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Earth and Beyond Review
developer: Westwood Studios
PIII 500, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.5GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Sep 02, 02 (released)
|» All About Earth and Beyond on ActionTrip|
Okay, folks - One Earth & Beyond review coming up. Let's just get my pre-review rant out of the way first....I appreciate your patience.
There's been a long standing rule that I have held, and it has stood hard and fast all my days of gaming: Never Buy a Game Then Pay to Play It. It is a rule that has served me well.
Is this Earth or did we miss the off-ramp again?
Hey, that looks like an X-Wing.
Let me get one things straight with you - I am not an MMORPG fan. I have heard the horror stories of EverCrack, of people wasting their lives away in front of the computer screen, forsaking all semblance of a social life in favor of getting that next level in Ultima Online; or in lieu of having a normal physical relationship to a woman, will carry on a relationship with a female polygonal avatar and marry "her" in Asheron's Call - never truly knowing if this person is or is not female. I have never understood the mindset of someone willing to spend $50 on a game, and then spend an additional $150 - $300 for the privilege of playing the game that you've already bought! What possesses the minds of these poor souls willing to sacrifice humanity for a game?
I know it now. And, God help me, I think I'm one of them.
Addiction is a funny thing. It all starts with someone passing you something and saying "Try it! It'll make you feel GOOOOD! Oh, and it's FREE, too!" So you try it, you love it, and before you know it, you can't live without it - you find yourself a twitching mass of flesh every time you even entertain the thought of parting from whatever it is that is carrying you through the doldrums of your otherwise mundane lives. But as time progresses, the free samples stop coming. That's when they start making you pay through the nose.
How does this equate to me? Along comes a certain unnamed gaming company, and says "Hey, Six. We have this here game that's currently in beta that we'd like you to play and tell us what you think!" Sure, I reply, but as they hand it to me, they go snickering off into a corner muttering "We got another one! Wahoo!" Not realizing what I've gotten myself into, I install the game. I play it. I love it. And soon, I find I can't live without it, spending countless hours flitting about the galaxy in my uber-sexay spaceship, destroying pirates, annihilating alien creatures, or running goods from one end of the galaxy to the next. And then....The Beta Ends.
Uhm...what do I do now?
"Oh, you want to keep PLAYING do you?" they reply. I nod my head furiously. "Why SURE. That will be $50 for the core software, then an additional $12.95 per month." I hand over the money without even thinking about it, and then resume my adventures as though nothing has happened. But something has happened. Something has changed, deep within me. I have become an addict.
So take this statement as the biggest compliment I can offer to this game, or the hugest warning I could ever hope to give you:
Play Earth & Beyond, and you will be an addict, too.
Okay, rant time is over. It's time for the review.
Earth & Beyond is the latest offering by Westwood Studios, of Command & Conquer fame (Is it just me, or do they have an ampersand fetish? C&C, E&B, etc...I dunno - Ed.), and its first foray into the realm of massively multiplayer gaming. But instead of the traditional RPG world of swords and sorcery, Westwood has opted for the expansiveness of space rather than the classic RPG style of its predecessors.
For those of you who have not read our preview, here's a quick synopsis of the plot: The game is set in the Milky Way galaxy, 300 years in the future. Mankind has spread itself to the stars, and has evolved into three sub-races. The Terrans, who live on Earth, are ruled not by a government, but by huge powerful corporations. The Progen, who call Mars home, are a warlike race, genetically engineered to ferret out any weakness and destroy it. Finally, the Jenquai, who reside on the moons of Jupiter, were the first to map the stars and are forever the explorers, going where no human has gone before. The races have feuded amongst each other for years, but now enter an era of peace and mutual non-aggression. For something lurks just outside the rim of the galaxy - a new enemy that will require all the races of man to work together to repel the intruders, before they wipe the galaxy clean of humanity! (Cue Ominous Music!)
Your character can be any one of the 3 races, with 2 classes per race to choose from. The class makeup is based off of a matrix of the strengths of each race. The races excel in one area of expertise - The Progen are primarily warriors, the Jenquai are the best explorers, and the Terrans are the traders. Consequently, any character wishing to specialize in those areas exclusively can select the Progen Warrior, Jenquai Explorer and Terran Tradesman. The game also offers 3 hybrid classes based on those strengths, with the Terran Enforcer (a Trader/Warrior hybrid), the Jenquai Defender (Explorer/Warrior mix) and the Progen Sentinel (a Warrior/Explorer combination). The game also will feature 3 additional classes (The Terran Trader/Explorer, Progen Warrior/Trader and Jenquai Explorer/Trader), but those classes are not complete, and are currently under development. Westwood has no plans of releasing them before they are done. Kudos. This may not seem like a whole lot of difference, but with the level of customization within the 6 available classes, you find a world of differences from person to person.
The character creation is a very easy and intuitive procedure goes in three phases - selecting your race/class; creating your avatar, which is the person who will be stomping about the starbases, buying and selling goods; and building your spaceship, which is where you will spend the bulk of your time blowing up aliens, mining resources and mapping the far reaches of the galaxy. Every ship and person is different, with all of the available skins and textures having the ability to be painted whatever color you wish. The easiest way (I found) to creating an avatar, is to just hit the Random button until you find something you like, and then customize it to give it your personal touch. Once that's complete, you move on to your ship. The 3 races have similar looking ships within each race- it's very easy to tell a Progen ship from a Terran/Jenquai - and the subclasses each have certain touches which can usually identify if a Progen is a Warrior or Sentinel, or if a Jenquai is a Defender or Explorer. You get the idea. Once the ship's body is finalized, you can paint the ship damn near any color you like (again, the Random tool is a good start, if you're creatively challenged....like Me.), name your ship and have it pasted on the wing and hull of your new baby, and you're off to the races! All in all, creating a character took me exactly 2 minutes from start to finish, and I think he looked pretty damn good.
Now the universe may be an endless void, but Westwood's servers aren't, so they have provided several galaxies from which to choose (at the conclusion of the beta, there were 4 galaxy server clusters). Each of the servers are identical in that they all are the same maps, planets, monsters, plotlines, everything. Only the players that reside in each server cluster are different, so when you select your galaxy to play in, the rule of thumb should be to hit the least populated galaxy.
Once you're in, the real treats begin. Movement is simplicity itself, just hold down the right mouse button to move, and you move in whatever direction your mouse is pointing. Everything in space has a corresponding icon, so that you can lock your ship on to it from a distance, even if the model isn't entirely in sight. Click on it with your left mouse button, and you can pinpoint it, even from great distances. Also, with the universe being as vast as it is, getting from one side to the other takes forever just using thrusters. So each ship has warp capability. Open the starmap to show the current sector, pick a waypoint that is furthest from you, and your computer maps the route to that waypoint - then warp away. Your ship enters warp, and off you go. It's a good system, but not perfect. While it's easy to maneuver in the sectors, warping from one side of the galaxy to the other is time consuming. Taking a trade route from Somerled station in the Tau Ceti quadrant to the Fenris Observatory in Aragoth (through 12 jumpgates) and back takes about 45 minutes real-time for the average ship to complete. Also, finding the monsters necessary to get the combat experience means you need to go to where the action is - which can take forever and be a real pain in the ass.
Highly addictive gameplay, stunning visuals, loads of variety;
Warp is slow, Laggy in high-traffic areas, big gaps in late levels.