Outforce, The Download (2000 Strategy Game)

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This real-time strategy is set in space and involves three warring races. Battles take place in a 3D arena where futuristic weapon fire shines through dark voids and colorful nebulae. Graphics are presented in full 3D, though most ship movement takes place on a single plane to simplify strategy. The economic system is less sophisticated than some other strategy titles, allowing the player to focus on tactics and military schemes. The game features 120 different units in all and an artificial intelligence system designed to "learn" as the game progresses.

Set in the 25th century... Earth has been left uninhabitable by an asteroid... humans try to colonize new planet... Okay, that's the normal stuff. Now, when the humans move onto this new planet, it turns out that it is in fact in the Gobin's territory. The Gobin are a stumpy turtle like race that happens to have been at war with the Crions, the "proud warrior" type. The colonization of the planet by humans takes both sides by surprised as a collective "guh?" echoes throughout the galaxy. Both sides figure that the humans are some sort of trick (much like myself) by the other side and a three-way war begins as both races mercilessly attack the human settlement. Luckily for us, we're a stupid race and still have nukes around as we somehow haven't found any better ways to kill things yet. But the Gobins and the Crions have apparently never heard of nuclear weapons and get their butts whooped pretty nicely. Eventually the three get tired of war and use a giant diplomatic space station (Babylon 5 anyone?) to begin negotiations for peace. It's all moving along until the station disappears and everybody starts pointing fingers. War starts again and, "This time, peace can only be achieved by conquest." Dum, dum, dummm... Silly humans.

So to start, you'll get the humans, which doesn't really matter because all of the races are the same with different models and names. You can jump right into the game or go through the incredibly tedious task of completing the billions of tutorial missions. The box copy doesn't come with an actual manual, so you'll need to print out the manual included on the CD if you want to skip the useless tutorials and jump headlong into boredom. But if you do decide to complete the tutorials, you'll be greeted by one of the worst actors I've ever heard trying to be the gruff type drill sergeant. He'll tell you that you need to learn how to build one type of building. You'll do that, and then go to the next mission, which will be to learn how to build a different type of building, which is the exact same process as the last. This goes on for a while. A long while.

Once you're through that, you can get into the actual game. It all starts out with the humans sending a scout ship to find out what happened to the station in a cutscene. You find out the station has just completely disappeared at which point your scout goes too. Your only option as a human is of course to fly into the area with your gun rack and start blowing everything away to figure out what has happened.

Before I rip into the actual game a bit, let's go over some of the pluses. First off, the graphics. At first glance, they have nice style and detail. But the same thing that really makes the game stand out, also makes you scratch your head and wonder. The backgrounds are a beautiful selection of colors and design, but give the impression that you are playing underwater. You'll need to check out the screens to see what I mean. I guess this part of space is some huge ol' nebula. Anyhow, the backgrounds are easy on the eyes and do have a nice layering effect when the camera moves around. Units and buildings really do bring across the difference in the races however. The looks are quite clear and rather nicely done. It's good that there is a bit of variety in the visual department because that's where it really stops.

You see, the three races really all have the same structures and units even though they are given different names and looks. After so many other games that have given so much more thought and consideration to the difference of races, this was a real letdown. I guess that they didn't want to spend the time to balance different technologies and weapons. It's really too bad.

Infinite Loop also spent a bit of time trying to fix up the interface so that things would be a little easier for players to manage. However, in their attempts to add some things that actually did make things a bit easier, they totally forgot to add in some of the things that we've come to expect from RTSs, such as rally points for vehicle construction, automatic saving after missions after missions are completed, and a gui that gives info on selected objects such as hit points. What they did add was a building que for your construction vehicles. So you can hold down shift and tell a constructor to build several buildings in a row so you never have to think about it, which actually needs to happen a lot in the game.

The gameplay itself is where the game really starts to get boring. It strictly follows the standards of base building, resource collecting, and force building. While the total destruction of the enemy isn't really the focus of most missions, it does tend to point in that direction for a couple of reasons. The first is the whole 3D-2D experience. The game is actually in 3D, but is played for the most part on a 2D plane. I say mostly because units can actually move to be above and below each other, but only certain units can fly through debri that usually conveniently makes a maze in space. So the main brunt of your force will need to wander around and slowly make its way through defenses in the form of turrets and fences just like you might in a 2D ground based game like Command & Conquer. That's right, you can create fences. Walls and fences would block opponents from coming into bases on a planet. Why does this work in space? It really defeats the point of having a strategy game in space and really seems to defeat the purpose of using a 3D engine.

Which is perchance one of the most annoying things in the game. They tried to use the 2 1/2 dimension to allow for easier movement as I said before. Units can pile on top of each other and travel over and under structures. But unfortunately, they forgot to include this option with structures being able to pass over one another. Normally, this wouldn't matter so much, I mean, who would need to move a building over another one? Well, one of the better ideas in the game also introduced this problem. One of the vehicles that you can build in the game is a towship. They can attach a line to any structure and tow it around like a tugboat. Toot toot. And while this is cool so you can move your defenses around after you've built them in order to move defenses forward quickly and the like, you also have to tow large structures into certain locations to complete a mission.

This becomes an annoyance when these things get stuck on other structures. So you end up having to tow everything else out of the way in order to get whatever it is your towing wherever it is you're towing it in a timely fashion. They didn't put a feature in that allowed the structures to be towed into the third dimension. And there are so many missions where you need to tow things. Tow this here, tow that there... go tow yourself. What could have been a really neat feature turned into an annoyance.

If you're looking for a new RTS, you could do worse, but you also could do much better. Get Red Alert 2, Homeworld, or StarCraft. But this game is boring. It moves slow as slow can be and has little to no personality.


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