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Ground Control Review

GAME INFO
publisher: Sierra
developer: Massive Entertainment
genre: Strategy

MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS
PII-200, 32MB RAM, 250MB HDD, 4MB SVGA video card
ESRB rating: T
homepage:
www.sierrastudios.com/games/groundcontrol/

release date: May 31, 00
» All About Ground Control on ActionTrip


The year is 2419. The Earth is still far from recovering from the effects of the last nuclear war when a new one broke out. The war rages between the two leading political factions: The Order of the new Dawn and The Crayven Corporation. The Order of the new Dawn is the biggest 'religious faith' on earth, in possession of substantial financial power. It has about 700 million believers spread across space from Mars to Sponward Reaches. The other faction, The Crayven Corporation, is the currently biggest corporation employing almost 900 million men, women and children; it deals in production of a vast number of products, even chemical and biological materials... Their territories spread throughout the whole known universe. This means that both factions have a LOT of planets at disposal, but they still started a conflict over one of them: Krig-7B.

What you have just read is background to the perils ahead. The not-that-well-known (meaning: I never heard of them) programmers group from Sweden provided a 3D real-time strategy shell for this story.

I had a chance to play the demo a couple of weeks ago because eye-candy screenshots all over the net made me download it. All I can say is that the game looks great and that it is one of the few games lately that have a better looking action and gameplay than the movie sequences. I was really confused once I started the full version of the game and saw the highly compressed low-resolution intro after I already saw the game itself. But, who wants to watch intros anyway. The action begins...

Thirty missions in two campaigns await you and your units. In the first 15 missions you will take control of the Crayven forces trying to find out what The Order found on Krig-7B, and why are they trying to cover it up that hard. Then, you will have to retake control of Krig-7B in the name of the Order in the next fifteen missions. The notion resembles slightly the gameplay of Total Annihilation: Kingdoms where we in turn lead all four races, but this game has a far better balanced story dynamic and difficulty. Before you actually start playing you have to pass a (very useful) training mission, similar to the one in Homeworld, which will introduce you with the basic concepts of control and combat. There is nothing too revolutionary about Ground Control... Still, notice how the computer-led units (unless you are playing on the "easy" level) form formations to avoid shooting at each other. This can make the game difficult, especially for beginners, or when the battle rages on several front lines and you have to attend to all of them. And if you're not too good with orientations, you'll have some problems... Ground Control also uses some 3D terrain features that might confuse you at first, yet provide some interesting tactical possibilities. Unit perception is much affected by terrain configuration, so you will be harder to see if standing in a shadow or in the direction of the sun.

Every mission begins with drop-ships bringing your squads from space to designated locations on the map. All you can do before the battle is reconfigure the content of drop-ships and adjust the units' firepower, speed, armor, range, and equipment)... That is not necessary in the first couple of missions, but once you get a variety of units you will have to tweak them up a bit. There is not much difference between Crayven and The Order forces. The Crayven Corporation favors slow and methodical offensive ("Better safe than sorry"), which is reflected on their vehicle design, which have stronger front than rear panels. Their whole army is basically concentrated on their next-generation main battle terradyne. Their basic tactic is to drop their forces near the objectives and move slowly towards the enemy. The order, on the other hand, prefers swift offensive actions. They mostly use hoverdynes with advanced anti-grav technology allowing great speed and maneuverability, but have low shields. The greatest part of their army is still cannon fodder - infantry and crusaders.

One of the most important vehicles is the Command APC (Armored Personal Carrier) or CLSV-601 because the "field commander" controls his units from it. This vehicle can transport infantry and recharge the rest of the units, but not itself. You have to take care about it because if you loose it you die. The rest of the squads can be classified like this:

  • Infantry - weakest and slowest units. Can be transported in APCs.
  • Assault - specialized in offensive maneuvers;
  • Support - specialized in artillery or surface to air weapons;
  • Aerodyne - crafts. High speed, and flying.

Did you notice there is not a single civilian or resource gathering unit? Ground Control, is not a real classical real-time strategy: there is no resource management! You can only manage to move your units but there is no gas, spice or energy mining. Hence, there is no unit or structure building. That means that you will have to take more care of your units. I am not sure if this will attract you to the game or not... I figured out there was something missing not before I finished the first ten missions. The second missing thing was the "save games", especially on frustratingly big levels. My only advice here is to play on the easy level until you get the hang of it and then play the mission on the hard level.

You can issue command using only the mouse or both mouse and keyboard. I cannot say this segment is flawless. The hotkeys are somewhat inconvenient (especially group select). This makes the game much harder because controlling your units (their formations) precisely all through the battle is of vital importance. And you cannot customize commands.

Now, back to the visuals. The Swedes did a great job. There is a lot of perfectly designed details. The game runs smoothly and ha reasonable hardware requirements. It has an impressive number of 3D objects. Apart from the terrain and the units your screen will be loaded with a great number of trees, buildings, birds and animals. I was excited about the possibility to zoom in so much to make a trooper take up 2/3 of the screen, and that they still look good. It was as if I was playing a FPS rather than an RTS. Try to fire a grenade from a tank ad then zoom it in. It's realy great. The very shells look as if they had been carefully modeled and textured! Lighting effects are equally good from machine-gum fire to big explosions. These effects made the artillery my favorite weapons. The game has a lot of great effects, still not too much. Nothing has been overdone. Even the ever-popular lens-flare looks good and subtle.

The sound is normal, nothing too special. The only nice thing about it is that it is connected to the camera system: The units closer to you will be louder. If you are sadistic enough you can zoom in the camera near your soldiers to hear their screams when being shot better. That makes Ground Control different from the similar games. The same goes for the background music: it's ever-present, unobtrusive and it pumps adrenalin. All in all Ground Control is a very good 3D real-time strategy, one of the best in the genre, and it deserves a good ride....

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9.0   Excellent


HIGHS
The game has great 3D graphics and a lot of details;

LOWS
No "save game" option and no short-cuts.

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