The RTSC Games List

Age of... Historical WW2 Modern Near Future Sci-Fi Spaceships Fantasy City Builders God Games MMORTS

Science Fiction RTS Games
This is everything from mad robot wars, weird science, galactic domination and anything else to do with science fiction. Or more realistically, science fantasy. Everything except Spaceships - there's enough of those games to get their own section.

AI War: Fleet Command (2009)

Your Orbital Command Station

Developed by micro-sized indie devs Arcen Games, AI War is a moderately successful and well regarded little strategy series (certainly regarded enough to generate a few emails from readers wondering why it wasn't mentioned in RTSC before) that pits the last remnants of Earth against a galaxy full of aggressive AI's determined to drive the human race to extinction. These artificial intelligences have almost wiped us out as they've moved on to occupy the whole galaxy; but for some unknown reason they slacked off at the last minute and never quite finished the job. Your mission is to take advantage of this deficit and sneakily build up Humanity's galactic holdings again to return the favour and wipe those pesky computers out once and for all.

This is an old fashioned, vintage 4X strategy computer game, given a real time engine and brought into the 21st Century. Like all good big picture strategy games, there's no story - only initial starting conditions that can go any which way once you start your campaign. Maps are, of course, all randomly generated, and you can tinker with starting conditions and scenarios to your heart's content.

AI War is, of course, all about the AI's, and its main selling point is that it offers a rich, deep and constantly interesting parade of them to challenge and surprise you. For ye olde strategy player, thats about 90% of its appeal, right there. Your strategy must entail knocking out the local AI's without triggering an all out response. There's little to no micromanagement, because you yourself have your own ensemble of small AI's working for you, automating your production and resource gathering and controlling many of your own fighting units. This game is all big picture with a lot of the tedium weeded out. Your attacks can feel a bit Supreme Commander sometimes, while your defences behave a lot like some tower defence game. Your strategizing and intelligence is what's being tested here.

There is multiplayer, but all players play cooperatively against the AI's: it's Us versus Them.

There's a bit of a learning curve. You'll find this with anything that's catering for the more serious computer gamer, plus there's all the usual problems of beginners encountering science fiction or 4X strategy gaming for the first time and never knowing quite where to start or what to do. But like any good game, the time and effort you need to invest in the thing can often repay you with some seriously satisfying gameplay moments later on. Fortunately, the devs recognised these issues and have planned for it: there's a comprehensive ArcenWiki page for the game, not to mention a giant demo that can let you roam around for hours. Ah, its everything indy gaming should be!

There's been a refreshing trend in recent years (i.e. about 2009 onwards) that's seen an indy games explosion brought on by the profileration of online distribution sites, console game networking and dirt cheap gaming apps on mobile devices. AI War is the perfect example, a small niche game designed to challenge niche players, that isn't hamstrung by the need to pay off a monster budget and cater for every bored, irritable halfwit sucking on an energy drink in a K-Mart somewhere.

Being indy, AI War lacks the big budget resources of the mainstream studios, but that really isn't an issue. Its like saying Minecraft is terrible because its all blocky. AI War's priorities lie with substance, not style. By that I mean its an old style strategy game designed by and for serious gamers wanting a proper challenge; people frustrated by the mountains of pap out there finally making the game they've always wanted to play. Its relies on simple 2D bitmaps to carry the day, which, while a little cheap and nasty looking, do allow for some truly huge fleet fights involving thousands of units. It also makes adding expansions and mountains of fresh, new game mechanics much easier than chaining an art department to its desks for two years just to produce some swanky new 3D spaceships.

AI War has produced a few expansions, all available through its own online store or via the Steam network. Arcen also have plans for another two expansions, due mid 2011 and early 2012 respectively.

AI War: The Zenith Remnant (early 2010)
Adds some new gameplay features, such as 100+ new ship types, some wandering super-entities such as the Dyson Sphere and a bunch of aliens called the Zenith, an ancient civilization who shake things up a bit. You'll encounter some Zenith factions that may help you, or hinder you.

AI War: Children of Neinzul (late 2010)
The second expansion adds a race of insectoids, the Neinzul, plus a few extra ship types, map types and the occasional pumped up AI for the more advanced players.

AI War: Light of the Spire (early 2011)
The third expansion adds a third alien race, the Spire. The Spire have been almost wiped out by the AI's, like you. However, it turns out the Spire were at the height of their powers, and don't take too kindly to AI's. Or you, for that matter. Light of the Spire introduces a story mode, plus the usual barrage of new ships, mechanics and new features.

AI War: Alien Bundle
All three expansions bundled together in the one bumper package. Back

Conquest: Frontier Wars (2001)

Home planet under attack
Developed by Fever Pitch Studios, Conquest is the classic outer space 4X turn based empire building genre expressed as a genuine RTS. A usually incompatible combination that seems to work this time - for once. (Imperium Galactica would be another example, but I always found that a wee bit clunky) You build up your home planet by literally ringing it with the appropriate headquarters, shipyards, barracks, research centres etc., and then send your fledgling fleets out to colonise other worlds and expand your empire further. Harvester units shuttle back and forth mining asteroids and collecting gas from nebulas like villagers harvesting trees, while you can can do the usual upgrading of units and researching of new technologies. You can basically fill the screen with your fleets and conquer the entire map.

The interesting thing here is how all the maps in the game are connected to each other by wormholes, so they actually form part of a greater whole. Also, Conquest makes use of supply lines, which are essential to keep your current units functional on the front line.

Despite being set in space, this is a strictly isometric 2D game. It does use 3D geometry, so you can zoom in to catch all the details or out to take in the spectacle of huge space fleets that can fill entire screens. The maps in the single player demo were very much like standard RTS maps set in space: small localised areas of out space with a few planets, asteroid fields and nebulas scattered through them like the expansion points in a regular earthbound RTS game. Conquest uses all the elements and items found in the standard 4X strategy game and translates them directly into the RTS format. Its not too shabby at all, but it suffered from a lack of popularity.

Conquest 2: The Vyrium Uprising (2004)
A sequel made exclusively for the XBox console. As far as I know, there was no Australian release.Back

Dark Colony (1997)

One of the bandwagon games that appeared when RTS hit the ground with a splash for the first time in 1997-98. Essentially, its about Humans fighting Roswell style Grey aliens over some trinket on a terraformed Mars. It has the greyish, low-rent lumpy art style typical for a PC game at the time. It came, it went, and no one, I think, was any the wiser.Back

Dark Planet: Battle for Natrolis (2002)

Yet another three sided conflict between high tech humans, religious magic users (this time a pack of lizards) and a bunch of voracious, slimy monsters with a penchant for the other two's flesh. Gosh! Sound familiar? It should - its practically the same template used for all RTS games that have three sides to them. Two sided RTS games tend to be set a few years into a post apocalyptic future, where two high tech (one corporate vs the other Soviet/religious/anarchist) are busily squabbling over the last remnants of Earth. It looks, acts and feels like an upgraded StarCraft, using 3D environments and a very solid sounding game engine - if the hype is anything to go by.Back
Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War Dawn of War (2004)

Set in the sci-fi fantasy future world of Warhammer 40,000, Dawn of War translates arguably the most popular tabletop figurine gaming and hobby system on the planet into an over the top, action packed RTS. Its the new StarCraft, except much, much better. This is RTSC's big game section for 2005, 2006 and 2007. It covers the second Dark Crusade expansion, and assumes you have the original Dawn of War and its first expansion, Winter Assault expansion. Here ta fix yer gubbins!

Dawn of War 2 (2009)

Relic's anticipated sequel to the awesome Dawn of War (DoW). Again, it starts with four races: the Space Marines, Orks, Eldar and the much anticipated Tyranids, monstrous creatures that are part tyrannosaur, part giant insect, and part Xenomorph from the Alien films. The game contains a lot of the old elements, but feels and plays completely differently - which is giving a lot of old DoW players pause.

Dawn of War 2 has been variously described around the traps as "Diablo with squads" or an expanded roleplaying game. It's a hybrid between the Role Playing Game (RPG) and a Real Time Strategy (RTS) game. It begins with the Company of Heroes basic design plan (which is very, very good - although made for small squad combat in WWII), and fuses a lot of roleplaying conventions with a cut down RTS game where base building is all but completely removed. Compared to the original, it jars: Dawn of War 2 is much, much smaller in scope, less epic but prettier, with more "skill" micromanagement "strategy" (oh noo!) using a constant stream of experience points, claimable loot and other trinkets straight out of the World of WarCraft playbook.

Where's my carpet of dead Orks!? The vast, sweeping tableaux of Warhammer battlefields are completely gone! Why on Earth would the Warhammer Universe, a galaxy tearing itself to bits and piled with mountains of dead, suddenly start obsessing over experience levels and RPG loot in some disposable grunts?! Bah humbug! Someone's clearly been analysing the World of WarCraft winning formula a little too closely here: DoW2 is full of fast food gameplay catering to the modern RPG players' endless sugar rush for XP and loot, spooned out in short dollops. There's almost a sense that there was something wrong with the conventions of RTS that needed fixing, as if building a base and keeping it alive was something to be embarrassed about. Actually, it looks like it had console gaming in mind.

I was hoping it would be how Supreme Commander was to Total Annihilation: more of the Same, only Better; the basic core mechanics taken Further, Debugged, Streamlined, Perfected, Graphically Enhanced and Taken to the Next Level, with Many Lessons Learned from three expansions and years of tumultuous game balancing. DoW1 had a spontaneous spark of sheer brilliance, and even though it could drive you around the bend, there was something about it that was utterly compelling. Perhaps it was the short development time that made it feel spontaneous and not airbrushed and polished to death. Who knows. But it found that sweet spot between base bashing and unit action, solved the big problem of resourcing by capturing points whilst never stopping to take a break. But DoW2 is pretty much a completely different game. While it has the same characters in it, it doesn't even feel like a sequel - and I don't like it at all. Actually, that's not true: it simply hasn't interested me. Thus, perceived disappointment. I appreciate Relic not wanting to make yet another clone, but all Dawn of War 2 simply had to do is be an upgraded Dawn of War 1. That's it. DoW2 got distracted and wandered off on some tangent somewhere.

Look, its no doubt a very fun and engaging and well designed game - it's just not DoW2. Its something else completely. Thus: indifference and disappointment. Its like giving me a single tank, and calling that an RTS. It becomes a character driven roleplaying game, albeit with a few squads rather than a single party. Or a vehicle sim. [edit: What the --?! You must be joking!]Back

Defense Grid: The Awakening (2008)

Click for full screengrab

An independent tower defence title produced by Hidden Path Entertainment. There's a slew of tower defence game out there on the Internet, and nearly all of them are small little free-to-play Flash or browser games. Defense Grid was the first that actually took the idea and formalized it into a commercial package, complete with 3D graphics, music, voice over and a release on both the PC via Steam and the X-Box console. Okay, well - its not an RTS as such, more like half an RTS with puzzle elements.

Its all fairly straightforward. You build static tower defences against an unarmed swarm of alien enemies, all determined to steal your Power Cores. Should they succeed, you lose that round and have to restart the level. If you've dabbled in this sort of thing, you'll recognise the usual tower types and the usual types of monsters. Maps are usually pre-defined tracks with ports for plugging turrets in. Some maps are simply a track with a few strategically placed points, others are like open fields where you have to build a maze of towers to slow the aliens down.

Its actually pretty good, catering to a broad range of players and doing everything right. Progressing through Story Mode unlocks progressively harder levels (and they get pretty challenging fairly quickly). What sets Defense Grid apart from its smaller rivals is its full use of 3D environments and maps, its solid art style, and a rather dry and enjoyable voice over from the Narrator. But none of this ever gets in the way of building towers and massacring as many light-fingered aliens as you can.

There's about 20 maps. Replay value comes in the form of challenging yourself with different play modes on unlocked maps, and coming up with new ways to replay old ones. All in all, its a robust package, and a decent budget take on the whole Tower thing. The downloadable content:

Borderlands (2010)
An extra four maps to challenge the old vets with.

C.H.A.S. (2011)
Two custom maps that coincided with Valve Software's big Portal2 release. The maps look like Aperture Science Lab testing chambers taken straight from Portal. They guest star GLaDOS, the malevolent mad computer that runs then, swapping banter with the Narrator.Back

Dune (1992)

A very old game by PC standards. This was one of the primeval ancestors to what we all know as "Real Time Strategy" these days. You could only control a single unit at a time, and it almost looked like some old primitive bit-mapped strategy game from the Eighties... There's a sequel: Dune2.Back

Dune 2000 (1998)

Developed by Intelligent Games and published by Westwood, Dune 2000 title is based on Frank Herbert's famous novel of the same name and uses licensing and imagery from the 80's film by David Lynch. This is an update on the original old Dune game, for modern(? how quickly games date!) audiences. Dune and Dune 2 were themselves forerunner to Command & Conquer. Dune was one of the earliest (if not the earliest) to introduce the real time to RTS in its more modern form. Its last incarnation was Emperor: Battle for Dune, described below.Back

Emperor: Battle for Dune (2001)

Westwood got into the 3D RTS in a big way with a spectacular looking sequel to their Dune series, developed by Intelligent Games. This sumptuous little epic received the full bells and whistle treatment for its time, including a huge slab of cut scenes populated by a pantheon of minor celebs and big dollops of gorgeous design work. For example, Whatzisname who plays Star Trek's Worf is the new Atreides Duke. Actually he's really wasted as a Klingon and RTSC recommends he take a few cracks at Shakespeare or at least some fresh sequels to Action Jackson.

The good guys, House Atreides, battles it out against the villainous House Harkonnen and surreptitious House Ordos for control of the planet Arrakis, sole source of Spice, a magic drug that allows the Spacing Guild to execute faster than light travel. Without it, they can't "bend" space, and thus, controlling Spice production is tantamount to controlling the civilized universe. Swags of multiplayer features and an involved plot using three major races and five "minor races" or sub-factions. Sub factions can't actually be played, but you ally with them in a mission to access additional units, techs and plot twists. In order to see all five hundred hours of cut scenes you have to work your way through the game.

Atriedes mech obliterate an Ordos base
And therein lies the rub. Alas, underneath this 21st century package is an ageing game from the previous decade. The Westwood RTS structure seems strangely unevolved, although the sophistication of the environment and its look is undisputed. This was the first Westwood title I played since the original Command & Conquer all those years ago. It must have been a winning formula for them because hardly anything changed. Perhaps I missed something: units felt dim fitted and clumsy, while unit management and control was as primitive as it ever was: for example, you could only build one building at a time(!!!!) Too much micromanagement was spent trying to get the cretins to a.) do what you wanted them too and b.) not stroll leisurely past enemies without doing anything, or c.) die like flies because they followed the old StarCraft school of suicidal path finding. As it is, the tactics that work the best seem to be just swarming the opposition with lots of units. If I hear "Unit lost" one more time I'll scream!

All this was compounded by the sheer weight of all the graphical gimmickry, which - for its time - seriously lagged the game and impeded quick access to commands and map navigation - although with the newer graphic cards such as ATI's Radeon, this isn't so much of an issue, but many older PC's will choke on this.

Several years earlier to its release this game structure would have been okay. There's an interesting single player mission structure to Emperor, but despite all the plot and cut scenes every mission is little more than a simple base build and slaughter all enemies routine. Even the story driven StarCraft twigged to this problem back in '98 and made use of different types of map missions. After playing quite a few games over the years and seeing the technology develop and evolve, Emperor: Battle for Dune was a distinct letdown. Play it if you're into Dune or after a visual treat, but its still only one for the kiddies.Back

Halo Wars

A real time strategy game based on the Halo first person shooter series, by Ensemble Studios, makers of the Age of Empires series. This is exclusively for the X-Box 360 and won't be covered by RTSC.Back

Hægemonia: Legions of Iron (2002)

A 3D space strategy title by Hungarian outfit Digital Reality that possibly offers more entertainment for your (old) graphics card than you. Hægemonia has a rather novel way of presenting the solar system as a single map where planets are practically close enough to touch and you can select and issue commands to worlds as easily as the spaceships flying between them. This diagrammatic approach works rather well (reminds me of Starglider II's compact little star system) and is really quite unique. Hægemonia's game structure is a more refined form of turn based 4X strategy games. And indeed, Digital Reality was responsible for Imperium Galactica II, an ambitious attempt to translate the 4X strategy genre directly into a real time strategy game. This is a far more successful result than IG2.

Hegemonia's game engine in action

Emphasis is on the big picture. This is strategy at a solar system level and there's little or no tactical micromanagement of individual shipping. You can build up planets and moons bases for manufacturing, R&D, and assign heroic leaders and admirals to improve their performance. Spaceships are selected either as squadrons of small fighters or as big, heroic capital craft. Apart from a few behavioural settings, there's little or no hands on dog fighting. The capital ships are Hegemonia's main selling point. For such a big picture game, there's a staggering amount of graphical gimmickry - but none of that freewheeling, outer-space-is-big feel you find in a game like Homeworld. Space in Hegemonia is cluttered and small, although very, very lush. The space backdrops are so filled with space dust, asteroids, coloured clouds, lens flares, funky exhaust effects, planets and exotic particle effects that you'd swear you'd hyperspaced into a Flash Gordon comic strip by mistake. Now if they had only added boarding parties fighting it out on the wings with funny swords... Its interesting, and worth a look.

An expansion: The Solon Heritage (2003)Back

Impossible Creatures (2002)

This is a game for the kids, starting off with a basic, family safe structure you've seen a dozen times over since WarCraft. However, Impossible Creatures' offers gamers a rather nifty premise: you create your units from scratch by combining the DNA of various different animals together.Back

Metal Fatigue (2000)

Produced by developer Psygnosis before they abandoned the PC market in 2000, this was an RTS title with underground, surface and orbital action. Its main selling point were its "ComBots", towering Animé style war robots that you could assemble from custom parts and beat up other ComBots with. You could swap around arms, legs and torsos, scavenge alien artifacts and technologies and build all kinds of combinations as you saw fit. ComBots were a lot like the Krogoth from Total Annihilation, and a little bit like the Heroes in Warcraft III; big power housing units escorted by a sea of smaller regulars. This game's presence on the Web recently stirred back into life.Back
Perimeter (2004)

An RTS that promised to push the genre forward. This is a nanotechnologoically themed, surreal hard science fiction based title from Russian developer K-D Lab and published by CodeMasters. In terms of concept, its right up there with the sort of thing you might expect from an author like Greg Egan or maybe an Iain M. Banks. It takes a few goes to work out quite what its up to, but the overall effect is pretty impressive.

It was unusual in that you terraformed your way across a map, and that all units in the game could be reformed from one type of unit to another like wax.

Unfortunately, it all but disappeared here in Australia, so unless there's a bargain basement copy floating around in a bin somewhere, I won't be able to get more into it.

There's an add-on: Perimeter: Emperor's Testament.

There was a sequel: Perimeter 2: New Earth (2009), but I have no idea what became of it, other than it wasn't as successful as the original.Back

Rage of War (2008)

The ground based RTS component

Not to be confused with Celtic Kings: Rage of War, this is an indy RTS by small outfit Evolution Vault and published by Strategy First. The main feature of this game is its retro 90's feel, complete with airbrushed bitmapped menus, backdrops and spaceship texturing. However, an equally valid point of view is Rage of War doesn't offer anything new, and doesn't even try to, either.

This is essentially a ground based game but set in space, playing out on a flat ecliptic. There's the usual base building, resource gathering and unit movement we all know and love. The floating facilities are basically buildings, and the small ships flitting between them the old fashioned Workers of yore. While it looks retro, its still using a true 3D engine, and you can roll the camera around and see some wonderfully exaggerated parallax; so its more like working within a thick sandwich, rather than a flat plane. That's about as innovative as it gets.

Outer space strategy component
One of Rage of War's problems are the usual perils for any independent developer: a lack of resources resulting in a lack of polish. The art's fine - if not a little cluttered - but some game design decisions seemed to lack focus. The synthesised voices seriously grated even after a few minutes of playing. The tutorials drop you into the thick of things, but never really gave any solid directions - just storyline dialogue where I had to half-guess what things did. The 3D was cute, but hard to read, and it was easy to lose your bearings where units and structuresgot lost in the general clutter floating in space. Like many sci-fi games, the function of units and structures aren't immediately obvious just by looking at them. The tutorials felt a bit tacked on and I felt no wiser than when I started. Even the minimap pings seems ambiguous - this must be the first RTS I've played where the minimap wasn't really very useful at all, although it can't be as bad as

Rage of War looks and feels a lot like a StarCraft campaign mission in outer space, tarted up with a modern engine. If you're familiar with the Blizzard-style player made story campaigns, you'll probably feel right at home. The the 90's retro look is light hearted and nostalgic, and not without its charms. However, if this was a mainstream game it'd be skinned alive for being so unoriginal and rough around the edges. Unless it offered something new - which it doesn't. Its not a bad game, and there didn't seem to be any restrictions on how many units could be deployed, but Rage of War feels like a custom mod made by fans still lost in the past. Both its story and features have been done better elsewhere - and in mainstream games, I might add.

Still, it won't require a new computer, the download (by today's standards) is modest, and for something this cheap and cheerful it'll keep you entertained for a few hours or maybe a few afternoons. Just don't expect much.Back

Revenge of the Titans (2011)

Click for full image

An awesome little indy title that looks like an retro arcade take on Tower Defense, but with a more Real Time Strategy bent to it. Published by Puppy Games, Revenge of the Titans takes the old 8-bit pixel look and propels it nicely into the 21st Century. At first blush it looks quite primitive, but closer inspection reveals all the modern graphics and subtle visual effects we've come to expect from modern digital art with some solid game play ticking over underneath. Space Invader like villains darken the horizon with their presence, while effective sound design builds up great atmosphere and even a little menace. The retro look conjures up the evocative low-res cyber-worlds offered by old 8-bit sci-fi gaming without ever getting lost in the past. Maybe it's just me, but I found Revenge's pixellated world quite compelling.

Revenge of the Titans' villains look Space Invader-y because the game is a sequel - of sorts - to a Space Invader clone called Titan Attacks by the same developer. Both use the same updated, retro style with lush palettes and subtle finishes. But there the Turret Defense comparison ends. You have an open map where you can build anywhere, terrain permitting. There are refineries to set up, turrets to strategically position, upgrades to think about and bonus structures to carefully place. There's a complex tech tree, even factories that can pump out mobile robots, and many difficult choices to make concerning research. In this regard its a pure RTS game, minus the mobile units.

Click for full view

You do get to churn out tiny little battledroids, and they can duke it out one-on-one with the Titans in little swarms. But you have no direct control over them, and any explosive weapons or land mines have an unhappy habit of wiping them all out along with the enemy.

There's no shortage of action, and no shortage of new Titans to lock horns with. There are occasions where your briefings will ask you for specific research to do, but you have a free hand to work things out the way you like. This can work against you, though, so be warned! Some monsters are impervious to some weapons, and its easy to tech down a blind alley and leave yourself stuck. This about the only fault with the game: but speaking personally, I'd far prefer to have the versatility to mess around any way I like than be forced down a single path.

Things never get dull either; even before you the possibility of getting bored the game presents you with new maps, features and monsters to kill. There's the fun and panic of keeping rivers of them at bay from all sides; desperately dropping land mines to clear them out, or trying to build new turrets and barricades to keep them away from your precious HQ. There's a lot of variation and thinking under fire to do here. The pace can get as hectic as any action based RTS.

All in all, the best few bucks I've spent on a game in years!Back

StarCraft: Brood War (1998)

Quietly retired, September 2003: un-retired in May 2004, then re-retired in May 2005.
One of the founding sections of RTSC and a classic by Blizzard Entertainment. (StarCraft is still insanely popular, but I simply haven't touched it for years. In any case, Total Annihilation is much better!) StarCraft epitomizes the classic RTS. Three sides fight for survival: the nomadic Terrans, the psionic Protoss and the monstrous Zerg. Rich story, deep strategy, and lots of action. One of the few near perfect blends of campaign storytelling and multiplayer gaming for its time.

StarCraft 2

Blizzard's long anticipated sequel to the legendary StarCraft. Bigger, better, spiffier, more awesome than ever before, with production values and cut scenes to boggle the mind... but somehow I'm not playing it. Hm. Oh yes, the nightmare of Ladder players, that's right. Well worth your money on the campaign alone, but I'd recommend some good friends to netgame with instead of subjecting yourself to the usual desperate grasping up the greased totem pole that is the Battle.Net Ladder.Back

Star Wars: Empire at War (2006)

Outer space strategy component
A Star Wars RTS pitting the evil Imperials against the Rebel Alliance, by the newly established Petroglyph Games. Petroglyph, I'm very pleased to say, is basically the remnants of Westwood Studios (and others) after they were absorbed and dissolved away by corporate giant EA Games. The who's who of this studio is enough to make you jump for joy, so hopefully we should see some interesting and eminently playable games coming our way! Their first cab off the rank is Star Wars: Empire at War. Its not too shabby, I suppose. Its not great, nor a classic, but its an eminently workable Star Wars game for the fans.

The Imperial Empire gets pretty much anything it likes, and has a bottomless budget for building massive war fleets and armies. While it has trouble finding the Rebel Alliance it can blow away entire planets with the Death Star. In return, the Rebel underdogs can hide all manner of spies, pirates and chicanery on Imperial worlds, looting funds and equipment and rallying them on secret bases. This game seems to tell the Star Wars story quite nicely with its own game structure, although something tells me Imperial players could easily drive Rebel players around the bend by spamming the Death Star and just blowing away every planet in the game.

The ground based RTS component
Empire at War is less of a standard RTS and more of a large galaxy wide strategy game with RTS battles. It uses a live drag and drop interface with a ticking clock for the global strategy campaign rather than static turns, which is interesting in itself. Actual battles come in two mutually exclusive theatres: ground and space. The ground wars are definitely the weakest aspect of the game: they're clunky (they reminded me a little of Emperor Dune) and the camera is limited, making it difficult to do and see what you want, when and where you want. It can be difficult to keep tabs on things and some aspects of the interface seemed a little counter intuitive. Space battles take place in 3D, but they're also very much a flat battlefield seen from above - Empire at War certainly isn't Homeworld. There's a huge range of different spaceships, all taken from the Star Wars universe that's grown around the novels and cartoon series outside the films, and the battles are very much in the spirit of the films. There's even a cinematic camera mode that attempts to put together an action scene for you - badly.

As you can imagine, the John Williams soundtrack, electric razor TIE fighter sounds and laser bolt sound effects dominate. The spaceships and large models seem curiously under-detailed and blocky for this day and age, despite having some serious texturing close up. It looks a little primitive under the fresh layer of graphic card shaders and effects (some of which are actually quite sophisticated). You can do a fair bit in the global strategy; and I found it quite appealing. But the actual hands on fighting left a bit to be desired.

The giant AT-AT Imperial Walkers look big and actually walk and turn properly, and of course, nothing beats a formation of Star Destroyers pulverizing all before them. The Millenium Falcon dances and dodges smartly past all gunfire - almost to the point where you can single-handedly win a battle with it (just leave it to its own devices for half an hour!) But the cinematic camera has a tendency to generate action packed, shaky wobble cam shots of empty asteroids or a passing lizard rather than focus on the battle at hand.

Empire at War is okay, but you'd have to be a fan I think to get the full value out of this one.Back

Star Wars: Force Commander (2000)

A real time tactical game that was one of the earlier adopters of a full 3D environment, set within the Star Wars films before things went oh-so-horribly wrong with the Ja Ja Binks Era. Basically, you play the part of a young Imperial Commander, Lieutenant Brenn Tantor. Brenn starts out at the start of the first Star Wars film, and begins by being assigned to hunt down two droids that have crash landed onto the desert planet of Tatooine. As the game progresses, he eventually mutinies from the Empire and joins the Rebellion. Critically, this game was panned for its bad interface, has that awful, dead, grey VGA look shared by a lot of 90's PC games, and isn't well regarded by the fans.Back

Star Wars: Rebellion (1998)

A grand, strategic real time game that stages the cinematic Stars Wars conflict (pre-Ja Ja Binks) between the Rebellion and the Imperial Empire. Considering the amount the reader mails I've been receiving of late (mid 2009) and the presence of a few still living fan sites and custom mods out there, it seems to be doing reasonably well amongst some of the fans. Reviews and opinions of it seemed mostly negative. Overall though, I'd forgotten that this had even existed, or that it was even part of the initial explosion of RTS titles back in the late 1990's. Rebellion reads like it might have been a forerunner to Star Wars: Empire at War (above). Interested folk may want to peruse the fan site, or the game info site MobyGames.Back

Submarine Titans (2000)

Basically this looks and sounds like an underwater StarCraft clone: a 2D strategy title published by Strategy First that lurks entirely under the ocean waves, making use of different depths for different strategies. Two human cultures fight it out under the waves for (all together now) control of Earth's remaining resources after the surface has been destroyed by a comet collision. Meanwhile, a third party, an alien race already resident in a deep sea crater, feels things could be better served all round by rendering first two parties extinct. And so on. Ho hum. Subs and sea bases.Back

Total Annihilation: The Core Contingency (1997)

Set 4000 years in the future, the cloned forced of Arm clash with the "patterned" forces of the Core. Total Annihilation is almost a pure real time war game, pitting K-Bots (robot infantry), vehicles, tanks, aircraft, ships, subs, artillery, turrets, missiles, mines, lasers, nukes and the mighty Krogoth ultra-bot in vast clashes that can span entire screens simultaneously. Seriously, it still rocks. There are more custom mods and total conversions for this game than you can poke a stick at.Back
Supreme Commander

Supreme Commander (2007)

Yes kids, it really is the spiritual successor to the legendary Total Annihilation. TA was quite possibly the only PC game that never had any clones (with one or two exceptions) until SupCom rolled up, when all those years of patient waiting finally come to a close. Supreme Commander offers titanic war gaming on a scope above and beyond the pokey, limited worlds offered by the endless parade of small minded, micro-heavy WarCraft clones.Back

Universe at War: Earth Assault (2008)

Cripes! Its huuuge
Developed by Petroglyph Games, makers of Star Wars: Empire at War, Universe at War is published by Sega. Its not hard to spot Petroglyph's old Command & Conquer past coming to the fore: this is part modern warfare, part fantasy sci-fi, and part pure cheese, just like the old C&C titles used to be. Like Star Wars: Empire at War, it uses a large, big picture strategic meta-map to determine your next move, and resolves the conflict with a real time battle. It bristles with big graphics and big effects, all to a lot of big sound and a big soundtrack.

This one's definitely pitched at the kids, and based more on the structure of a StarCraft clone than a C&C clone. Universe at War stars the usual three way conflict: humanoid Masari; a clean cut, psychic Protoss/anime/elves-in-space group called the Novus, and a clunky bunch of over-armoured, spiky, parasitic, crayfish styled military autocrats known as the Hierarchy. That's as close as it gets, though, because there's a rich vein of kitsch running through here. Universe at War might have a gritty grey-and-brown battle scene of US marines bravely defending the earth against tripods, but this invasion of earth looks and sounds like a high-end Saturday morning cartoon. The Hierarchy is an old fashioned flying saucer invasion crossed with the recent Spielberg remake of War of the Worlds; and abduct cows, eat houses and zap enemies whilst headbanging to some really ancient WWF cock rock.

The big problem is that big red signature walker unit for the Hierarchy. This big red walking base fills your screen and stomps its way across anywhere to pretty much annihilate any opposition the moment it's built. Either the demo's really making things easy to get the kids in or there's a serious, serious hole in game balance here. One side basically gets a God level unit right from the start; as far as I know the other sides don't get this sort of thing. The absence of any multiplayer demo made the whole package feel a little dodgy.

The camera is locked into a fixed angle and at a fixed zoom, and while everything is 3D, it feels like a vintage 2D game.Playing through the demo brought back memories of old, epic Japanese shoot-'em-up arcade scrollers (from old developers like Toaplan or Irem) with lots of splashy weapons effects and closing end-game rock'n'roll riffs. It feels slightly more polished over Petroglyph's previous effort, Empire at War, but its very pedestrian. For example, Empire's auto-cinematic feature is present, and a little more evolved this time around, but it still sticks together a clumsy string of randomly picked camera angles. Nothing's come close to Dawn of War's player driven camera; a player is far more effective at this sort of thing than an AI.

Alas, after Supreme Commander, Universe at War feels small and silly, with all its efforts going into noise, colour and graphics. If it was a film, it'd be a genre flick. Its fun for a while, and if you're unfamiliar with RTS it'll amuse stomping your giant base-bot around, but that's an awful lot hard disk space for the privilege.

The demo alone is 1.2 gigabytes in size. The Supreme Commander end-game units are definitely better. Wait for this in the bargain bin. Back

War Front: Turning Point (2007)

Its a World War II game, but this time from an alternate history, developed by Hungarian Digital Reality and German 10tacle Studios. The basic premise is that Adolph Hitler is assassinated early on in the war, and thus the German war machine - unencumbered by the pyschopathic idiot - actually gets to win the big one. Its biggest drawcard is messing around with all those experimental weapons in what seems to be a relatively straightforward, but B-grade RTS. I know nothing more. Back

Z series

A basic RTS featuring armies of wise cracking robots by the venerable Bitmap Brothers. (I remember classic Bitmap games waa-a-ay back on the Amiga in the 80's) This is a straightforward RTS crossed with Capture the Flag. Each map is subdivided into zones featuring a flag that has to be claimed. Whoever grabs all the zones, wins.

Z (1996)
The original game, executed in the classic airbrushed pixel art style of the Bitmap Brothers' that made them famous.

Z: Steel Soldiers (2001)
The technically superior and more evolved sequel, rendered in what passed for high-falutin' 3D back then. Steel Soldiers also added air and naval units. More of the same, only better!Back

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Last modified Fri, Aug 12 2011 by Lindsay Fleay