24 July, 2014

Dustin' Off - Ground Control (Part 2)

In Part 2 of Dustin' Off - Ground Control, we cover Ground Control's challenging gameplay and the expansion; Dark Conspiracy.  

Ground Control continued. 

Unlike many strategy games at the time (and now), Ground Control dismissed the notion of resources entirely; this isn’t a game where you build mines, you don’t recruit hundreds of marines and medics, and you won’t have much room to correct your mistakes. It very much focuses on the tactics, the strengths and weakness of each unit, which made the unit selection, discussed previously, all the more important.

Positioning and movement is also crucial – attack an enemy formation head on and your forces will be decimated before you even reach them. Send a squadron of hoverdynes (hover tanks, employed by the Order of New Dawn) in a flanking manoeuvre, upon raised ground, and the attack may turn out quite differently. Similarly, special abilities can be easily squandered; unleashing a salvo of Depleted Uranium Rounds is a frivolous waste, unless they’re lined up perfectly to allow your terradynes (tanks) to hit all of the enemies in the unit in a single shot.

The user interface (UI) was pretty slick too; very minimalist, the unit options (rules of engagement, movement and formation) were shown on the right, and unit cards along the bottom. Translucent and inoffensive, the interface was refreshing at the time, and I continue to feel, that many modern strategy games could stand to learn a lot from this austere approach. You see as much of the battlefield as possible, it may seem insignificant, but it is certainly noticeable when you play – when we get to Ground Control II (in Part 3), we’ll see just how intrusive UI can be.

Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy

Six months after the release of the original game, Massive Entertainment and Sierra Studios launched the expansion pack Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy, this was developed by the American studio; High Voltage.

Dark Conspiracy takes place several months after the events of the first game: Sarah Parker and Jared Stone are still on Krig-7B, salvaging what they can and looking for transport off planet. You quickly find yourself wrapped in the heart of a conspiracy (which may or may not be dark), but the expansion lost some of the mysterious allure of the original game. The ominous Xenofacts are forsaken in favour of the sci fi-standard super weapon, and you’ll probably predict most of the plot tricks, well before they occur. For the majority of the campaign, you control the new faction; the Phoenix Mercenaries, outcasts and former employees of Crayven Corporation who settled on Crim-12 - finding a new lease of life as mercenaries and guns for hire. Most of their units fill the same roles of their Order and Crayven counterparts, but units like the Swarm – a squadron of tiny aerodynes (aircraft), add much needed flavour to their roster.

I found the characters introduced in Dark Conspiracy to be more melodramatic, to say the least - less grounded and inherently less believable, more like video game ciphers than actual personalities. Marc, the de facto leader of the Phoenix Mercenaries, is boring and whiney. The game attempts to build a tense relationship between Sarah and Marc, but he appears more like a sulky teenager than your roguish mercenary ally probably should.

The inevitable outcome of all my stealth missions.
Dark Conspiracy remains a fun expansion, some of the missions are legitimately awesome – watching a trio of Crayven Dropships land in the midst of your attacking formations, is truly soul destroying. Much like the original game, missions are a challenge and you’ll quickly need to learn how to best deploy and configure the new units if you have any intention of finishing the sizable campaign. Strategy won’t help you much in the stealth missions though, they’re present and can be pretty gruelling – just don’t get spotted.

Check back to the site tomorrow for Part 3, for a look at Ground Control II : Operation Exodus.

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