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Game Over Online ~ Earth 2150

GameOver Game Reviews - Earth 2150 (c) Mattel Interactive, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Earth 2150 (c) Mattel Interactive
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium II 233MHz, 32MB Ram, 3D Accelerator, 450MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 89%
Date Published Sunday, June 25th, 2000 at 02:20 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

The field of the real time strategy (RTS) is a crowded one. Similar to the 1st person shooter, where every dinky programming house licensed the quake engine drew up a few maps and monsters, and unleashed their creation upon the unsuspecting gaming market, nearly every new RTS in the past few years has been a clone of Warcraft, C&C or Dune 2. No creativity goes into these games at all; swap Venusians for Orcs, crystals for gold, and a laser tank for a catapult, and you've got a whole new game. Following this pattern, making unentertaining clones is very easy. On the other side of the coin is the fact that doing something different carries a high risk. New features don't necessarily equate to better features (something which Microsoft seems unable to grasp), and the general gaming public is nothing if not unforgiving. It is all the more refreshing, then, when an RTS comes along that tries something different and succeeds.

About three years ago, Earth 2140 joined the RTS party when Command & Conquer clones were at an all time high. I never played it, but the general consensus was a rousing 'nothing special'. From what I've read, it followed a story involving the decimation of earth by nuclear war. The remaining world forces formed into two coalitions, USA et. al. and Europe et. al., and the battle raged over the remaining natural resources. Earth 2150 more or less continues that story. The nuclear war has left the earth's orbit unstable, and in the not too distant future the earth will become entirely uninhabitable, due to its foreseen collision with the sun. The US and European factions separately plan to build a spaceship to move to Mars, but it will require all the remaining resources on the planet to do it. Not everyone is going to get to go, and that gentlemen, means war! In the mix this time is also a Lunar faction which apparently represents a group that founded an orbital colony and later a base on the moon - they too want to get off the ship of fools the earth has become.

In the single player campaign the gamer has the opportunity to play each of the three factions. Each faction does things just a little differently: the Europeans use classical military units, the US builds mech-like vehicles, and Lunar technology is based on advanced hover systems. There is one overall goal for all of the factions, namely to mine enough resources to build the spaceship in less than 183 game days (which is when the earth-sun collision thingy happens). This goal is broken down into smaller missions, such as 'secure this region and mine 25,000 resource units for the spaceship.' At each point you have a couple of missions to choose from and, although I didn't try different mission trees, I expect that the different choices will change the game, enhancing the replayability. You perform these missions deployed from a large, central base - a mother base, if you will. Units transported to the mother base at the end of the mission gain experience, and will be available for the next mission, so, like Homeworld, it pays to hang around at the end of the mission mining all the resources, and building all the units you can. The catch is that you are always working towards the larger goal of securing resources to build the escape spaceship, so not all the resources you gather can be used in the mission; some of them must be sent to a special structure that you build, which ships them home to your mother base automatically.

Earth 2150 preserves all the classic elements that have become par for the course in the RTS realm. Resources are scattered about the map and appear as glowing fields, much like Tiberium in C&C. It is mined and refined to produce cash, and cash is used to construct buildings and units. Build up a base, build up an army, and go to war. So what does Earth 2150 do to try and set itself apart?

The first difference that is apparent as soon as play begins is that this game appears much more 3D than other recently popular RTS, such as Starcraft or Total Annihilation. This is primarily due to the camera, which is a flying camera similar to the one in Ground Control. The field of view can be rotated, tilted, and zoomed. During rotation, the mini-map in the corner of the view is not rotated and as such, there is an indicator in the opposite corner as the mini-map that looks like a compass, and indicates which way the view is oriented compared to the mini-map. It's a little inconvenient, and I've had circumstances where I tried to head towards the enemy, but had accidentally rotated my map view and ended up heading away. A quick check of local landmarks against the minimap showed me what had happened, but it annoyed me, and it would have been much easier if the developers just rotated the minimap directly or put the indicator on the minimap itself.

An additional alteration from the standard RTS mold is that a weather system is implemented. That's right, night, day, rain, fog, sun, snow - it all happens here. A day seems to pass in about 20 minutes, and as dusk falls, your buildings turn on spotlights and your units turn on headlights (you can instruct them to leave them off for covertness). I remember when C&C: Tiberian Sun came out, and Westwood was talking about night missions, but as I played I noticed that, while enemy guard towers had spotlights, it didn't seem to make a difference whether or not my units avoided them or not. Also in C&C: TS you could take your time in night missions - the night wasn't going anywhere. In Earth 2150, using the dark of night is a matter of strategy and timing. My first day on the inhospitable earth of 2150, the rain and fog cut down the visual range of my units, and my overhead viewing range as well, and then night rolled in and I could only see in the foggy halo of my unit headlights and around my buildings. I didn't want to move my units from the warm glow of their headlights and the buildings that surrounded them. I literally felt oppressed, huddled and miserable, in the dark bog that my base had become on that rainy night. Amazing!

One of the greatest accomplishments of Earth 2150 is that it literally adds a whole new level to the gameplay - underground. You can build extensive tunnel systems for defense or digging under the enemy to come up in the middle of their base (ed. note - this system is more complex than the one found in Metal Fatigue). The game handles the tunnel system as a separate screen view that you call up. As a military commander, I'm generally a 'shortest distance between two points is a straight line' kind of guy, and that line doesn't generally go through 100 tons of rock, so I didn't tend to use the subterranean feature much. I would imagine that in a multiplayer game a "flat-earther" like myself facing up against a tunnel rat would create a whole new dimension to the game. In the single player campaign, going underground or not is generally up to you.

The player has the freedom to design the units used in the game - select a chassis, put weapons, ammunition, and special devices on it (much like Warzone 2100), and you're ready to build it. Unit improvements need to be discovered at your research building, and only specific ones in the research tree are available each mission. These improvements can be carried over to the next mission. Your units carry only a certain amount of ammunition (Battlezone 1 & 2 has this feature, but I can't offhand think of another RTS that does) and there is an automated re-supply unit travels between a supply depot and the units requiring ammunition. This unit is subject to attack and has a certain round trip time, so rearming units in the middle of combat at a distant front line can be a dicey proposition. Unit AI is adequate, but there are some significant problems. For example, units crossing a bridge will sometimes get caught on one another, and might turn back believing the way to be blocked. It also seems like there is a delay when ordering units to change the destination or direction, and the units will proceed in the original direction for several seconds before correcting. Through what the game calls a command script, but is really more of a menu, unit orders can be set in terms of aggressiveness and function (guard this unit, hold this ground, pursue enemy).

The units of Earth 2150 are fully animated, to reasonably nice effect, with legs that walk and turrets that swivel. Some buildings have blinking lights on them, moving conveyer belts, or belch smoke from stacks. Unit and building colors are a little bland however, and it is sometimes difficult to figure out the function of some buildings from how they look. If you hover your cursor over one of your buildings, a label will come up telling you what the building is, but that doesn't work for enemy structures, so when attacking a base, if you want to hit the power plants to shut down base defense, you don't necessarily know which building to shoot at. Resolutions up to 1280 x 1024 are supported, with 32-bit color, and on my machine I could sustain better than 30fps at that setting. Still, even at high resolutions, the wow factor of the graphics is kind of limited. Military units are green, gray, black, white, etc. The game strives for a certain degree of realism rather than dazzle, and in that I think it has succeeded.

Vehicle and weapons sounds are similar to the graphics in that they seem to serve more of a utilitarian function rather than a "dazzle" function. I have this huge powered subwoofer, and I keep expecting to find a game with explosions that will rattle my fillings but unfortunately Earth 2150 doesn't deliver. As is usual in RTS games, when you give a unit a command it acknowledges it with a "Will do" or "On my way" or "Whatever you say". Maybe it was the voice acting, or the choice of phrases used in this game, but I hated them almost immediately.

What we have here is the opening salvo in what I am certain will be a barrage of 3D RTS games. There are a lot of truly new and different things to like about Earth 2150. Average AI and somewhat less-than-breathtaking graphics and sounds aside, it introduces some elements that I would like to see become part of the 3D RTS genre on a regular basis. If you haven't liked RTS games up to now, the new elements are probably not enough to make a convert out of you, but fans of the genre should find the game more than enjoyable.


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