Developer: Massive Entertainment
Release Date: June 22, 2004
Pre-order 'GROUND CONTROL 2: Operation Exodus': PC
A new title from perennial heavyweight Sierra is always looked upon by me with some trepidation. Over they years they have given me not only some of the most memorable gaming experiences I have had, they have also been the perpetrators of some major disappointments. And when they release a new RTS title that really doesn’t bring anything new to the table, well, I think you can see where I am going…
When Blizzard released the original Warcraft: Orcs vs. Humans, the gaming world was revolutionized, and an entire new genre was born; the Real-Time Strategy game. Prior to this, any game that required advanced tactics, procedures, and preparations could only be pulled off within the constraints of the Turn-Based breed of game. Some of these, (Most notably those designed by the legendary Sid Meier) have reached classic status for their complexity and depth of play.
The RTS explosion continued for the better part of a decade, with each developed bringing a new slant to things. Initially we all learned that sending hordes of grunts (peons, villagers, or whatever your particular game milieu called them) out to chop wood, gather food, smelt ore, etc, was the key to victory. Then a few clever players developed the rush tactic. No, this doesn’t mean you hire a rock trio from Canada to slay your foes. This tactic involves spending your initial outlay of resources to build as many of the cheapest combat units you could afford, and sending them out on a preemptive strike, hopefully before your opponent can build a retaliatory force or any type of defenses. This type of play was made famous as the “Zergling Rush” when playing Starcraft.
Then a few companies decided that resource gathering was becoming almost superfluous and games like Microsoft’s Close Combat series were born. Now, the units you start with are basically all you get, unless reinforcements were scheduled in the scenario or mission structure.
Many different twists and turns have been attempted, but basically all of these games follow the same pattern; Build, Advance and Conquer. Unfortunately, Ground Control 2 hasn’t done enough new things to take a played-out genre to its next stage of evolution.
I will admit that I had never played the original Ground Control. For what it’s worth, my best friend (let’s call him Grimlokk) is a huge fan of the original, and I value his opinion where RTS’s are concerned. I actually went to a few stores looking for it when I received my preview copy of the sequel, but it was nowhere to be found. When I looked around at what Sierra also had on the shelf, I saw that they were selling the brand-spanking-new Lords of the Realm game for a bargain price ($19.95). It almost seems like Sierra is throwing in the towel here.
Now folks, as I have said in these columns a few times, I like you all way too much to lie to you, so here is my truth: The preview version I got my hot little hands on is very buggy. The developers knew this, and kindly sent me a list of times when I could anticipate a crash, or things occurring in the game that would never occur during the finished product. I found the graphics to be very choppy, there were a number of times when the screen froze during refreshes, and the character animations were glitchy to the point of distraction. (For the record, my test system is a P4-2.8GhZ, 512K RAM, 128M NVIDIA Ge-Force)
As far as I can gather from the opening cutscene, which is really beautiful, by the way, as the result of Corporate Warfare which escalated to military proportions, mankind is now both exploring and defending. Chaos has become the order of the day. Massive armies compete for any parcel of land that is available. But there are these strange UFO landing sites…..
I like the idea of an RTS taking place in an Urban, Post-Apocalyptic arena. It’s been tried before, both successfully (Fallout and Fallout Tactics to name a few) and disastrously (Too many to name in one preview), but it remains a staple of this genre. The maps in GC2 are nicely thought out, they offer multiple routes to objectives, and the detail is dazzling! Seeing the burnt, hollowed, dismembered frame of what was once obviously the Big Boy statue from a certain chain restaurant filled my sick little heart with glee. (My wife used to manage one of those hell-holes in her younger days).
Unit design is pretty standard. You are commanding infantry, vehicles, and mechs in your pursuit of victory. The mechs are very nicely rendered, but they seem to be just one more weapon in your arsenal, instead of the juggernauts they so richly deserve to be. Their appearance in the cutscenes really whets your appetite to get a hold of them, but once you do, same ole’, same ole’.
There are a few things in the gameplay department I do like, however. The ability to set a beginning and an end facing for groups of units makes setting up ambushes at choke points a lot easier to do in a lot less time.
Reinforcements are handled via dropships. Your squads must find, clear and control a landing zone before your dropship will supply you with the new units you need. These reinforcements can be queued in advance, so planning is essential.
Another interesting idea is the FPS feel of primary- and secondary-fire for units on the battlefield. This adds a richer variety of attack from a single unit.
Line-of-Sight and target elevation are nicely handled here, much like the tabletop wargames of my younger days, with precise LOS control and constraint.
Voice talent, which my more faithful readers will know I am a stickler for, is handled adequately, but as usual in games of this ilk, the dialogue is hackneyed and reeks of cheesy war movie clichés.
I usually prefer (OK, who am I kidding, my Editor-In-Chief, the esteemed Rainier requires) my previews and reviews to be 1500 words or so, but I feel, in this case, the finished product will be infinitely better than the preview edition, and the more I run my mouth, the less people will wait around. Ground Control 2 deserves a second chance, because, in its flaws, I also see glimmers of brilliance.
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