So we've only got 150 years until Armageddon?
It's not something you think about every day, but our lives hang in the balance by a very thin thread called gravity. Our mother Earth is held in a very specific gravitational orbit around the sun, which is a good thing, because otherwise we'd plummet into the fiery center of our solar system like a stone dropped in water. Most of us wouldn't notice a thing, however, because even the slightest nudge off our current orbit would lead to the kind of apocalyptic weather conditions seen only in movies with Tommy Lee Jones or television dramas with Burt Lancaster. We'd drown in a tidal wave before smoldering in a star.
While we Americans (I'm speaking for a whole country here) choose not to consider such atrocities, the Germans have decided to face it head on. It comes in the form of Earth 2150, a 3D real time strategy game brought to US shores from Deutschland. But despite the killer graphics and chilling vision of the future, this one decides that games are better when they make everything difficult (sort of like the Germans! Oohh, here comes the hate mail...)
The plot is an electrifying combination of the shlocky and mundane. After a series of brutal wars, it seems that our good old Gaia has been knocked off its present course and has a date with the sun. Three separate factions each come to the brilliant realization that escape is the only means of, uh, escape, and promptly decide to start building spaceships to lift their kind to the safety of the stars. This requires an immense amount of materials, which, in another stunning leap of originality, comes in the form of ore. Yep. Ore. At least it ain't tiberium.
At its core, Earth 2150 follows traditional real-time strategy gameplay. You build buildings, mine for (ugh) ore, and build units to wipe out your enemies. But the game offers some very interesting twists on this formula.
The most noticeable improvement over traditional RTS games is in the graphics, which rock. Earth 2150 features a fully realized 3D world, complete with day/night cycles, varying weather patterns, beautiful hills and valleys and ample textures. All objects are polygonal, and the camera can spin 360 degrees and zoom in/out. The level of detail is impressive, from unique moving parts on the vehicles to the individual lights that pop on when the sun goes down.
Earth 2150 also features terrain deformation that allows you to tunnel through hills and create underground environments. It's just a pretty game.
There are three distinct sides to play as - the Eurasian Dynasty, the United Civilized States, and the Lunar Corportaion. Each side has unique unit and building types. The ED is a typical military affair with heavy emphasis on tanks and whatnot; the UCS employs mech-like robots to do the dirty work, and the LC specialize in fast-moving hovercraft. With separate research trees, you'll use different strategies when playing as each.
Another innovation can be found in the mission setup. There are an impressive 70 missions in the single player campaign, spanning all three sides. In each, you control a central base area. You undertake missions as they become available, and the progress is not linear. The missions take place on a separate map from the central base, and you'll often find yourself sending units and resources back and forth between the two. And if you create underground areas, you'll be able to simultaneously control units in three different locations. Hope you have a good walkie-talkie.
The level of complexity continues when you consider unit building. You actually have to pick a chassis and equipment, then save that template in order to create those units. Considering the rather large research trees, this adds yet another layer of strategy.
It's easy to see why this little game has grabbed the attention of so many. But despite its innovations, Earth 2150 fails to do what every game under the sun (or falling in to the sun, I should say) promises to do - be fun.
For starters, the AI for both friendly and enemy units sucks. Units will just sit around getting nailed unless you move them around yourself. Likewise, the enemy rarely does more than rush in and attack everything in sight. At this point in RTS gaming, advances in AI is what separates the great from the good.
Also, the very complexity that makes this game a die-hard strategy fan's dream makes it the casual fan's nightmare. For instance, units have a finite amount of ammo. Once they exhaust their payload, they'll just sit around in the middle of battle taking it up the tailpipe. To remedy this, you have to build a supply depot and supply ships, enough to resupply your entire army if you want to survive. Sounds like fun - if you come from planet Boring.
While the graphics as a whole are pretty, the buildings themselves look incredibly bland and similar to one another. Unlike the fantastic camera in Ground Control, this one allows for only partial zooms and has a limited Y-axis (ie. you can't see things from absolute top down or from the horizon line). Additionally, the user-interface is not user-friendly due to big, clunky windows and miniscule icons.
Since this is a resource-based game, things almost always boil down to a war of attrition. The side with the most units almost always wins despite supposed terrain modifiers. Also, the game moves slowly and in phases - moments of brutal warfare broken up by long stretches of building, mining and research. Not well-balanced.
The multi-player works fine, and the game comes packaged with a mission editor. But these things are pretty standard fare these days.
I should also note that this game has got some seriously dramatic music. I never knew digging in the snow for ore could be so tense.
When all is said and done, Earth 2150 is a mixed bag of great ideas and poor implementation. Most 'normal' gamers, even those will degrees from Command and Conquer University or the StarCraft Institute, will find the complexity unnecessary and getting in the way of the fun. Hardcore strategy types might dig the depth, however.