I said, I recommend a large space because you’ll also need to move around the environment as well, but it’s not a must.

I didn’t encounter any significant jittering. When I played the game was stuck on the surface like a bubblegum and stayed still  throughout the game session. However, pointing the camera in the opposite direction resulted in slight jittering, but still, once I focused on the game board it stayed in place.

I had one issue when I wanted to check how it plays outdoors. It was a bright sunny day, yet something weird happened. The game tried to search for a surface and suddenly the whole screen went black with a large circle that I could see things through. I closed the game and started again and it didn’t come back, probably a bug.

Speaking about immersion, this is probably the most immersive AR game I’ve played since I started playing Augmented Reality games (ARKit to be more specific).

It’s amazing seeing that beautiful game being part of the physical world. I really liked how sound volume increases as you get close to combat units.

Camera stream video quality differences
Same devices, no changes in settings, camera stream look different.

I’ve also noticed something weird about the camera stream. The stream of the camera was of lower quality compared to other games. When I first saw it I thought that this is how it is, so I just launched other apps to see if they have the same issue but they didn’t. I’ve seen some slanted lines where horizontal lines are. The image appeared darker and noisier.

This is weird because I didn’t change anything camera settings, I just switched between apps. This made the background very noisy indoors (I was playing on the iPad 9.7-inch 2017 model) and looked like a blocky background when I played it outdoors. The thing is that I couldn’t see this in the screenshot that I’ve taken, only when I played the game.

I am not complaining about the noise because the iPad camera isn’t that good in low-light, but the video artifacts and weird patterns that I’ve seen. This hurt immersion a bit because the real world seemed somewhat disconnected from the virtual objects that are projected on it. It’s not too bad though and I wonder if this happened on the iPhone as well.

Conclusion

My experience with The Machines was great. Finally, a tactical RTS game that I know that I’ll be playing way after writing this review. The AR experiences were above my expectations and I was exhilarated when I made my steps into the first combat. It’s a game that you can easily pick up but hard to master.

The multiplayer experience, once I was able to finally play it was fun and exciting. I highly recommend this game to RTS fans and those who are searching for a more visually impressive Augmented Reality (AR) game to play on their iPhone and iPad ARKit-enabled mobile devices. There are some things that can surely be improved and should, but The Machines is definitely a new standard for AR games, especially for its genre and I ranked it accordingly.

2 Replies to “The Machines Review”

  1. I don’t believe that mobile ARKit RTS game for $5 has pvp and I don’t believe that it can be bad :)) Let’s be honest, this game has very limited amount of active player due to requirements. It certainly has a longer game session than regular games where you can spend couple of minutes when you’re idling, you certainly can’t play it in car or in bus, or subway that’s how you end up spending hours waiting for opponent to have a real PVP session.
    If you say that you have no problem with that then as a game developer I won’t believe that they have a real PVP, it’s probably an AI, maybe a little bit advanced than their regular one, and it has real player name, so you think that you play with someone real.
    This game is a certainly great demo of arkit, however it’s the simpliest arkit solution so far, it really does nothing special with ARKit, it hasn’t any complex solutions implemented, you simply project a scene on a surface and walk around it watching it from different angles. It’s certainly cool new experience, it has great graphics, but it’s not the best ARKit demo, I’m sure we’ll see more advanced ones in nearest future.
    ARKit is very raw right now, hopefully apple will do their best for its improvement and we could do more cool things with it in future.
    If they had feature that allows you to become one of the units, walk around in real world and shoot enemies it would certainly be much cooler than walking around the table. Do they have it?

  2. I played it and I enjoyed it a lot. I actually enjoyed playing it on the floor and able to walk around it. For me, it was like having a board game that my niece brought with her, but this time, those game pieces are moving around and you get to control and interact with them. It’s an amazing feeling, one of the best that I had so far in AR.

    I do agree that in time we are going to see much better experience and the standard will be higher but that’s natural. I remember the first bunch of VR games and now you have some really amazing experience.

    The technology obviously has its limitations and it’s up for developers to learn to work with it or around it to create great experiences. The Machines doesn’t innovate like ARise with its AR-oriented gameplay mechanics, but it that experience of playing a 3D game like that in my living room was just indescribable. I also played it on my iPad’s big screen, so it was really something to behold.

    Like yourself, I do hope to see some cool gameplay ideas that take the outside environment into account. The problem now is that each game requires scanning the environment, so getting a continuous real-time scanning of the scene for a consecutive spawning of enemies is not possible, at least that how I understand it.

    Thanks for sharing your opinion.

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