Someone fetch the Krazy Glue.
Massively multiplayer online games are starting to come out faster than I can review them. Ultima Online started the whole thing, followed by the even more successful Everquest. Asheron's Call then snuck quietly into the picture, and now they are coming faster and faster and splitting away from their fantasy roots. From Anarchy Online to the upcoming Motor City Online, massively multiplayer games are branching out and breaking the molds.
Why are so many publishers making these massively multiplayer games all of a sudden? The answer is easy: massive money. It's September, and everyone is back in school, so let's do the math!
350,000 Everquest players, each paying $9.95 per month = $3.5 million dollars for Sony every month. Wow!
Now that we know why everyone wants in on the action, let's take a look at Shattered Galaxy from small-time publisher Nexon, billed as the very first Massively Multiplayer Real-Time Strategy game. And while it is pretty fun, it bears very little resemblance to strategy games like Warcraft or Command & Conquer. Actually, it plays much more like the monumental failure that was Command & Conquer: Sole Survivor, only Shattered Galaxy is actually fun.
Which is good, because without the fun factor, Shattered Galaxy will not impress your friends or relatives. The graphics are well below today's standards; little blocky guys running around shooting each other. The maps are especially bland and primitive, with random walls, giant eyeballs or puddles of water with essentially no design flair at all. It looks more like a game from a few years ago.
The sound won't have you humming along or tapping your toes, either. Let's just say there's not much variation; the bad MIDI-fied orchestral score runs on a constant 3 minute loop. Shattered Galaxy may have set the new record for the quickest I've ever found the option screen to turn off the music. Sonic R would have had the record, except that you couldn't turn off the music in Sonic R.
How did the galaxy get shattered? Well, it seems that some scientists on Earth were trying to use an alien device, a teleporter, to, you know, move stuff around. After teleporting a few small objects successfully, they tried the experiment with the highly adventurous rat, Russell. This had the effect of transporting half the planet Earth halfway across the galaxy. Oops. Now the human survivors use strange technologies to kill each other. The story is, in a word, extraneous.
Fortunately for Nexon, Shattered Galaxy is strangely addictive. You have a hero who never fights but can gain in stats and abilities. Instead, your little robot army fights for you and can also gain levels, stats and abilities. The thing is that you can only have 6 of them at a time (you can have more as your "tactics" skill increases, up to a maximum of 12). There's no building or resource mining - you just take your squad of 6 into combat, order them around and let them fight it out. If they die, you can bring in another squad of 6 from your army after about a minute or so.
And whom do you fight? Well, you can either adventure in the caves shooting aliens under the planet's surface or fight against the other three rival factions on the surface for control of the planet. I've hardly ever seen anyone in the caves.
Victory in any battle (which can have up to 40 combatants) is determined by control of "POC's" (glowing red disks) on the map. If your team controls all the POC's, victory is yours.
The real fun is in watching your hero and your little guys get stronger and stronger. As you gain levels, you gain access to different robot frames, new technologies, new weapons, new computers, new energy sources - you name it. The amount of customization is simply huge and the fun lies in the pride you get developing and outfitting your own little army.
The rate at which you and your units advance is almost perfectly set, awarding you upgrades and options before you get bored with the old ones. The next level never seems too far away.
In a sense, Shattered Galaxy is much less like a strategy game and more like the traditional MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game). The difference is that you have 6 guys at a time instead of one. Get really into it and you can become one of the faction commanders with the ability to coordinate battles, or at least try to coordinate them, as your powers are limited. Eventually you can travel to other planets and try to claim them for your faction.
I'd actually recommend this strangely addictive little game pretty highly if it didn't drain your wallet. At $10 per month ($5 if you buy a whole year in advance), Shattered Galaxy has to justify itself just a little more than it does. With no real item trading or online community to rival those of the online RPG's, Shattered Galaxy is more of a diversion than a full meal. While it's more fun than I thought it was going to be, I just don't think it's quite worth the ongoing expense. It's a shame too, because if it didn't cost me, I'd love to see just how powerful my little robots could get.