Virgin argues, "Z best defense iz Z best offense."
OK, all (bad) punning aside, the facts are that Virgin Entertainment has released Z, by the Bitmap Brothers, as an attempt to expand the range of options available to lovers of such strategy wargames as Warcraft, Dune, and Virgin's own highly successful Command & Conquer. What results, though, is a slightly whimsical, mediocre game that has less to do with a well-crafted strategy game and more to do with the Crash Test Dummies do C&C.
In all fairness, Z was probably never intended to be compared to its older brethren, but it's impossible not to do so in such a clearly defined category of games. The storyline consists of a bunch of bumbling robots sent to supply the lines during an interstellar war. Unfortunately, their alarm clock doesn't go off at the right time (hmm, sounds like me on a Monday morning) and they end up an hour late for lecture... err, the battle. So, they must make their way through some twenty odd battles over five different planets. All the while, there is this one Commander Zod, a robot apparently modeled after Sergeant Slaughter, who drills the hapless bunch of idiotic androids in a characteristic Southern twang, though it is still unclear how he really fits into the story.
Play revolves around the protection of your central fort, which is able to churn out vehicles such as jeeps, APC's, tanks of differing sizes, and various robot soldiers. The goal is to capture as much territory as possible by grabbing up demarcating flags. Territories may contain radar stations or factories, which can help increase the size of your motley excuse for an army. In addition, the more territory you control, the faster you can produce units. Eventually, you attack the enemy fort, winning the day and celebrating with a can of inebriating rocket fuel. With no resources to collect for the production of troops and units, the simplistic strategy involved keeps planning down to a minimum.
Though Z starts out as an interesting game, there really isn't enough variety to keep one hooked. Unlike Warcraft II or Command & Conquer, all scenes start off with one fort apiece, with the intention of possessing all the territory out there. Even the video sequences are of a limited number, with each being seen several times throughout the course of the game. A glitch in the synchronizing of the game on my computer failed to make the voices match up with the movements of the characters during the animated shorts, and Commander Zod ended up saying everything twice.
The one distinctive feature of Z is in the attitude of the robots. Almost everyone is familiar with the responses of "yes, Milord" and "reporting!" when clicking on units, but Z adds a twist by giving robots a moral indicator. Normally, sending them into battle elicits a response of "alright!" or "let's get 'em!" But, if the odds are stacked against you, they react more with "are you out of your mind?" Near the end of the scene, quips of "what are you waiting for, let's take the fort!" or "you're crap" get chimed in, but the Beavis and Butthead-type comedy gets old fast. After all, Warcraft II manages to keep its speech humorous while retaining an original, dynamic campaign setting. Z's failure to do likewise indicates a gimmick attempting to carry the entire game.