I hate false advertising. I remember picking up Lightbringer a few months ago and seeing on the box that it was supposed to have over 70 hours of gameplay. But Lightbringer only had about 20 puzzles in it, and 30 hours was a stretch, let alone 70. Now we get to The Moon Project, a 3D real-time strategy game that is supposed to be a sequel to Earth 2150. But The Moon Project is not a sequel; pretty clearly it's an expansion pack. The only reason anybody is calling it a sequel is so they can charge you $40 for it rather than $20.
When did I notice that The Moon Project was really an expansion pack? Well, it might have been when I read the manual and found that 75% of it was taken verbatim from the Earth 2150 manual. Or when I watched the promotional videos for each faction and found they were exactly the same as the ones from Earth 2150. Or when I played the tutorial missions and found that half of them were lifted straight from Earth 2150. Or when -- well, you get the idea. I mean, TopWare borrowed so much from Earth 2150 that missions on the Moon use the same 24-hour day-night cycle and have the same gravity as the Earth. Is that insulting or just sloppy?
Anyway, in Earth 2150 we learned that the future isn't very bright for humanity. There were wars and famines and economic collapses -- the usual sort of thing. But then in one war, in 2148, we finally used nuclear weapons, and they not only killed a lot of people, they also altered the Earth's orbit, sending it on a collision course with the sun. There were three factions to play -- the United Civilized States (situated in North America and relying on mechs), the Eurasian Dynasty (situated in Europe and Asia and relying on tanks), and the Lunar Corporation (situated on the Moon and relying on alien technology) -- and your job in the game was to gather resources for your faction so you could build an escape ship and head to Mars to start over.
The story in The Moon Project is not a sequel to Earth 2150 -- obviously, I guess, since presumably the Moon shares the same uncomfortable fate as the Earth. No, the story takes place at the same time as the events from Earth 2150. The Lunar Corporation discovers an alien energy weapon on the Moon, and the weapon is so powerful that it can be used to hit targets on the Earth. The only problem is that this ``weapon of peace'' requires a tremendous amount of energy, and so the Lunar Corporation has to build power centers at key locations on the Moon to make it work. Meanwhile, the United Civilized States, being the likely target, wants to stop the Lunar Corporation, and the Eurasian Dynasty… well, the Eurasian Dynasty is mostly clueless about the whole Moon deal, and they'll only make a token visit to the Moon at the end of their campaign.
Now Earth 2150 was sort of a frustrating game. It did a lot of new and interesting things, like allowing you to dig tunnels and forcing you to re-supply your military units with ammunition. It had three factions that were varied but well balanced, with differences in units, weapons, energy requirements, and resource harvesting. It had the friendliest camera that I've ever used in a 3D real-time strategy game. But it also had a long list of minor problems -- from odd key bindings to a clunky and unfriendly interface to a threadbare number of unit stances to some bad single-player campaign decisions -- that held it down to a mediocre-to-good game rather than a good-to-great game.
So what did TopWare change with the sequel? The most obvious upgrade is the addition of 25 or so new units, weapons, and buildings. Some of these are useful, like artillery buildings (not units), which can prevent opponents from simply swarming your base from the ground, and the ``fat girl'' chassis for the Lunar Corporation, which has four light weapon mounts. Some additions aren't as useful, like recyclers, which allow you to dispose of units for cash. And some are silly, like the new anti-aircraft weapons. Air units were fairly weak in Earth 2150, but now they have absolutely no chance at all.
The Moon Project also includes a new campaign for each of the three factions, but the campaigns are awful. Missions tend to be tedious or easy -- or a combination of the two. For the Lunar Corporation and Eurasian Dynasty, you'll typically have to slog through 3-4 enemy bases and destroy every building. The bases will be large, forgettable and defended exactly the same way, so defeating one will be just like defeating the others, and it won't be exciting the first time let alone the third or fourth. The campaign for the Eurasian Dynasty is more interesting, but it is also the shortest (with just ten missions) and it has almost nothing to do with the Moon.
The last area of change includes some minor improvements to the engine and interface. These include: you can now zoom in closer to the action, health bars show up automatically when units and buildings take damage, aircraft units get a couple of new stances (hold position and bob-and-weave attacks), some units received facelifts (like minelayers), and you can now sell your buildings. Some advertising I saw implied that The Moon Project also has some new visual effects, but I didn't notice any, and I even went back and forth a few times between The Moon Project and Earth 2150 to look. There are also a handful of new music tracks and sound effects, but, basically, if you played Earth 2150 then The Moon Project will look, sound, and play almost exactly the same.
What TopWare didn't really do with The Moon Project is fix anything that was wrong with Earth 2150. For example, one of the things that makes the two games unique is that in the single-player campaigns you get a permanent main base as well as a standard temporary base for each mission. You can then shuttle cash and units between the bases, allowing you to keep your veteran units and excess cash for future missions. The problem is that the shuttling of units and cash was slow and tedious in Earth 2150. You might end up with over 100,000 credits in a mission, and the only way to save it was to shuttle it to your main base 5,000 credits at a time. TopWare helped the situation in The Moon Project by automatically transferring credits from the mission base to the main base at the end of the mission, and by increasing the number of units the shuttle can hold from 10 to 15. The problem is that they then went and increased the number of main bases (for the Lunar Corporation and Eurasian Dynasty) from one to three! There wasn't any reason at all to do this, and the end result is that you'll still have to shuttle units and cash around. And it still confounds me why TopWare didn't just solve the problem by allowing all the bases to simply share credits from a common pool. Does shuttling credits around add anything to the game?
Another area that TopWare really should have improved is the interface. It's just as clunky and unfriendly as ever. Every time a construction panel comes up, the playing area re-sizes itself, and the effect is really distracting. The box that shows the current selection is way too small. It's the right size for single units and buildings, but TopWare also tries to use it for unit groups, and in that case the unit names don't fit and you have to use scrollbars to tell what you have selected. Plus, no hit point or shield information is included in the box for groups, making group management even more difficult. Lastly, there still isn't a hotkey to bring up the menu system. These are all things TopWare could have at least taken a stab at.
So my review of The Moon Project has been fairly negative, but I'd just like to make clear that I'm reviewing it as an expansion pack and not as a stand-alone product. That is, I'm focusing on what new things TopWare added to the game and what old things they improved. Unfortunately, the additions and improvements weren't impressive: the new campaigns were bad and much shorter than the ones in Earth 2150, the opponent AI might have actually gotten worse, the engine tweaking didn't do a whole lot other than increase the minimum system requirements for the game, and the new units, weapons, and buildings were hit and miss. So as an expansion pack, The Moon Project left a lot to be desired.
But if you never played Earth 2150 and your interest in The Moon Project is as a stand-alone product, then it might be a good choice. The single-player aspect of the game is bad either way, but The Moon Project has a lot of potential as a multiplayer engine. For that case you'll have to make decisions about what to research and how much to research, and you'll have to stay on your toes so you can make the correct attacks and counter-attacks against your opponents (things not really stressed in the single-player campaigns). And while there is no random map feature, the game comes with several multiplayer maps, and it gives you the capability to create your own maps. Plus, The Moon Project has its own EarthNet server for hooking up players, and it is also supported by the MSN Gaming Zone.
[ 35/50 ] Gameplay
[ 10/10 ] Graphics
[ 08/10 ] Sound
[ 01/05 ] Storyline
[ 04/05 ] Multiplayer
[ 06/10 ] Interface
[ 06/10 ] Fun Factor