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Ground Control 2: Operation Exodus Review
publisher: Vivendi Games
developer: Massive Entertainment
PIII 800, 128MB RAM, 500MB HDD, 32MB video card
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Jun 23, 04 (released)
|» All About Ground Control 2: Operation Exodus on ActionTrip|
The first time I saw Ground Control in action was at the ECTS show in London in 1999. At that time, Sierra was promoting the game as the best-looking RTS on the market. Five years have gone by and I'm glad to see that things haven't changed much. Ground Control 2 is still arguably the best-looking RTS game on the market. It just takes one casual glance at the amazingly detailed unit models and terrain to realize there's more eye-candy to be found in GC 2 than in any other game in the genre. Nevertheless, the daunting question remains: how does this one play? After all, not all people are keen on shelling out fifty bucks just because a game looks beautiful. It needs to play beautifully too.
There's something arousing about that structure.
Talk about a close encounter...
The story in Ground Control 2 picks up where the original left off. The NSA (Northern Star Alliance) and the Imps are still at each other's throats. However, there's a new player emerging on the scene. They are the Virons, a nomadic alien race that will shift the balance of power and help one of the warring sides win the conflict. The players are cast in the role of a young and budding Captain in the NSA army making his way up the chain of command.
Revealing any more of the story would be both counter-productive and redundant. Generally speaking, let's just say that it's damn clich' as it involves the usual mix of alien races and of course, ancient alien artifacts of great power - something that has become a common motif for so many sci-fi RTS games nowadays. Besides offering an unoriginal plot, Ground Control 2 is marred with flimsy dialogue that often sounds too unconvincing even for a videogame.
However, in game's defense, I must say that the cheesy dialogue, clich' narrative and some rather questionable voice acting somehow and for some strange reason gel well together with the onscreen action. I cannot explain it, but let's just say that I often felt like watching the movie Independence Day - sure, the plot doesn't make much sense and the catchphrases are only good for a chuckle, but if you keep a proper mindset, you'll even be entertained and will want to play on.
For those of you that are not aware, Ground Control games do not feature resource management. They belong to the action strategy sub-genre, which is probably why I didn't mind the juvenile dialogue so much. In Ground Control 2, players start with a set number of units and the only way they can increase that number is by capturing landing zones and calling in dropships carrying reinforcements. Although the game play is mostly about action-packed, intense clashes with the enemy, strategy elements are evident in the use of a multitude of secondary modes that each of the units has, as well as the utilization of terrain. Like taking important vantage points and possibly outmaneuvering the enemy by finding shelter in one of the scattered buildings or other objects laid out across the maps. In addition, the race of Virons (which you'll be leading in the second campaign) offers some interesting strategy options in the form of troop melding. You can meld Viron troops to create stronger units with new abilities, which is a welcome change from the rather standard way in which you handle the NSA troops.
Mostly, however, I got the feeling that Ground Control 2 is about fast-paced firefights rather than lots of in game planning and tactical maneuvering. Being able to react quickly while issuing orders and using keyboard shortcuts to utilize the many secondary unit modes is the key to victory (if you want to call that tactical strategy gaming, that's your prerogative; I choose not to). What's amazing about all this is that each of the units has been animated separately and modeled down to the very last detail. There is an actual physics model in place and each of these tiny models has their bounding box. For example, when you blow up an enemy foot soldier with grenade fire, his body will fly up in the air from the detonation and burst into a thousand pieces, with blood spraying everywhere and possibly a boot falling to the ground. The extreme zoom-ins, though useless during combat, are extremely fun if you want to see the enormous potential of the 3D engine. For crying out loud, they have a working physics model in place and we're talking about a real-time strategy!
But however spectacular looking all this can appear, it does come with certain drawbacks. By far the biggest problem I've had with the game has to do with the team AI and AI in general. Each unit has collision detection; meaning they'll be bumping off each other and not going straight through like in some other strategy games. While, on the other hand, their path finding routines are successfully mimicking those of mindless drones. Take a situation where you have to transport a tank from point A to point B while there's an infantry squad in between the two points. Instead of going around the damn infantry squad, the tank will attempt to reenact the Tien An Men Square massacre by mindlessly going straight through the body of men, getting stuck in the process naturally, as it keeps running into infantry soldiers. I almost wished at one point it would roll over them, but alas, it just tries to ram its way through the crowds using the most direct route, and it cannot do that efficiently because it keeps bumping into infantry soldiers. This unit cluttering can be a major problem during combat and cause all kinds of frustrations for the player, especially when you're trying to employ some actual tactics. In addition to this silly AI behavior, the units would often pick the most ridiculous routes across the terrain.In game's defense, some of the maps are so littered with detail that it's no small wonder they would have problems finding the best possible route to the designated location - what with all the obstacles along the way and all.
Finally, I have found some of the enemy AI behavior to be awkward to say the least. They would sit around peacefully while I was gunning them down with snipers from a safe distance, mindlessly following their patrol pattern, or another time, a bunch of enemy air units kept hovering over my infantry even though infantry soldiers can shoot them down and they can't shoot back. Just take a look at the third screenshot.
Some of these AI problems were a real pain in the ass and they prevented me from fully enjoying the game.
8.0 Very Good
Action-packed strategy gaming, beautiful visuals, map design, dynamic mission design, plenty of content;
Irritating path finding and other AI issues, NSA unit sounds, a bit too shallow at times even for a summer blockbuster.