For a genre that is already gorged full of good and not so good titles, they just keep on coming. The latest addition goes by the title of Metal Fatigue (MF) and is, for a change, rather quite good! For a game that has had little publicity, the Americans wont be receiving the game until the end of July (due to publisher / distribution problems), I was pleasantly surprised.
This game takes all the clichéd sections of current RTS games, adds a lot of originality, a decent story line, good presentation and the end result is a rather well gelled together, very playable game that is head and shoulders above most of its competition. It is far better than the license-relying Force Commander and was a breathe of fresh air after the disappointing and frankly boring Tiberium Sun.
Lets start with the story, told in a glorious pre-rendered video on starting the game. It breaks down into a story of three brothers and three different mega corporations. All three brothers are sent on a expeditionary force to the Hedoth system (basically deep space) to search for new alien technologies. This found, the three corporations realise the power harnessed in this technology, and blinded by greed dissolve their alliance leading to the breaks out of all out war in the system. The three brothers are split between the corporations (for various different reasons) and it is their stories you follow. The game is then split down in three scenarios, where you choose which corporation and brother to follow (i.e. the NOD / GDI choice).
As for the gameplay, to start with it seems like every other RTS game ever with base construction, technology levels, resource management, unit building, fog of war and skirmish's but don't be misled. There are a lot of new and exciting additions. Firstly the game is played on three different levels; the usual surface deal, underground and on geo-stationary asteroids. This means you have to keep your eye on all three levels and the strategic possibilities are tripled. Forget the simplistic digger units in other games, you can now mount a complete attack underground. I can see this causing some interesting multiplayer games :) Next, all the normal units you have come to expect are there, like tanks and missile jeeps, but from the first level onwards you can create huge, completely customisable 'Power Ranger' style robots, called Combots. You can chose which arms and legs to use, and create Katana wielding close combat robots to long range sniper units (your favourite set-ups can then be book marked for easy construction). These can then be pitted in battle against enemy Combots and units, and the fights are much more interesting and tactical than boring run of the mill unit attacks.
There are also a few other gameplay changes. The resources are now in the form of lava fields, which provide metajoules and enrgy for unit / building creation and manpower to drive the units etc, which is produced by cryo farms. Most of the building and metajoule collection is done by the multi-functional hover trucks. They construct all the buildings, repair the units, collect the lava, but most importantly can collect any alien technology that is lying around the level. This must be taken back to the base for examination before being used in your next combot creation.
Additonally there is a new 'pre-build' phase which lets you build up your base and a few units before the action even starts (there is of course limited manpower and energy) which goes some way to combat the tank rush tactics used by some unimaginative players, and means you do not have to panic right at the start building up your base and defences! You can also chose to play in 'skirmish' mode with AI opponents, and this is the online multiplayer way to play as well (courtesy of MPlayer).
Controlling all this sounds like a nightmare but is in fact very intuitive and rarely sways from the usual mouse and keyboard set up in today's other RTS games. Groups can be created, parts of the map can be book marked, there are both short cut keys and buttons (in the side navigator) for all the building' and units' options.
This game also looks the part with a fully 3D environment including mountains and cliffs. A camera that zoomed in and out, panned and positioned as you wish. Using the page-up and page-down keys cycles between the sub-surface, surface and orbit levels. The units and buildings, especially the combots, are all well drawn and animated. This is seen in all its glory during the battle scenes; the Combot battles are especially active! As for the sound effects, they are the now common place booming orchestral scores and battle scarred weapon sounds.
There are a few niggles though, I'm afraid to say. The game is not the most stable and is occasionally prone to crashing, to the point of power off, which for supposedly completed game is pretty damn bad. Patches will inevitably be on the way but the damage is already done :((
However for the most part I did enjoy this gaming experience. The Combot creation, personalisation and combat systems are particularly well iniatied, even though the other units are a little underdone. And the different levels lead to some interesting ideas and strategies. If you cant wait for Earth 2150, need RTS fulfilment now and don't live in America then go buy this game now. Don't even think about being lured by the Star Wars goodness but tires gameplay of Force Commander!