I like it when a game breathes new life into a genre. For instance, The Sims brought the slightly faltering simulation market back up. Another example is how Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 put a whole new light on first-person shooters. What I refer to as a game "breathing new life into a genre" is when it takes an established formula and improves it in some way. I found this to be the case in Dark Reign 2 on the PC. It's a game that pushes the limits of graphics and 3D-strategy even further.
The premise behind this title is one that is common to many other games in the genre. Earth is in chaos and one of two dueling sides will decide the fate of the human race as we know it. Ever heard of a story like that before? Anyway, you get to choose which side to represent. Will it be the Jovian Detention Authority , the noble police force that is left to protect the earth against evil-doers or the Sprawlers who are out to make life hard for the JDA. Each side has a unique appearance but, for the most part, they wear plated armor, masks and carry large weapons.
You'll find plenty of structures, units and vehicles to keep you occupied. Each side has a wide range of grunts, warriors and specialty units that perform specific tasks. For instance, a pack of Rumblers can be very effective against JDA units but not when out-matched by air-borne Warriors. Many units are dependent on certain structures being built as well as money and sufficient power supplies. To retrieve power, you must build a Solar Array and gather energy and a Refinery is needed for mineral gathering. This system of gathering and supplying resources for your units is exactly like the interface found in WarCraft II: Tides of Darkness and Command & Conquer. Also, another good addition to the interface is the "quick-build" buttons that allow for unlimited unit queuing without returning to that structure to initiate the build. Smart thinking by the developers.
Definitely the game's strongest area is the visuals. The game is truly a joy to look at and view from one of its many camera angles. What's that you say? A real-time strategy title with multiple angles? Well, what Myth: The Fallen Lords started, Dark Reign 2 continues and exceeds. You can view from a birds-eye perspective, sideways and even right down in the middle of the action! Now you can see all the carnage up close a great feature to my way of thinking. You can't always use it effectively when executing intricate operations but, when you're sure of a victory in a battle, watching can be fun. However, I did find the option to change angles in degrees was rather confusing and disorienting to say the least. The controls for handling that aspect don't make too much sense.
Speaking of controls, manipulating your units is fairly easy. You'll find that selecting specific units, grouping hordes of men, setting waypoints and guarding others is a snap. These commands have hot-keys and buttons so you should be fine when on the battlefield. I did get a little annoyed when I obviously put the selecting box around a group of units and it missed a couple. This wasn't because of a group limit or any restriction of that type I can imagine it happened because the 3D terrain makes it hard for some unit selection routines.
AI for the opposing side is always very good but I wasn't too impressed with the AI of my own team. I often found that while I was off somewhere completing a task or checking on one group, back at my base (or some other location where I had troops) my units were getting attacked by a few enemies and did almost nothing to prevent it. It's annoying to see two Rumblers hacking on a group of ten of my men when, in fact, they should be dead within seconds.
Audio all across the board is very solid and competent. You find plenty of voice work that's decent and there is a multitude of voices throughout the game. Sound effects are about as good as they get for a strategy game and are much like those found in the Command & Conquer series. Some of the music worked for me and some didn't but it never detracted from the game playing experience.
Dark Reign 2 also supports multi-player gaming. You can hook-up with other people via a LAN. Some feel this is a mandatory feature and necessary for a game to succeed. However, I found some of the multi-player options a bit limited and was surprised at the lack of a head-to-head, modem game.
In summary, this foray into the real-time strategy genre is a great effort that encourages gameplay. The complete package of visuals, audio and gameplay is worth checking out if you're a fan of RTS. My only gripes are the slightly dumb AI and somewhat shoddy controls but those aren't enough to dampen the experience.
Graphics: Stellar! Great textures and detailed battlefields plus I liked all the little details on signs, buildings, structures and units. Good use of color and shading as well.
Sound: Terrific voice acting that isn't too cheesy with plenty of characters. I liked the sound effects as well but the music was only average at best.
Enjoyment: I had a good time playing this game and was pleased at the new features it implemented, including the camera angles and short-cuts for building units. I will say the AI for your team is somewhat weak and needs some tweaking.
Replay Value: A big campaign exists for both sides, a skirmish mode and some multi-player options give you plenty to chew on. As long as you enjoy the storyline, you'll have plenty to do.
People who downloaded Dark Reign 2 have also downloaded:
Dark Reign: The Future of War, Dark Reign: Rise of the Shadowhand, Dune 2000, Emperor: Battle for Dune, Dark Colony, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, Dune 2: The Battle for Arrakis, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
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