RTS games for most of the past decade have remained much the same. Collect items, build a town, build an army and defeat your enemies. While there have been exceptions, that's exactly what they have been, the exception not the rule. This is great for those who like the micro management offered by this, but for gamers looking for a much quicker, more action packed experience, they haven't had much to look to in the genre. Enter Ground Control 2, Massive Entertainment's new RTS game that not only may change the way gamers and developers look at the genre, but also may bring some new fans along with it.
Ground Control 2 features three main factions, although only two can be controlled; the NSA (Northern Star Alliance) and the Viron races. For years war has raged between the Terrans and the NSA forces, with towns no longer resembling suburbia but crumpled bits of paper with destroyed buildings littering the battlefields. While Ground Control 2 definitely focuses more on the action than resource management, it does have a scope not seen in many RTS games before and allows you to really become attached to the characters and feel their plight as the story rages on, leading up to its surprising twist, somewhat into the game.
In most cases, Ground Control 2 resembles your typical RTS game. Lead troops into battle and try to destroy the enemy but as you get away from the basic style of the game, the unique features start to show themselves and it is here that Ground Control 2 really shines. As mentioned before you don't build up bases and the focus is very much on action, action and more action. Rather then build up a base to power your buildings, build units and tanks etc you have command of a dropship which brings in reinforcement units. So most of the time you're dumped into a level close to enemy lines and have to work from there, having to capture a Landing Zone before getting the chance to call in more units.
The action is thick and fast in Ground Control 2 and the balance of power can swing in any direction at any time. You can be basically up a creek without a paddle, and only five minutes later feel you have the upper hand. Dropships play an important role in this. The timing of a new unit drop can mean the difference between holding a Landing Zone or losing it to the enemy, which is always a bitter blow and can mean the end of your current offensive. The action is not just secluded to these areas either due to acquisition point system. Each map has a set of points featured in key areas. There is usually only two or three landing zones, but other locations known as victory points are just as crucial. The more you hold of these the quicker you gain points and the faster you can build your forces up for the final offensive. Again this places the focus very much on action because you need to capture these points otherwise the enemy will gain the upper hand from more units being available.
One thing which comes as a surprise is that often you will be working in unison with an AI commander. You will see friendly units and try to select them, only to discover they are working for the other commander and are performing other tasks. Although it doesn't add as much to the game as it possibly could, there is no way to co-ordinate with the other commander with attacks and really they are just units running around doing their own thing rather than being of any use. Aesthetic more than anything.
The developers have also introduced features to stop the typical strategy of rushing. As you build more units your maintenance level goes up and this chews into your acquisition points. They are garnished as the points are collected. So rather then building up a force and charging in, efficiency can often be the key to victory which will come as a welcome relief to players sick of building up a base only to have it over run and destroyed by tens or hundreds of the same unit. Also wasting units is not the best strategy due to the RPG elements featured in the game. As units gain experience they become more adept at defeating enemies and surviving so keeping them alive is definitely in a commanders best interest.
However this is also a knock against the game. While Massive have definitely created one of the most action focused RTS games ever, it loses some of the tradition of the RTS genre and many players may feel turned off by that and liken it more to an action game then a strategy title.
One of the most stunning and impressive aspects is how Massive have used the environment to really enhance the strategies available to players. You will find maps scattered with forests and buildings and these are just two examples which can aid in your strategy, but also cause you complications. Forests allow units to move in a silent manner but obviously units such as tanks etc can not pass through them. Buildings can be entered and as the game demonstrates early on, this can be advantageous in many ways. When units are in buildings, their armor level increases and they become harder to hit, while retaining their view of the enemy units. This can also be used to ambush an enemy convoy or other enemy units and is one of the most useful features of the game and gives a true sense of the battlefield. Massive have also not used the typical fog of war system and have used an advanced line of sight which is affected by the battlefield terrain. Each unit has a line of sight and this is affected by the height (if they are on a mountain they can see further) and also objects like forests and buildings as mentioned before.
As expected Massive have included a variety of units which due to the dropship are not affected by a tech tree. Some missions restrict what you can build in the single player campaign but other than that you're free to choose what you wish to build at any time in other modes such as skirmish and online. The NSA units are the typical light infantry, tanks, snipers etc while the Virons are where some of the more exotic weapons, units etc appear. One option the Virons have that the NSA don't is to morph units. Two of the same unit can morph to become a super unit, and they can unmeld back to their original forms just as easily. The two campaigns can be played in any order but the game does warn you that playing the Virons as the first campaign or before finishing the other one does give away massive spoilers from the Northern Star Alliance campaign.
There is no doubt that this is one of the prettiest RTS games ever made and Massive have gone to a stunning level of detail. Assisted with the camera, it is possible to zoom right into the units and see them going about their business. While this normally would show the lack of detail of character units, this in fact enhances how they look and even provide sound effects of the troops marching off to battle. The camera is one of the more impressive aspects of the visuals and allows you two options; normal camera which returns from the original game or the brand new one massive have crafted for this game. With this level of detail you may be expecting the game to require a fairly hefty PC but that's not the case and the system requirements are fairly standard.
The voice acting really adds to the game and as mentioned before it is easy to become attached to the plight of the characters especially as the storyline plays out in the campaign missions, but perhaps more impressive aspects are the sound effects and soundtrack. Thumping explosions and a carefully crafted soundtrack add immensely to the experience featured in the game. During missions you may encounter a fairly fast paced song to indicate the urgency of the matter while during more somber moments slower more depressing music plays to enhance the feeling the game gives off during the story sequences.
For the multiplayer side of things massive have created MASSGATE, an online service which stores your login and password and basically acts as a matchmaking service for gamers. Massive have promised to run tournaments and official competitions as well as a lack of cheating due to the official style of the service. For those who don't want to use the service you can host and connect to games online or host a game over a LAN. For multiplayer the typical battles can occur but you can also play the single player campaigns co-operatively. One of the most unique game modes seen for a while is also featured. This mode allows players to setup a server and have players connect and disconnect at anytime without affecting the game. The option to play skirmish against the AI is also featured and it is here you will encounter a very strong learning curve because the AI plays with a no holds barred attitude and will attack you within minutes of starting the game. Massive have created some AI traits based around histories most famous commanders such as Napoleon and General Patten which is a nice touch to an already very impressive game.
Warcraft, Starcraft, Command and Conquer; Ground Control 2 definitely deserves its place with these titles as games you simply must play if you're an RTS fan. While the lack of micromanagement may turn some off the game, the action packed style of play may entice a few more fans into the RTS genre and most players will be able to look past this and discover just why Ground Control 2 is one of the best RTS games around.