Those of you who haven't experienced the science fiction 3D RTS Earth 2150 have missed some good gameplay, highly realistic environments, and an exciting plot. All of these features satisfied even the most demanding RTS fans. What we can say for sure is that the outstanding atmosphere presents the most appealing aspect of Earth 2150. Changes of night and day, weather conditions, and highly detailed landscapes proved that the guys at TopWare really take their work serious. Anyway, after a few months of waiting and a couple of announcements, we finally got to test the expansion pack called The Moon Project. Here we encounter the usual issues: Does the expansion bring anything truly fresh? Are the missions even more exciting? Is the plot an original enough alteration of Earth 2150? And with all these new aspects, does it possess the same old atmosphere everyone enjoyed so much? Did it fix any bad aspects of its predecessor?
Well, to put it shortly, The Moon Project is really a nice refreshment and it will be intriguing both for players who loved Earth 2150 and for those who are experiencing it for the first time. However, it doesn't bring anything radically new, but than again it was not even supposed to because then it would have been a sequel. If you wish to play new missions in a completely new environment, then this will definitely hold your attention. Those of you who prefer more campaigns, new races, or similar radical changes, I'm sorry to say you'll be disappointed.
As for the plot, I would like to point out that it is an interesting combination of some new ideas with some reminiscence of the previous game. The same groups are still at war - Lunar Corporation (tiny, but technologically the most advanced), Eurasian Dynasty (a pretty rough and conservative group), and the trendy United Civilized States. While the Eurasian Dynasty and the United Civilized States still fight on Earth, the Lunar Corporation started a top-secret operation on the Moon's surface. This operation is named Project Sunlight. Each corporation will have its own interests in this Project.
Although the environment and most of the missions are new, TopWare could've introduced an additional race. This would bring more new buildings and crafts, as well as new models and more programming, and that would definitely take too much time for developers to accomplish (it may have been a nice touch though).
Anyway, as you start the campaigns you'll find that the tasks, which await you, are extensive and it will take you a while to complete them, no matter what side you choose. There are no particularly interesting assignments. Your goals are mostly on the lines of 'seek and destroy,' 'locate artifact,' and 'completely annihilate the opponent.' The missions seem very long, but unfortunately there's a very small number of them. Nonetheless, the adventurous element is present and it is a nice refreshment when compared to the original game. To balance things out TopWare has thrown in a quite large amount of skirmish missions. There is also the improved level editor which is much more sophisticated and will allow you to modify existing maps or create large new worlds with a greater number landscape details, structures, and ground textures. Once you get acquainted with all of the options, settings, and features you are ready to embrace the world of The Moon Project.
Before you initiate a campaign or skirmish, I would strongly recommend playing the tutorial (especially if you've never played Earth 2150 before). The tutorial is thorough, yet simple and it will allow you to practice camera movement, which is an extremely important part of the game. The zoom-in was slightly enhanced over the original, so that you can observe all the little things that go on while your units do their jobs and mission assignments (for example, watching your repair unit performing its duties).
Now we come to the most important thing you will notice when you start playing the missions. The tasks seem simple enough to perform, however you're gonna find that the opponent units are not that naive and they will do almost anything in their power to stop you. You will realize that the enemy is quick and intelligent (a deadly combination), so you have to act swiftly, and with well-devised battle technique and defense tactic, unless you want to see your base turned into a scrap yard. There's the old tunnel-digging tactic, which allows you to sneak up behind enemy lines and wreak havoc. Even in these situations the enemy was on full alert and responded immediately to my surprise. However, you can use the Earthquake Generator while you move through the tunnel, which will heavily damage enemy constructions. This way you'll make the base much easier to conquer. Another new unit is available that goes by the strange nickname, Fat Girl. This unit has a very powerful armor and can take out quite a lot of enemy units. Also, a nice idea was realized with the new Unit Transporter, which can pick up enemy units and drop them on an enemy building, thus destroying both objects with one blow. Regrettably though, these new units won't in any way guarantee your victory over the ferocious AI.
There are a lot of unit commands that will let you form platoons, disband platoons, tell your unit to return to base and replenish his ammo, etc. A new interesting command has been introduced: namely you can switch your units' lights on or off, which presents a subtle but very important feature. It can be used when the Moon falls out of reach of Sunlight and it becomes pitch black. Moments like these improve verisimilitude and atmosphere.
As for the sound, things seem as spectacular as we expected. It offers more brilliant music tracks, which add a lot to the excitement while you charge against the enemy. These tracks can make you feel you're really a part of the whole 'Moon Project' story and perfectly become the visually striking environment. Further more, the music gets increasingly dynamic once you encounter enemy troops (which caused this reviewer to fall off his chair a few times).
On the visual side, this game has many dazzling qualities, from the beautiful shadowy terrain, to the visually stunning meteor showers. These small asteroids and comets, which hit the Moon's surface, present a constant danger for you and your vehicles. So it's not only an attractive environment detail, it can interact and influence your actions (rather like in real life). Explosions of the meteors look spectacular, as well as the explosions of the objects you destroy. Another interesting detail about these showers is that they happen when you least expect them to, and then when they do, as I said, they look really impressive. Further more, we can see a lot of nice landscapes of the Moon surface that is highly detailed even when you zoom up to the maximum. Dense fog, rain, and snow (on Earth, of course) remain the integral part of the environment. The 3D engine, in general, produces some truly gorgeous backgrounds and visual effects. Maybe the models could've used more polygons (ah, it's a RTS after all), otherwise they are smoothly animated and do not appear to bother your system too much. The technologically-advanced weaponry you use can also create some magnificent effects (the plasma gun looks particularly nice).
The downside of the game is, as I mentioned, the lack of more missions in the campaigns, which had been otherwise very well conceived. If you expected to see a lot of single player missions in the campaigns, you may be disappointed. Still, there is going to be enough of skirmish for you to play for days. In addition, level editing can be used to create missions to your preference and the multiplayer games are always loads of fun. Sadly, another setback comes with the main research facilities, which usually take too much time in completing their errands. This proved to be very frustrating since the enemy upgrades his units much faster than you; it makes the game twice as hard and very annoying. TopWare could have fixed this. All things considered, I think we can rather call this an excellent level editor with a lot of additional skirmish missions, rather than a truly innovative expansion pack.
Earth 2150 was a high water mark in strategy gaming. Deep, complex and beautiful to behold (though exceedingly difficult at times), Earth 2150 succeeded in offering a gaming experience that only a marriage of Alpha Centauri and Total Annihilation could have otherwise achieved. In doing so it also served to quiet all those dissenters of the RTS genre who belittle its gameplay mechanics as little more than "mass-rush" hysteria. When a developer gets this much right a follow-up becomes obligatory. The dilemma Topware Interactive faced, creators of both Earth 2150 and The Moon Project, was in not breaking what so obviously did not require fixing. Measured solely by this criterion, they are entirely successful - but the shortcoming of playing it safe in today's competitive marketplace is that everything once heralded as novel and innovative, is now just yesterday's news.
The Moon Project is a sequel, of sorts, to Earth 2150. More accurately stated, it is a work executed in parallel. At the close of Earth 2150 our planet had fallen out of its orbit and crashed into the sun, ending all terrestrial life, as we knew it. Needless to say, that does present a predicament from a storytelling point of view. For decades writers in the comic book industry have solved nasty continuity issues by inventing parallel universes or creating cataclysmic events that wiped out whole storylines, so that they might establish them anew. Sometimes they just pretended that everything which had come before simply never happened - I call that cheating, some might say hack (Justice League anyone?). Topware has pursued a slightly different skew in The Moon Project. All of the events in this game take place within the exact same timeline of the previous game. While that does allow Topware to exploit the tension of the world's imminent demise all over again, it also forces them to deal from the same deck of cards, the result of which a game that feels almost entirely like the one that came before.
Returning to the fray are the same three factions from Earth 2150: the Eurasians (your typical blunt force faction), The UCS (light, quick and agile) and the Lunar Corporation (hi-tech surgical warfare). Each race gets a new campaign, which is told in a largely confusing narrative and just as convoluted as ever. There are a handful of new units and technologies available to each race; like submarines, earthquake generators and artillery - which is the most useful of the three. But the feeling I had was that there should have been more. What might have been interesting, just for instance, is the emergence of a new race to unbalance the other three or the inclusion of generals (with heroic attributes that increase certain traits of the other units in proximity). Ah, but that is the problem of parallel timelines, if you add these now it is in conflict with what took place before.
Visually, things are much improved. A new coat of paint has been applied to the game engine with impressive results, as the 3D terrain engine is now capable of impressive particle effects; making combat an even more viscerally impressive affair than before. Additionally, real-time and colored lighting is in abundance. Day continues to turn into night and weather effects are just as cool as ever. There is also a greater sense of location, as real world settings of San Francisco, Munich and Amsterdam are modeled - so expect snow in Europe and fog in the Bay Area. However, the scale of these geographies are greatly reduced, to the extent that four or five tanks will pretty much cover the entire city of San Francisco - which is really too bad, as the tactical possibilities of blockading the Golden Gate bridge or placing artillery on Alcatraz could have been very intriguing. In the end the limited space is just too cramped to really do anything interesting and this just ends up feeling like a gimmick. Finally, you can also zoom out several more steps from the battlefield, which can really help in the larger battles. However, this will put a strain on even the highest end PC processors.
The hallmark of Earth 2150 was the combination of intense unit-to-unit combat over realistic 3D terrain coupled with the "mix-n-match" vehicle construction options. That certainly hasn't changed in The Moon Project. There aren't really any new chassis available, but the new weapons and technological upgrades really help to broaden the tactical possibilities. The AI continues to impress: probing your bases unceasingly, flanking you when you are least prepared and generally backing you into a corner more times than not. Combined arms tactics are therefore a requirement, as the lethality of most weapons (aside from the generally weak machine guns) will easily overwhelm platoons of like vehicles. As you get deeper into the game this situation only worsens, as weapon destructiveness always seems to supersede armor effectiveness. It's great that your units gain experience and become more effective over time, but keeping them alive long enough to realize this is a real challenge. The sluggish pace of new unit production also seriously retards the chances of fielding lesser units to soften up the enemy. Trial and error mark the early game, but willingness to experiment will reward.
One of the detriments of Earth 2150 involved mission objectives. There was simply too much to do in a given scenario and not clear enough direction in how to achieve it. Unfortunately, the situation hasn't been improved in The Moon Project. Consider that most of the missions involve managing a home base (where production occurs), defending a resource camp (where mining and power live) and utilizing an underground series of tunnels for unit movement or recon. Your combat units are spread out across the map and the interface, with all of its layers of detail, makes finding your units and creating new ones a real challenge. The mini map is still way too small and is fixed in one place, the result of which is that you are often guessing as to what direction the threats are coming relative to the on-screen action. During the execution of most missions something invariably happens that derails you from your current objective by introducing a secondary or tertiary goal. I like surprises as much as the next gamer, but most of the time I felt lost. It would have been nice for the descriptions to be clear and straightforward, with only a small set of expectations. In the end, I had to re-read the mission description and review the objectives more than a dozen times per scenario - a classic "fight the interface rather than the enemy" problem.
Documentation is only about seventy pages in total, but most of that space is wasted on inane narratives, such as the history of each race or little factoids for each unit - rather than specific details on how to employ them. There are no tables for weapon range, armor effectiveness or rate of fire. Where is the detail on tactical movement, weather restrictions or how to best engage certain types of enemy? Several progressive tutorials are provided, but they are extremely lengthy and must be played straight through. Fortunately, a Prima Strategy guide comes packaged with the game, a major necessity to anyone who might be new to this series. Frankly, I would be happy to pay an additional ten bucks for any strategy game that shipped with a hint guide included - though I realize it is blasphemy to say so.
The Moon Project is both a technically and visually impressive achievement that provides more of what was universally held to be some of the best strategy gaming of last year. While the tweaks applied to the game engine are sweet and certainly helped to immerse me in the game world, they just weren't enough to motivate me to delve deeper into the campaigns. I find it interesting that gameplay occurs in parallel to the events of Earth 2150, but it seems like this may have held Topware back from taking any chances or being innovative, for want of maintaining continuity. I might have felt better recommending The Moon Project had the mission structure been a bit more streamlined, but as it stands this is not a game for the casual player. If you are a strategy devotee who found Earth 2150 the best of its kind, then you will undoubtedly be in heaven, for the rest of us, it's back to Red Alert 2.
People who downloaded Earth 2150: The Moon Project have also downloaded:
Earth 2150: Escape from the Blue Planet, Earth 2150: Lost Souls, Earth 2140, Empire Earth, Emperor: Battle for Dune, Command & Conquer: Generals, Dungeon Keeper 2, Dune 2000
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