" ...I wanted the game play to be good so badly... "
Title: Ground Control by Sierra
Format: PC Real Time Strategy
Reviewing Monkey: Cornelius
The Hype: Stunning graphics, an intuitive interface, and fast-paced action put this RTS over the top. Squad based tactics promise to make this a contender for game of the year. And let me be the one to tell you up front (we monkeys never lie, you know) after seeing this game at E3 we were very excited to have it in the office.
What This Monkey Thought...
Graphics: Cannot find a thing to fault Sierra on here. The graphics are beautiful. Lighting effects are gorgeous. Everything from the terrain to the troops to the sky are all stunningly rendered. Every character and unit in the game is animated accurately to what that unit would actually do, right down to the rotating barrel of a chain gun, or recoil of an infantry rifle. The Ground Control engine lets you see the world from any angle conceivable and the camera panning is very solid and smooth. Shells actually eject from the chambers on the guns and cannons. Tracer effects are nothing short of insane. And explosions will literally rock your monitor. Sierra went above and beyond here to create different looking explosions from different ordinance. To see this in full effect use the Crayven heavy bomber and use its fragmentation bomb, nothing short of majestic. Seems the only aspect Sierra did not include was craters after a carpet bombing from your heavies, or a massive barrage let loose by the artillery units, whom by the way, we just drooled all over ourselves about. Of course, as monkeys, we commonly drool on ourselves but I digress. Far and away the best aspect of this game. If you are searching for eye candy, look no further. 5 out of 5
Sound: Once again a triumph. The cannon and rocket effects are great. If you have A3D you will be truly impressed as artillery is lobbed from behind you, over your head, to finally come raining cold death from above, culminating in a well rendered concussion. As you zoom closer to a unit that is firing the sound gets louder and more distinct. When viewing battle from a more lofty tactical position, the effects do not mush together into a blurred "gun" noise. The background music is good. It never made me angry, nor did it suck me into the game. To be perfectly honest (remember we monkeys are always honest above all else) I do not remember it that entire well just minutes after playing it. For background music there could be far worse options. 4 out of 5
Game Play: O.K., this could get long, rambling, disheveled, and convoluted, but try to stay with me; the way I see it this is the most important section. I wanted the game play to be good so badly. I am so sick of most RTSís on the market right now. Dig some resource, use that resource to build a factory, use that factory to produce an armada of death machines, march said armada to bad guyís place and crush him mercilessly thanks to your superior numbers, all the while trying to micromanage the entire economy of your great empire because you are unable to automate any kind of production thanks to shitty AI, you tactical genius you. Please God, please tell me I am not going to lose this battle because the other guy researched his tech faster than me. And if it isnít too much to ask, might I be able to beat a numerically superior foe through use of exceptional strategy. Oh how I want Ground Control to break this fetid cycle.
Ground Control does not have you managing resources, or colonists. You will not be producing units out of factories youíve built. You have the squads you took on the dropship with you, hope youíll be okay, Ďcause there ainít no reinforcements. Think Close Combat. Each squad has different abilities and specialties, yea I know what you are saying--"No shit Sherlock". And each squad has multiple units attached to it. Vehicles are 2 to 4 units per squad, aircraft 3 to 4, and infantry have anywhere from 4 to 8 units per squad. These units, are not however, able to act on their own, rather they always remain in the squad.
That being said, the units are poorly balanced in the game. It turns into a point-counter point game that quickly becomes very frustrating. Some units cannot target certain types of units at all, thus they are completely defenseless. For example, tanks cannot harm aircraft, which are completely slaughtered by anti-aircraft units, whom cannot fire at ground units at all. The affect this flaw has on game play is that if you do not have the counter to whatever the enemy is using you get crushed. In the aircraft vs. Anti-aircraft (AA) example; if the other player doesnít have AA capability their forces are history. On the other hand if they do have AA the aircraft are worthless, as the AA will destroy aircraft almost instantly, but the AA cannot target any ground units at all so are entirely defenseless. The problem here is that there is no balance. Sure aircraft are supposed to be shot down by AA, but before they can even get a shot off? And of course, most units other than AA would be poor versus aircraft, but not being able to even target them, come on. To take this further some infantry in the game can only attack vehicles, and not other infantry. I can buy that their primary weapon is to destroy vehicles, but they canít carry side arms to defend against other troops? That is just plain laziness.
This game is supposed to emphasize squad-based tactics. Flanking, wedges, and encircling are all part of this. Unfortunately these are nearly impossible to pull off, and most battles devolve into face-offs where lines of tanks trade volleys. Part of the reason maneuvers are restricted is from the poor level designs (weíll get to that later) the other half is because it is insanely difficult to handle a two front battle unless the whole engagement can be seen from one camera position, which is very rare. It gets even worse yet if you have to fight on two entirely different fronts. Maybe it is because Iím a monkey, but I could not control to entirely separate battles simultaneously, and the AI is not good enough to let it handle the battle for you. This was supposed to be a strong point of the game, how did Sierra overlook it?
Often you will have a battle raging and you will be trying to control 12 separate squads. In the heat of the battle one doesnít have time to baby-sit every individual squad. I mention this because the squads cannot take care of themselves. The command voice will tell you "squad 2 taking damage", but it wonít tell you from what. If squad 2 is heavy tanks, and the damage is from infantry, no big deal; however if that damage is from artillery you want to know now so you can get them the hell out. But without taking your attention off the skirmish you are trying to manage it is impossible to know. Maybe that isnít a big deal youíre thinking to yourself. Let me tell you why it is. The squads will not, I repeat: will not take any sort of evasive action on their own. They will just sit there and get pounded until they die. How dumb is that? What this means is that my AA units whom cannot defend themselves against any other ground unit (AAARRRGGG) will just sit there and be punished until death. At the very least Sierra could have included a "scatter" hotkey, ala Myth.
The one great shining point for sierra is wonderful artillery. It acts like real artillery, and is the most fun unit in the game. Indirect fire is great, when you command the units to bombard an area suspected of hiding enemy units, and it turns out youíre right, a big huge cheesy grin creeps over your face. Why wasnít the rest of the game this cool?
So much for Sierraís reprieve, ready for more yet? Letís talk about unit-based tactics. This should have been far and away the best aspect of the game. Period. All the pretty graphics in the world donít mean a thing to me if I canít move my troops around like I want to. First of all you cannot choose your unitís formation. This wonít seem like a big deal until your AA and artillery are on the front line as your regiment rolls across the desert plains, and gets their collective Asses kicked by a cadre of enemy tanks. Also, the fastest units will not match the speed of the slowest units. Thus, the light, fast troops wade into battle first, and also get whooped on. Units also have special weapons, some of which are very cool, not to mention effective. I liked this aspect; it made weak units a force to be reckoned with. By now youíve learned that I found a problem here too. You cannot select multiple units to use their special weapons. You will not understand how frustrating this is until you play. In battles where a few seconds can mean the difference between life and death, I donít have the time to select individual units, arm the special, and target the enemy; usually horrendous casualties ensue. Lastly, if you decide this is the game for you do not, I repeat, do NOT turn on friendly fire. Your troops are idiots, and as such will relentlessly pound away at the enemy regardless of who is in the line of fire, including friendly units. It is nearly impossible once combat has started to align each and every unit to a clear line of sight before the damage has been done. How this was missed in play testing I will never understand. 1 out of 5
Level and Environment Designs: The environments are gorgeous, but that belongs back in the graphics section and we already know that is great. As for the actual designódid they have to screw this up too? Levels consist almost entirely of narrow valleys. How am I supposed to use tactics if I am constantly stuck in a valley tighter than your virgin prom date? Half of the cliffs you canít even get on top of, of course that doesnít stop the enemy from putting artillery emplacements up there. Could this be any cheaper? Not to mention that the guns on your tanks donít elevate so they become completely useless in these situations. Maybe itís just me but shouldnít at least some of the maps be open fields with rolling hills so actual tactics could be used? Probably is just me. 2 out of 5
Multiplayer: Multiplayer becomes an exercise in caution. You have to make sure you took the counter to whatever your opponent is going to bring, so you cannot take a whole bunch of cool stuff. Therefore the battles become a bunch of teams with the exact same units trying to kill each other in the same exact way. This is exactly boring. On a high note there is a death match option where units will respawn in dropships so you can use them again. Definitely a new and innovative concept for the RTS genre. Unfortunately you just get the same lame units you had to choose before because you were afraid the other guy was going to use aircraft. Many different game play options do make multiplayer descent, though the maps still suffer from problems listed previously. 2.5 out of 5
Replayability: Does anyone out there think that having to play the same level over and over again until you memorize where and when enemy units are going to show, only then being able to complete the mission? Have some variety dammit. I shouldnít have to know that at 13 minutes and 33 seconds of game time enemy infantry will show up on the southern ridge to decimate my command vehicle. It would be more fun to change things up. Lazy.
Nothing irks me quite so much as increasing a gameís difficulty by increasing the number of enemies exponentially. This is a cop out. Not only increase the number of opponents, but to make them insanely stronger and more deadly. I agree, harder difficulty levels need the enemies to be more accurate and slightly tougher. But what is wrong with making enemies tougher by having them use better tactics? Is it that much harder to program? Maybe it is, but it is still no excuse. 2 out of 5
Story/Dramatics: The story isnít bad. Start as a company lieutenant to stop the fundamentalist religious zealots from overrunning a colony world. Slowly discover that this war is really over alien technology, (gasp!) which could swing the war to whoever holds the key. Then switch to the fundy side to defend your beliefs and your God. But maybe your fanatical devotion has blinded you to the corruption of your leadersÖ 3.5 out of 5
Instructions and Learning Curve: For starters, Ground Control has a remarkably simple interface. Very intuitive for both beginners and vets alike. Many hotkeys are available to be used and abused. After about five minutes of panning and slewing the camera around through use of keyboard and mouse (for a true treat try Saitekís GM2, itís not just for the FPS). By the time the tutorial is over you will be a battle tested veteran and have a thorough knowledge of the controls. This is a well thought out interface and Sierra deserves credit. 4 out of 5
Installation and Real System Requirements: To run this game at the highest graphic levels at anything other than a slide show pace will require a burly machine. Ran great on the office K62 450 with Voodoo 3 3000 on about half of what the graphics are capable of. Even at half graphics, it is still a gorgeous game. Even at double the system requirements the game lagged out, definitely a game for high-end machines. The numbers: Pentium 200 with D3D card or 233 without. 32 MB RAM and 4X CD ROM good luck on a machine with these specs. 2 out of 5
Kinda makes one wonder if Sierra did any play testing before release, seems awfully rushed. Too many obvious problems, but with the right fixes could be phenomenal. Look forward to GCII and hope Sierra learns from their mistakes.
The Good: Finally a RTS without the typical; manage peasants to mine, farm and build units. Great graphics and a good attempt at something new.
The Bad: Still suffers from massing troops and plowing over the oppositions though masses rather than true tactics.
The Overall Ugly: Fun but frustrating. Leaves you wishing Sierra had taken the extra step or two that it required to make this a truly great game.
What it's Worth: I wouldnít have been pissed to spend $20.