Developer: Related Designs
Release Date: October 21, 2003
Pre-order 'NO MAN'S LAND': PC
German based publishing company CDV is quickly becoming one of the more prominent game marketers around. With several good titles already under their belt, including Cossacks, American Conquest, and the recently released Blitzkrieg, CDV have shown that they are not afraid to keep moving forward, while at the same time remaining fresh and diverse. One of the company’s next efforts, No Man’s Land, seems to be taking that same approach even further.
Currently in development by Related Designs, No Man’s Land is a pseudo historical RTS set in America, right at the initial discovery, and all through the War of Independence, to the introduction of the railroad, and beyond. The game will feature its own state of the art 3D graphics engine, 6 major sides, and 3 campaigns based around historical events and people. Played as a straight forward RTS, the game also promises diverse buildings and units for the player to control, detailed worlds, and even a brand new multiplayer game entitled the railroad challenge.
I received a late build of the game, and while there was still some work to be done, the game showed some serious promise. One of the more notable aspects of No Man’s Land involves its graphics engine, which features well done terrain, fauna, units and buildings. The engine is totally 3D, and definitely stands out. While many games using these graphics tend to appear flat, Related Designs seems to have given everything a certain brightness and sparkle more common to a sprite based approach. The result seems to give everything a little more vibrancy, a little more life. The games allows for several levels of zoom, and even close up, the graphics really shine. Everything appears crisp and readily identifiable. I was unable to tell if the final version will allow for the camera to be rotated or not, but even without it, the clarity zooming in offers would be just as useful.
The units are all shaded with different uniforms and colors, and I found I was able to easily pick out which ones were which after only a few minutes of game play. While each culture has their own unique building architecture, many of the buildings have a tendency to look alike. They are all well done, and nice to look at, but there is some similarity to them that can make them hard to distinguish at times. The games graphics are also used to great effect with in game cinematics that occur at the beginning and end of the games missions. The games intro movie is also extremely well done, and uses the same in game graphics to get the job done. About the closest thing I could compare both the graphics as well as the camera aspects of No Man’s Land to would be Age of Mythology, and that’s based more on execution rather than appearance. The graphics in No Man’s Land actually look better than AoM, with more clarity and definition. Despite my boasting, the graphics engine in the version I received still hadn’t been optimized yet, so their most likely going to be even better in the final version.
Game play wise, No Man’s Land appears set to offer 3 major, mission based campaigns involving one of 6 cultures; Spanish, English, Patriots, Settlers, and both forest and prairie based Native Americans. The player can choose to play as any one of these sides. All of the cultures were included with the version I received, and the missions featured everything from the standard build up and attack, to assembling a small force and eliminating a specific enemy, to clearing out a certain area and then building up an attack force. One issue I did experience with the missions was that many of them are of the set piece variety. They give you a limited number of units and require you to complete some rather enterprising goals. One mission in particular required me to establish a colony using a small group of Englishmen. An important resource, food, could only be built on a small nearby island. As the transport ship loaded with my farm building pioneers neared the island, I realized this island was not deserted but in fact housed a small enemy base. Take my word for it, defeating that base was nearly impossible, although necessary in order to obtain the needed resource. Again, it is likely many of the missions and units in the build I received hadn’t been fleshed out yet, so it’s hard to judge things as they stand right now.
All in all however, if the missions I played through are any indication, the campaigns in No Man’s Land will feature great story telling combined with diverse missions to play through. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I hear that a Spanish base has been attacked by an ‘animal demon’, my ears perk right up. It appears that, while No Man’s Land is going to have a loose historical base to it, it’s also going to delve into the lesser known but far more interesting aspects of this time period, such as Indian Shaman’s, and the belief that they could raise evil spirits. Not only will these aspects be in the story telling, but some of them will appear as units as well, and will also have an associated counter unit. Additionally, some of the units featured in the game will allow players to attack in some drastically unconventional ways, such as through disease and with the application of insects. One such unit is the Bounty Hunter, which, when employed by the player, will attempt to hunt down and kill an enemy of the players choosing. I didn’t get a chance to see this in action, but it sounds cool, and if it’s executed in a manner consistent with the rest of the game, it should bring yet another layer of strategy to the table. While some may feel that these fantasy based overtones detract from an otherwise authentic setting, it’s not any more far fetched than the aforementioned AoM and its use of mythological units. Just as the cultures in that game had their own beliefs and identities, so did the cultures used in No Man’s Land.
Yet another good aspect I noticed with No Man’s Land was the subtle but effective use of sound. One mission I played was set during the night, and involved only a few units. The mission was to locate the ‘animal demon’ and eliminate him. With my handful of units, I found myself trouncing about in a well done forest woodland. The sound was subtle, yet very spooky, and very effective, consisting largely of lone wolf howls, small animal chatter, and some suspenseful background music. This, combined with the graphics engines ability to effectively employ shaded lighting and fog, and the mission took on a life of its own, making everything seem a little more real. Small touches like this were common throughout the missions I played, and were really effective. It will be fun to play through the retail version of the game, as some of the units in my version weren’t balanced, and the enemies were quite difficult to defeat. At least I hope they weren’t balanced. If they were, then I am in a lot of trouble.
With all of the good things I have mentioned about this game, there is one aspect that concerns me. It doesn’t involve any one portion of the game directly, but more like the game as a whole. Despite its intriguing points, No Man’s Land is a mission based, straightforward RTS. Build, defend, attack, and destroy. Lather, rinse, and repeat. And while this might be OK for some, it serves to note that No Man’s Land is going to be one of the first RTS titles released after Big Huge Games RTS opus Rise of Nations. While the jury might still be out on the big picture, Rise of Nations brought some major changes to RTS, and its going to be interesting to see if those changes usher in a new era in the genre, or simply offer a worthy alternative. After playing Rise of Nations, it might be hard for some gamers to go back to the standard formula. I must admit that after playing Rise of Nations for months now, I experienced some initial withdrawals while dealing with No Man’s Land. It wasn’t long before I found myself drawn in by the games interesting story and diverse units, but there was some give and take at first. My overall concern is that some gamers may pass over No Man’s Land because of what it’s missing, without being aware of what they’re missing. From what I can see, there is a solid, fun game here, with some neat units, and a graphics engine that is poised to become one of the best in the genre.
Along with the 3 major campaigns, No Man’s Land will ship with a skirmish mode, as well as a multiplayer component. The game exudes quality, and is obviously being developed with care and thoughtfulness. I am really looking forward to this game, and as long as Related Designs and CDV continue in the direction they’re currently going in, No Man’s Land will be a top of the line RTS, available in early August for gamers to enjoy. Watch this one gamers, it could be the sleeper title of the year.