Urge to play rising...rising...
Interplay's latest strategy title, Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising, is easy to grade but almost impossible to describe. In a way, it's like an interactive movie in the best sense of the term. Built around an engrossing, well developed plot, Antaeus Rising puts you in command of a scuttled carrier which had been forgotten off the coast of an island in Oceania.
It's the year 2032 and nano-technology has transformed the world. War has been forgotten and science, industry and healthcare are thriving. Earth is a utopia...until a group of generals and captains of industry (disgruntled because they have nothing to do now) start blowing cities back into nanodust. Sadly, the world's governments are no longer prepared to deal with a large scale war, and are forced to try and rebuild the only remaining nano-carrier on the planet.
The good news is that since the carrier (dubbed 'Antaeus') uses nano-technology, it can convert almost anything it encounters into building materials to repair itself and build a fleet of tanks and helicopters. In addition, as you discover new technologies you will be able to design increasingly unique units that are tailored to specific kinds of combat. The bad news is that the Antaeus is almost completely crippled, crewless, and under attack when you take command.
Fortunately, you don't actually need a crew - you can resurrect the Antaeus' original one. The minds of the Antaeus' best and brightest have been preserved in microchips called "Soulcatchers." Almost any unit that you can design can be equipped with a Soulcatcher unit, and then you can assign one of the resurrected crewmembers to that unit. Creepy, but effective.
If you match the right crewperson to the right unit, it will pay off in spades. The pilots and tankers assigned to the Antaeus really know their jobs, and they are the best wingmen I have ever had in a PC game. Watching the pilots bob and weave to avoid missile fire or use terrain to sneak up on a target is a real treat.
In fact, the AI is sufficiently strong that you can play the entire game without taking advantage of one of Antaeus' coolest features: being able to take control of one of your units and get into the thick of battle. This sets Antaeus apart from other RTS games, though it has been tried in past efforts like Uprising. When you move into the 3D view, the graphics are gorgeous and are certainly comparable to what we have come to expect from a first-person shooter. The actual combat is pure arcade action. Shoot them before they shoot you, and remember that there are a lot more of them.
Jumping into one of your units also allows you to see the battlefield up close and make command decisions in real time. I use the helicopter solely for this purpose. I'll jump in and select targets for my units and then provide roving cover where needed. The interface for giving orders and marking waypoints is extremely intuitive, and is the same whether you are on the map screen or using the first person view.
The types of strategy that will work for various missions is almost completely dependent on your play style. If you can secure a large area and process its raw materials, you will be able to crank out new units as fast as the old ones are destroyed. Since the only place you can produce units is the carrier, however, you may not be able to get your units back into the thick of battle very quickly. On the other hand, you can take a covert ops approach and try to surgically accomplish your mission goals with minimal casualties.
Sadly, the mission scripting assumes that you cannot figure this sort of thing out for yourself and tends to walk you through the golden path to success in each mission - whether you want it to or not.
Of course, much of the scripting in those missions is intended to further the plot of the game, which is a pleasant change from having the plot exist solely to provide an excuse for the action. Fans of a good story will find that the scripted events, cutscenes and professional voice acting are just as engrossing as the first-person gameplay. In this regard, Antaeus hopefully offers a glimpse of how developers will be looking for new ways to create fun, engrossing experiences that do not fit easily into a particular genre.
Which Antaeus certainly does not. With only a few units (up to eight) under your control at a time, it's not a typical RTS game. Yet with a hefty strategic element and the requirement that you rely on your team's excellent AI, it's not a first-person shooter.
Too bad it's not more things as well, since there is no multiplayer or random scenario generator. Antaeus is only what you make of the plot and the 21 (very time consuming) missions. Though the story is strong enough to carry the game, this kind of experience is just screaming for multiplay and the omission is odd.
Antaeus is best taken as what it is: an experience. It is a graphically beautiful, fully engrossing story that lets the player take the role of combatant and commander. If, in this kind of game, you tend to zip through missions only once without playing with different strategies or fully exploring the scenarios or the maps, Antaeus is probably not for you. On the other hand, if the multi-layered change of pace appeals to you, the richness and quality of the limited gameplay make the game well worth the price of admission.