Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ground Control

Genre: RTS (squad based)
Developer: Massive Entertainment
Publisher: Rebellion/Sierra
Released: 2000

Zolgar paid: Gifted on GOG.
Beaten: No, lost interest about 1/4th the way in.
Zolgar's rating: 6/10
Replayability: Moderate.

I wanted to like this game, I really did. It looks pretty awesome. Unfortunately it just failed to keep my interest. Mechanically it's a very sound game, with controls that are only slightly unintuitive, but customizable, and it seems to have a good story too.

So why couldn't I keep playing it? Simple, it stagnated so quickly for me that I felt like I was playing the same damn mission over and over. I am sure it gets better later, but I don't have a lot of free time, and have a backlog of nearly 100 games to play and review.

The game itself is fairly standard squad based RTS fare. I'm not typically a fan of squad based games (I prefer to build massive bases and crush my foes under a swarm of bodies >.>), but Ground Control does it very well. The squads feel more like the forces you get in a typical 'build your base' RTS, and it controls much the same way, too. It adds some nice things like squads having special abilities, and your command unit providing repairs/healing.

As well, the AI is good enough that you don't find yourself spending as much time micromanaging, more like just setting your preferences, and occasionally directing to specific targets.

The story makes me want to keep playing, too. Much akin to Star Craft, and other RTS of the era, you play a 'field commander', who gets orders from high-ranking douchebags who've never seen real combat, and in proper RTS fashion you switch sides partway through and start playing the “bad guys”.

It opens up with you playing Major Sarah Parker of the Crayven Corporation, in charge of a fairly small contingent of men, and expected to somehow pull miracles out of your backside on a hostile world, when you're not given the man power to do your job right.. why? Simple, it's just not a 'financially sound option' to give you the proper manpower.
Does a good job making you hate the Crayven Corporation right off the bat, heh.

You are facing off against the Order of the New Dawn (“Dawnies”), an organization that gets presented to you as religious zealots trying to gain the power to have their own 'little' Crusade. By 'little', of course, I mean galaxy-spanning.

Early on, you learn that the planet Crayven and the Dawnies are fighting over houses alien technology.. and by the sounds of things really bad alien technology which the Dawnies are trying to harness.

But, this is an RTS, it's not so simple as 'good guys' and 'bad guys'..
After the Crayven Corporation takes over the planet, and manages to push the Dawnies in to hiding, you switch over to controlling Deacon Jarred Stone, of the Order of the New Dawn, trying to take back the planet from Crayven, and stop THEM from harnessing the bad alien tech. Just gets more interesting from there, but I've said too much.

The way the story is told, it makes me really want to continue playing it and see the story progress.. unfortunately, the game itself.. just drags for me.

Another thing the game does really well, is it lets you customize your squads. You're not just given 'soldiers' and 'tanks', well.. OK, you kinda are, but you can first pick their over-all loadout, like whether you want your soldiers to be Marines, or Navy SEALS (not exactly, but you get the point), from there you can pick the focus of that squad, such as their special abilities, and if they want to be specced for speed, armor or damage (or a good balance). The same goes for the vehicles, too.

Eventually you get 'jets' too, but because "Crayven controls the sky." you're not able to requisition air support until further in to the game than I got. Doesn't make sense to me, seems that if Crayven controls the sky, then Air-to-Ground attacks would be in their best interest.

As well, your squads gain 'experience' based off the number of battles they go in to. I'm not overly sure how much this changes them, but it's a nice touch.

So now I'm sure you're thinking “You like the story, you like the units, and you say the gameplay is good.. so why did you give up on it?” or something like that. Well, this is a good point in time for me to go in to the detractors of the game.

First and foremost, it's slow, I mean like “start your units moving across the map and walk away to get a soda” type slow. Granted, I tended to run heavy armor tanks, but still. Combat is also slow, realism is great and all, but even on easy fights just drag on and on.

It's also slow to progress your unit options. By the time I gave up on it, I had just gotten my 2nd soldier type opened, and my 5th squad. I had 3 types of tanks, and 2 types of soldiers to choose from, that was it, and I'd been going with tanks and soldiers for every frelling mission so far.

The missions also just kind of blend together as 'more of the same'. “Defend this location from the Dawnies.” or “Take this location from the Dawnies.”

Without starting to get in to irritating levels of micromanagement, it's hard to get your squads in to good tactical positions. Sometimes it's hard to get them to go where you want when you go in to micromanagement mode.

If you're not playing it on easy, you deal with friendly fire. Which is a pain in the ass, because of how the units sometimes decide to go where ever they darn well please, but they lack the AI to adjust their position so they're not getting shot in the back by their allies, or not shooting their allies.

Oh yes, and it has the most titanic strike against it possible for me with a strategy game:
No skirmish mode. Sometimes I jut want to kill things without worrying about the storyline.

For me, those factors make the game honestly rather boring mechanically, despite all it's great potential. I'm not going to sit through a bunch of boring, repetitive and, predictable missions in order to watch the story progress, and hope that it decides to get better somewhere along the way.

I wish I could provide you with a run down of the difference, if any, between the Dawnies and Crayven. What I saw of the Dawnies playing against them though, it seems there isn't any.. but honestly? I couldn't stand to play the game long enough to find out, I tried. I was sitting there thinking “Maybe the game gets better with the Dawnies.. maybe it gets better..” ultimately though, like I said, I've got a backlog of nearly 100 games, I can only afford to give one game so much time in hopes of it getting better.

I would, however, really recommend picking it up if you find it for a good price, and giving it a try. Especially if you're more patient than I am, and enjoy squad-based strategy games.. and it might help if you don't have a titanic backlog of games you impulse purchased because “Oooh, it's on sale!”

Screemshots shamelessly stolen from various internet sources. If you see yours and would like it taken down, or like attribution, let me know.

Epic potential, flawed implementation. An astoundingly boring masterpiece.”

Availability and price:
FilePlanet: Free (no expansion, requires personal information)
GOG:$5.99 (includes Dark Conspiracies expansion)
GamersGate: $5.99 (includes Dark Conspiracies expansion)
Amazon(physical): ~$13.50 (Expansion costs ~$45.)


  1. Hmm, I did not know this. Thanks, I'll track down the link and add it. :) I tend to focus on my digital distribution sites, just searching for the game on them, as googling the game nets too many results to sort through.