It has been nearly five thousand years since mankind's victory over death. Although some of them are painful, I still remember every one of those years. They wear heavy upon my mind. It should have been paradise, it should have been different. I do not feel so strange now, inhabiting a machine body. I am used to it, and truth be told, it is no better and no worse than the body of flesh I once wore. I find it odd that of all things, it is this that we fight over.
In those first days, there were some who refused. They did not want the pattern of their thoughts to be placed into immortal machines. They abhorred the thought of living without flesh, to be free of the ravages of hormones and time. If only they could understand the clarity and the freedom they gave up. But now they can never know.
The battles have raged now for thousands of years. The known galaxy is a ravaged wasteland, and I am weary of it. We copy the patterns of our finest warriors and place them in our combat vehicles. They clone theirs. In some ways, we are not so different. But the differences that remain are insurmountable. They infest our clean empire, corrupting it with their impurities. The only solution is total annihilation.
Death, it seems, was not defeated after all.
Since the success of Command and Conquer and Warcraft II, there has been a deluge of real-time strategy ripoffs. Playing and reviewing many of these lackluster games (in my favorite genre), has left me jaded and cynical. There is light at the end on the tunnel, however. Total Annihilation is the first new strategy game to suck me in and keep me playing 'till the wee hours of the morn.
In a futuristic universe, you can play as either the machine intelligences of the CORE, or the still partially biological ARM. Either way, you must build and control dozens of advanced robotic vehicles and use them to destroy your enemies and control the land, sea and air of several planets.
The game has a familiar feel to it. I was able to sit down and start playing immediately (and beat the first few missions without even cracking the manual). There are only two resources to manage: energy and metal. Keep well stocked in both if you want to build units rapidly.
You always begin with a 'battlefield commander', your alter ego. He is one of the strongest units, with both construction capabilities and fairly good offensive weaponry. You will want to build vehicles, robots, ships and planes to do the real grunt work, because if you lose your commander, you lose the game.
The graphics are good, and are presented in a familiar format. You look down on the action from above, and order all your little units around. The biggest difference is that the ground is 3D mapped and all the units are true 3D. This makes the animations of the units smoother and more varied than anything you have seen before.
The best part, however, is what this does to the battles. Real 3D units with real 3D weapons make the battles a spectacular display of mayhem and destruction. Units can move and fire at the same time, many with tracking turrets. Laser weapons travel in a straight line, so if there is a geographical feature, an object, or even a friendly unit in the way, your laser will splash into that instead. Units with artillery weapons, on the other hand, can fire over that hill or object in the way. Friendly fire can be deadly, and units can explode, flinging damaging debris in all directions. Dead units, or pieces of them, remain on the battlefields to rust.
The variety of the game is impressive as well. You can fight on water planets, blast your way across alien deserts, and even fight on the CORE homeworld with the surface covered entirely by metal. There are 25 missions per side, and over 50 units and structures per side as well. But even more waits for you...
Total Annihilation also has new units, maps and missions that haven't even been invented yet. Every week there will be new stuff to download from the Total Annihilation website. Already beat the game? Download new missions, and download some new robots while you're at it. That will give your enemy a good surprise! Especially if you're playing against your friends. I love this innovation! It dramatically enhances the replay value.
Speaking of beating the game, I already did just that. While the AI of the individual units is one of the best I've encountered, the computer AI isn't so good. Any experienced strategy gamer will eat the computer for breakfast. I found myself whizzing through the missions with barely a setback or loss. There just wasn't enough of a challenge.
And while the number of units that Total Annihilation can simultaneously handle is impressive, I did encounter occasional slowdown when particularly large battles were waging.
However, human opponents are always more fun than the computer (especially if they have to buy you beer if they lose), and the multi-player support is great. The 3D mayhem plus the constant stream of free new units and missions from Cave Dog are like pennies from heaven. I'm looking forward to many more long nights of cleansing flesh from the galaxy.