"...In An Octopus' Garden in the Shade"
As soon as I saw the box to Tone Rebellion, I could tell that this was going to be a weird game. Made by the creators ofAscendancy, The Tone Rebellion has the same look and feel. The Tone Rebellion is set on an island floating through space. The local citizens are little, octopus-like creatures which float around and are called, appropriately enough, floaters. The floaters live on and cultivate a life giving substance called The Tone (think "The Force"), which looks a lot like water. Then, one day, a creature called The Leviathan, which looks more like a rose branch (or one of the Graboids from Tremors) than a whale, taps into the power of The Tone and becomes extremely powerful. The Leviathan then goes on a rampage, eating many floaters and breaking the island world into many pieces. As leader of one of the four tribes of floaters, it is your mission to destroy the growths of the Leviathan and acquire the mystical artifacts necessary to destroy it once and for all.
The Tone Rebellion, like all real-time strategy games, starts the player with a small base and a few workers. From there, the player must acquire resources (tone), construct buildings (out of tone), and build units to fight battles with. The Tone Rebellion also includes an extra aspect from puzzle games. As your tribe expands, you come across many different artifacts. Some of the artifacts are used in combination with mystic sites to produce magical effects. Also unique to Tone is the fact that the bad guy is defeated not by a great battle, but by collecting ancient artifacts.
All gameplay takes place on the various pieces of the shattered island. For what was supposed to be one island, the various pieces certainly look very different. Some look like gardens, some like tidepools, and others like fumaroles. All buildings are constructed on 'tone nodes' which only exist in the areas where you have built a 'tone spreader'. The art is quite well done and supports the story well. The game's music is excellent. In fact, it fits so well with the feel of the game that often I didn't even notice that is was there. It is worth noting that The Tone Rebellion includes an audio CD along with the data CD for those who wish to hear more of its haunting, otherworldly sounds.
For a game that, artistically, has so much going for it, it would be nice if Tone also had great gameplay to accompany the art and music. Yes, it would have been nice... The Tone Rebellion has 12 different units per side, for a total of 48 different floater units. Unfortunately, because most of these units are just minor improvements over earlier units, there are really only 5 different units per side. Each side can also only build 9 types of structures, which can become a little dull after a while. It is also a little annoying that of the 8 structures available, none are defensive. No turrets, no artillery tower, nothing.
In what is a major design limitation, every island fragment in Tone is played out as a linear world. There is no real North/South, only East/West. This gives battles all the complexity of a tug-of-war. Also, because your floaters can only move where you have built a tone spreader, most battles are constricted to one half the screen. Alleviating the fact that the game worlds are one-dimensional, there are bridges between island fragments which can be opened once you have found a bridge key. While this does help the game world becomes more interesting than one big linear world would be, it also makes it difficult to keep track of all your structures on the different worlds. This meant that I had to spend a fair amount of my time jumping from screen to screen to access my different buildings.
The Tone Rebellion is definitely not destined to become a classic of real-time strategy. Combat is just too infrequent to keep most gamers interested. When there is a battle, it is usually a minor skirmish, instead of the battle royale which makes this genre so much fun. The two things which distinguish Tone from other real-time strategy games, the islands and artifacts, work well as a science fiction plot, but are tedious and make manuvering the game world a chore. Tonecompensates for this lack of play value with well done and well matched art and music. Unfortunately, Tone cannot muster enough substance to make it appealing to the average real-time strategy player, leaving it with hard-core Sci-Fi fans as its only remaining audience.