In Iraq, the US Army calls it “clear, hold, and build”. On Slide to Play, we just call it “Galcon-esque”. In the last few months we’ve seen Galcon’s signature lite RTS gameplay replicated in games like Castle Warriors, Judgment Day War, and now Square Enix’s mobile port Hills and Rivers Remain. With its evocative title and stirring story, Hills and Rivers Remain is an excellent addition to this budding new genre.
The gameplay of Hills and Rivers Remain requires capturing new territories, then building up more troops in these new areas so that you can expand and keep pressure on the enemy armies. In the first of many twists on the genre, though, you only build troops in one territory at a time, but the more territory you hold, the more troops you’ll get. Because you choose where you want more troops to appear, you’re constantly redefining where you want the front lines of the battlefield to be drawn.
In our day, we had to fight uphill in the snow both ways.
It takes a lot of time to see the elegance of this system in action, however, because Hills and Rivers Remain gets off to a very slow start. For the first few minutes of every round, your armies will move and develop at a snail’s pace, and it isn’t until midway through a 10 or 20 minute mission that you’ll start to appreciate the game’s subtle complexity. Forts that strengthen your attack and stables that help your armies move faster become the biggest prizes you can claim mid-mission, but randomly assigned powerups can make a difference as well.
It wouldn’t be a Square Enix game without some kind of under-the-hood dice rolling, and a tearful, overwrought storyline. The first we’re not so excited about’”it’s irritating to lose control of a territory because of an invisible number generator that decided your guys would simply lose. But we did find ourselves enjoying the story, with its myriad twists and constant surprises. Alliances form and break, new villains are introduced, and in the end, well, only hills and rivers remain.
Peace through war, got it.
Square Enix hasn’t had the best track record on the iPhone so far, and the slow-paced and mostly derivative gameplay of Hills and Rivers Remain may turn off some players. However, having played quite a few of these “clear, hold, and build” style RTS games, we think the storyline and strategy elements do make this one stand out in a good way. It’s a mixed bag, maybe, but if you were to roll the dice on Hills and Rivers Remain you’d likely come away with a win.