I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon (you poor, doomed sonofabitch).
Once again, the universe bifurcates.
On the one fork, people who fell instantly, madly in love with the terrific-looking
3D action of Earth: 2150 know what to expect from
its sequel, and want more more more of the same. On the other fork, people
who want real-time strategy games in general, who were raised in the less-realistic
but fun C&C school, and who will approach The Moon Project as
a stand-alone 3D strategy game only to be frustrated, confounded and befuddled,
not perhaps at every turn, but likely at every other turn. Well, hell; as comic
Bill Hicks once remarked, whaddaya gonna do about living?
It’s a sequel, but the timeline actually runs more or less concurrently with
the story in E2150. Once again the three factions (the Eurasian Dynasty,
the Lunar Corporation, and the United Civilized States) are at each other. This
time, rather than trying to scrape up the resources for an Evacuation Fleet
(following a war that – D’oh!- knocked Mother Terra out of what was, strictly
speaking, her correct orbit), the factions are scrambling around the discovery
of an alien technology. The Lunar Corporation is researching a creepy new weapon
for use on the home world, and the other two groups are trying like hell to
prevent them from using it. So if you’re one of these guys, you’re invading
your own Moon. Remember the Moon? Good so far, no? Just
The Moon Project looks absolutely beautiful. Progressive real-time
lighting and weather lend a startling sense of realism as a battle rages on
from a drizzly gray afternoon to a long, deadly night lit up with the roving
headlights of armor units to an absolute pisser of a rainy morning. The weather
really doesn’t have that much of an effect (you may note some effects on movement
during bad weather, however), but the lighting certainly does. When a battle
is getting hectic and you need to be able to take in the tactical situation
at a glance, and there are lots of enemy forces growling around in the shadows
with their lights off and evil on their minds, you’ll wish for a flashlight.
And here’s the rub: the tactical situation is always hectic, even when
there’s not much technically going on. The game’s less-than-thrilling excuse
for a tutorial can easily leave inexperienced players hanging, having nearly
completed their mission but given no clue regarding the niggly point remaining
that keeps them from ‘winning.’
There’s a lot of try-and-die going on in this game (as in the original), and
that’s okay, if realism is your thing. There’s a point where Realism and what
we call The Fun Factor collide, and The Moon Project will make you decide
which side of the line you’re on. Getting shot up because you ran out of ammo?
Sorry, that’s the way the world works. If you’re an E2150 vet you’ll
jump right in, but newbies beware.
F’rinstance, the aboveground/underground scheme (where you must coordinate
attacks at ground level as well as in subterranean situations, a nice touch)
can easily overwhelm. By the second mission you’ll be scratching your head.
Frankly, Metal Fatigue handled this kind of thing better from the start
(but of course there was always the chance that game would freeze up when one
of your Combots made the wrong movement. Again, whaddaya gonna do about living?).
Moon Project doesn’t muck about, and by as early as your first few missions
in, you’re being assaulted with intense, post-traumatic-stress-inducing attacks.
We’re talking multiple bases, evil raining out of the sky, boom boom boom
everywhere you look. I mean, fuhgeddaboudit. Again, the universe bifurcates:
If you’re an E2150 vet, you can’t wait to start cranking out more of
your customizable-chassis units; if you’re relatively new to the 3D RTS thing,
all you can think is I’ve gotta get the hell out of here!
Once you’re familiar with the interface and the rules, however, your personal
style comes into play. The customizable-unit thing isn’t taken to the extremes
it has been in some games, but your preferred flavors regarding weapon loadouts,
defense, etc. can make the difference. Again, realism intrudes, and you must
decide if this is a good or bad thing in terms of Fun.
I personally think it’s hysterical when somebody’s rocket-fire can hurt their
own structures, when the last remaining smoking skeleton of a building blocks
line-of-sight, when a unit is sitting dead-duck-screwed in front of an enemy
and going click-click-click because it’s suddenly out of ammo. I love when the
detonation of a nuke shudders and whites out the screen, when somebody cuts
loose with an Earthquake Generator smack-ass under an enemy base, when I’m playing
against some ambulatory brain-death who forgets that, by golly, that big hillside
I’m hiding behind might just block his incoming fire. Even when The Moon
Project pisses me off – and oy, there have been times when I’ve told a unit
to dammit, stop moving, and it apparently had other ideas – it makes
me decide: Are you a man, or a mouse? Remember, the moon is rumored to be made
Some of these little details gets in the way of gamers, no doubt; they sure
as hell got in my way from time to time. Also, the AI fails in both directions.
There are certain tactics that, once discovered, the computer simply cannot
counter. My own units directly disobeying my orders to stand still
and do nothing is also maddeningly irritating.
Fair enough – that’s what multiplayer is for. Playing The Moon Project
against another human who knows the score is totally rewarding, especially if
you’re both sneaky bastards.
Hate to resort to a cliché, folks, but again, whaddaya gonna do? If you loved
Earth: 2150, you’ll be instantly into The Moon Project. If you
never played E2150 or have any doubts about leaving your entertaining
Red Alert 2 Flatland (and
I love Red Alert, don’t get me wrong), take the advice any Eagle Scout
could give you for free: Be Prepared.