Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Zuxxez Entertainment
Developer: Reality Pump Studios
Release Date: September 13, 2005
Earth 2160 is, at first glance, another run-of-the-mill real-time strategy war game. The Earth was destroyed and now everybody has spread out and is trying to make room to live. Unfortunately, everybody seems to want the same bits of land, nobody sees eye to eye, and there is war.
The run-of-the-mill nature of this game ends there, almost before it began.
My initial forays into Earth 2160 left me feeling much like a kid at a toy store with a year's worth of allowance to spend: indecisive but undeniably excited. I tell you now, you will not be disappointed by any time spent playing this game.
When I first launched the game, it was nearly unplayable. I was getting approximately a single frame per second. A quick trip to the settings panel revealed that the title defaults to having the settings turned all the way up, which was clearly overkill for my system. After turning them down to medium, my system managed to get a decent framerate out of the game.
Of course, having turned the graphics down, I expected the same sort of treatment that I get from other games – a shoddy appearance barely worth release. I was pleasantly surprised when greeted by what is perhaps the most amazingly detailed real-time strategy game I have ever had the pleasure of playing.
Earth 2160 is beautiful. It is richly detailed, with each unit and building having a lot of love put in to ensure an exceedingly rich experience. The effects are extremely well done; explosions seem believable, and lasers look quite painful as they pump destructive energy into the last vestiges of the enemy encampments. It's not just one effect, either. Pulse lasers pulse, ion cannons blast, lightning cannons zigzag, and sniper rifles look decidedly deadly.
Perhaps unique to the genre, Earth 2160 also provides a cycle of day and night. As you play the levels, the lighting changes from day to night and everything in between, coloring everything as you'd expect. At night, the units have various lights depending on their type. You can even turn the lights off or a surprise approach to the enemy base, or leave them on and light up the ground with brilliantly done lighting effects.
The sound is also well done, the music providing excellent background to the action that is taking place in the game. The expected windy noise on desolate grounds, realistic sounding explosions, unit responses, and a good soundtrack help to complement the excellent visuals. My only gripe with the sound is related to volume. From time to time, the wind noise on some levels is overpoweringly loud, while at other times, I had trouble hearing some dialogue due to the music.
Earth 2160 also provides the same sort of tried and true feedback that you expect from your units. Your attention and commands are acknowledged by comments, sometimes brief and sometimes humorous. While not innovative, it's nice to see that they've held true to some of the customs of the genre.
Okay, enough about how the game looks and sounds great. The real question that needs to be asked: "Is it fun and easy to play?"
Well, the interface is not very innovative in and of itself. Earth 2160 allows you to show and hide components at will, an approach pioneered in other games, but it does not let you rearrange the components to better suit your style. This is not a major drawback, however, as the designers put a good amount of thought into the system and it's quite usable as-is.
Issuing commands is also fairly standard. Click to move, or click on a target to attack. The game supports unit groups and also has useful shortcuts for selecting all units, on-screen units, and units of a certain type. All of these features combine to give you pretty much any interaction that you would expect, most of which can be found in other games, but very few games actually pull together all of the functionality like Earth 2160.
The information presented on the screen will have you right at home in moments. You drop into the game knowing how to operate the controls and knowing where to look for the information you need. It is very easy to figure out how to get things moving, and players familiar with other titles in the genre should feel in control with Earth 2160's intuitive framework.
With great visuals, good sound, and a familiar but very usable interface, you already have a pretty good game. Throw in a bit of a plot, and you've got a marketable game on par with many of the other mediocre titles in the genre.
However, the designers of Earth 2160 weren't content with providing an exceedingly beautiful but otherwise cookie-cutter game. They took the concept and pushed it a few steps further.
Technology trees are standard fare in the real-time strategy genre. Just about every game gives players some number of options on how to improve on their armada, forcing them into picking offense over defense, stealth over raw power, or a myriad of other choices that gamers are given to help structure their army the way they want. Earth 2160 is no slouch in this department. Each faction has 40-50 research nodes that allow you access to new units, weapons, structures, and other abilities.
That's fairly standard, of course, but Earth 2160 takes it a few steps beyond just a simple set of technologies you can research. After you've researched the new "Shield Generator mkII," you can then go into the unit creation tool and create a new class of units taking advantage of this new technology. Got the new engine, shield generator, and reflective armor ready to go? No sweat! Just pop into the unit editor, select the chassis you want, pick your engine, armaments, defensive options, give it a name, and away you go! Instantly you will be able to construct your newly minted units from your production facilities. The choices you make in unit construction have a real impact on the cost of the unit, too, so it may not be the best idea to put the top-of-the-line components on everything unless your supply lines are secure.
With this feature, Earth 2160 gives you incredible options for customizing your army, allowing you almost unprecedented levels of strategy. No longer can you learn all of the strengths and weaknesses of a faction and then use that knowledge against them. Your opponent might have outfitted reflective armor rendering your lasers useless, or maybe they're using regular armor, obviating your cannons!
Another innovation that is even more unique than the above, Earth 2160 gives you what they call "virtual agents." These are characters in the game that have certain abilities. Some of the agents function as assistants, managing your supply lines, producing more resource gatherers, refineries, and other things to ensure you constantly have supplies. Other agents will manage your army, producing units and taking them out to war against your opponents while you sit at home and mind the base.
Using these agents, you effectively have an AI at your disposal to use as you see fit. You can control the agents, sending them into battle manually, or using them just for their bonuses. Of course, their best benefit is the fact that they can assist your burgeoning empire while you manage the things you're best at and leave the other things to the agents.
For those of you who are also fans of first-person perspective games, Earth 2160 does not disappoint. It provides a rather unique feature that enables you to click on a unit and enter first-person mode. You then control the unit and can move it around and fire. While the feature is not a big part of the game, and you are never forced into using it, it does provide an interesting way of viewing the game world.
Earth 2160 also comes with an external editor that you can use to create maps and storylines. The company has also stated that they will be releasing a software development kit that enables you to write extensions to the game in their custom language. Not many details are available about this feature yet, but I can easily imagine this game lasting for many years simply because of this functionality.
In conclusion, Earth 2160 provides stunning graphics and some very innovative functionality along with a great interface and a reasonably entertaining storyline. Whether you're familiar with the genre or not, this game will be a great addition to anybody's collection.
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