Real-time strategy games traditionally balance the creation and maintenance of a strong economy with the build up of a large military force. Ground Control breaks from the norm by focusing solely on the strategic military aspect. Rather than focus on protecting harvesters or peons, armchair generals must turn all their energies to squad warfare -- the end product is a new experience with mixed results.
Ground Control is the galactic struggle between the Order of the New Dawn and the Crayven Corporation, the two largest entities remaining after an apocalyptic nuclear conflict dubbed "The Sixteen Minute War." Each side possesses about a dozen units for air and land combat. Instead of controlling individual units, commanders send squads of four or more soldiers or terradynes (tanks of the future) against the enemy. Each squad can be retrofitted with an assortment of gear and weapons, two to three choices per unit.
The load-out customization almost compensates for the lack of units but not quite. Units become more valuable because there are a limited number of squads available per level. Plus, they gain experience and new abilities if they survive the mission. The dearth of units per mission may be the game's downfall, though, as many of the missions simply need more firepower than is available.
The storyline thrusts you into the role of Sarah Parker, a Crayven Corporation major with a rogue streak a mile wide. She becomes increasingly wary of her employers and the company's quest for acquiring "xenofacts" at all costs. Unfortunately, you can only start a single player game playing the side of Crayven Corporation. While neither side is entirely appealing with the corporation indeed craven in their tactics and the Order of the New Dawn full of fanatics, it would have been nice to be able to choose which side to assist in the race for xenofacts. Regardless, the story is engaging enough to compel you to keep battling.
Unique gameplay is the very heart of Ground Control and, for the most part, works well. Squad warfare is usually reserved for the hexagon war game simulations -- introducing it into the RTS arena is a bold move. A segment of the gaming population will appreciate the perils of friendly fire and maneuvering tactics needed to succeed without the hassles of micromanaging an economy. However, most RTS gamers, as evident by the success of the Command & Conquer and Age of Empires franchises, enjoy the economic side of war. A change of tactics from superior numbers to superior positioning is required in Ground Control, which might drive off fans of tank rushes and overwhelming firepower.
Graphically, the game is outstanding. The landscape is appropriately lush with tropical trees or dust in the barren wastes, depending in what part of Kirg-7b (home planet of the xenofact) the battle is enjoined. The camera controls are similar to Myth: The Fallen Lords but not nearly as hard to control. The zoom on the camera is incredible; you can zoom directly to the center of the action with little clipping and no noticeable decrease in resolution. This is especially enjoyable when mopping up the enemy and watching the rockets rain down within the middle of the doomed forces. The explosions are brilliant at night and the vapor trails of the aerodynes crisscross the sky in wispy ellipses. Obviously, more powerful computers will yield better-looking solar effects and details but the game still looks great with most the effects turned down.
Documentation, as well as the boot camp tutorials, gives you a solid handle on how to issue commands to your forces. The booklet also gives details about the history of the two sides and a dossier of Sarah Parker and her Order of the New Dawn counterpart Jarred Stone. Additional information includes a specific look at each unit available and instructions for multiplayer games.
In addition to regular multiplayer games, where players meet before the game starts and set parameters, a drop-in version is available as well. Players simply load their troops and hit the ground running in an existing game. Obviously, the fresh team has an advantage but skillful commanders can utilize the terrain, line of sight and flanking to maintain the upper hand. Imagine a hard fought battle where fresh reinforcements or new troops are introduced in an attempt to try and turn the tide.
Ground Control is a new take on an old genre. Players who approach it with the ingrained mindset of head-on assaults and disposable units will quickly lose both squads and patience. The game lacks a variety of units and is hurt by non-inclusion of a funding factor but shines in the tactical and graphical departments. Prepare yourself for the intricacies of limited-forces squad conflicts and the title will provide many hours of entertainment.
Graphics: Very sharp graphics. The surprisingly clean zoom feature puts commanders in the thick of battle.
Sound: The sounds are adequate but not memorable -- guns sound like guns and explosions are fairly tolerable. While there is no exciting soundtrack or ambient jungle sounds, the sound effects are basically satisfactory but certainly not innovative.
Enjoyment: A shift in the real-time strategy game paradigm -- squad preservation and smart tactics now beat head-on assaults with overwhelming numbers.
Replay Value: Nice multiplayer features. Limited number of units hurts depth but gamers can plan new assault strategies for previously played levels.
People who downloaded Ground Control have also downloaded:
Ground Control II: Operation Exodus, Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy, Homeworld, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2, Haegemonia: Legions of Iron, Dune 2000, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, Homeworld 2
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