War is always messy, despite how streamlined things look on the news these days. We’re used to having everything packed into quick sound bytes, with flashy packaging keeping people from realizing just how far a conflict spreads out from the battlefield. Bazinu Inc’s War Agent does a fantastic job of reminding us about that.
At its core, War Agent is a game all about maintaining balance. Things kick off with you filling the shoes of an international arms dealer looking to increase his or her fortune. The simmering hostility between neighboring Red and Blue nations has created a powder keg that only needs the right catalyst in order to go off. You, of course, are the match that sets this little corner of the world ablaze; all it takes is the sale of a handgun to either side and then things kick off.
The majority of the gameplay takes place on a battlefield, where your two agents stand watch and collect the money from both sides. It’s up to you to tap on said cash before it disappears, and orders for the current weapon you’re selling will only last for a little while before interest begins to wane. As Sun Tzu so eloquently stated, “When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men’s weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be dampened.”
As a result, you constantly have to buy new weapons and then sell them to your clients. However, if neither side is making much progress, they might buy arms from a competitor. usually the game will provide a warning of impending competition in order for you to try selling something new to your clients (thereby keeping them happy), but it’s entirely possible that this won’t be enough. When one (or both) of the nations at war buys from a competitor, then you don’t receive any cash from them for a little while. This can actually cripple your game if you’ve just acquired a particularly expensive weapon but can’t profit from that investment.
In fact, if you find your income slashed when funds are low, that might very well be the end of your game, as this tends to happen further into a play session when the weapons are particularly expensive to acquire. Should that happen, all you can really do is watch the war play out until one side surrenders. In fact, eventually you’ll have progressed through the weapon catalog enough to unlock the most powerful weapon, an atomic bomb, the use of which also ends a game. It’s interesting, as “losing” the game involves less bloodshed than “winning” does.
As the armies move back and forth across the battlefield, it’s up to you to prevent one side from completely dominating things. That means you have sell weapons to one side, then more powerful ones to their enemies so they can push back. Additionally, you have to keep track of each country’s enthusiasm for the war (helpfully represented by how high their flags are flying over the field). If the countries start to suffer war fatigue, you’ll have to swipe over and visit their respective capital cities where you can manipulate both government and public support. Public support is maintained via recurring spending with the media, while government enthusiasm is kept high via bribes and assassinations; the latter can dramatically improve a country’s support in the short run, but makes things much more unstable due to increasing the likelihood of terrorist attacks and military coups.
The production values here mesh really well with the rest of the package. Unity is well-utilized in War Agent, taking advantage of the engine’s 2D support. The game features the same retro-pixel art style made popular by Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery, something that works really nicely here. In fact, pairing the simple style with the game’s rather frantic play feels rather inspired, as more detailed graphics might actually take away from the game’s emotional impact.
That emotional impact is a key part of the overall game experience. Yes, it’s enjoyable to keep on buying and selling new weapon types while trying to keep the Red and Blue nations battling for control of the screen, but it’s impossible to ignore the effects of your warmongering. Along with different levels of firepower, each weapon you sell also has a collateral damage ranking. While guns don’t really rank, things like tanks and missile launchers deal increasing amounts of damage. This is made apparent as you begin returning to the nations’ capital cities to keep up enthusiasm for the war; it’s not long before things like crumbling buildings, terrified civilians running through the streets, and bombs dropping from the sky are common sights.
The final screen -regardless of whether you win or lose- will tell you what your net profit was, as well as how many civilians and soldiers died during the conflict. It’s strange and unnerving to see just how far your decisions ripple out, not to mention a little sad; it’s impressive for a mobile title to elicit such an emotional response, especially with such a minimal amount of storytelling.
The more you play War Agent, the more remarkable you realize it is. Yes: It’s fun, challenging, and stylish. But, more importantly, it makes you think about bigger issues that most of us tend to ignore even when they’re being shoved in our face by the 24-hour newscycle. That’s a tremendous achievement, and it deserves to be checked out.