Earth 2160 or bust!
Not quite hot on the heels of our recent Earth 2160 preview I've been hammering away at a follow up to it, in the form of this review. I'll say right from the start that I am a big fan of the Earth series of games and thoroughly enjoyed Earth 2150 and the Moon Project.
I wanted to try and get into the nitty-gritty of the game and hit on all my loves and hates in the review, without giving the game's plot away too much or spoiling anything for anyone.
Earth 2160 is set after the events in Earth 2150 and is the proper sequel to the game, unlike the tie-ins like the Moon Project that took the story into a slightly different tangent. Humans escaped the collapse of the Earth in 2150AD and fled to Mars, to terraform it. The Eurasian Dynasty, the Lunar Corporation and the United Civilised States all worked to slice up the planet for their own ends.
Until 2160, when something happens to change all that, strange planets are sighted with oddly liquid surfaces - what's going on, and will the 3 factions join together or wage climatic wars?
The game is a single player or multiplayer experience and the single player portion is split over 4 factions - each has 7 single player missions. At any time over the course of these you'll be doing a variety of things, recovering important tech-tree items and waging war against hostile factions, enemies, NPCs and other things. It plays like pretty much any other RTS and does what it does, very well.
The GUI has been streamlined, it's not too confusing and the pop-up screens can be altered to your preferences, there's a great deal of customising you can do with the GUI in the game while you're playing, closing windows with a click of the mouse and keeping the most important ones open. This has however become par-for-the-course in most new RTS games.
There are going to be some disappointments for the fans of the classic Earth series though, the developers removed the tunnels feature from the game and have made several adjustments, HQ buildings no longer allow control over various features of the game - like research and so forth automatically.
This is now handled by the new addition, Virtual Agents, men and women devoted to your cause as long as you keep them supplied with money. Each agent, and you can have up to three, covers a subject - such as Pepper, he's capable of building up a base for you as long as you keep him stocked with money. You bid for the Agents against the AI and other players in MP - Agents also remember their contract and will likely lower their fees if you've been a good employer, so they have the capacity of picking a favourite player and wanting to just work for them.
Agents also have relationships with each other, some hate each other, some like each other and some are downright weird. You'll see as you progress through the game or play Skirmish or MP modes.
They also opted for a Modular Construction feature for the buildings, so that the amount of space required for a successful base of operations is considerably less. This is a really good feature I feel and makes playing the LC particularly interesting, as you can build a tower with various modules, allowing you to create dedicated buildings or a mixture of different modular segments.
You can add a number of additional parts to a main building, to increase the production output or even provide a landing platform for mining and resource collecting vehicles - this whole system adds an extra tactical level to the game, since you have to be careful what you do add and keep an eye on power levels.
Do you go for a whole stack of production modules, for vehicles, units and so forth...or do you scatter your production across a number of better defended structures - one hit to a full stack of production could lose you more than the building, it could allow your defences to fail and that's the end of that.
Additional to 2160 there are now various kinds of foot-soldiers and infantry for each faction, the fourth faction, I won't mention at all but I will say they share a similar nature to a certain race found in Ground Control II and leave it at that, no spoilers here not even a hint - if you want to find out about the fourth faction, you'll have to get the game.
You will also notice that you can now research more than one subject, if you have more than one research building, so now you can truly set a priority to your tech researching - going more the way of defence or attack. Some parts of the tree are however held in check until you steal, find or buy the correct artefact, again meaning that you can choose to employ force or guile to get what you want.
As stated previously Earth 2160 plays in the traditional way of most RTS games, gather resources, build base, and smite the enemy. You do have an NPC that acts as your central character depending on faction, which is another addition drawn from previous RTS games. There's the old adage: if it isn't broke, don't fix it.
Compared to the last games Earth 2160 has been given a shiny-shiny makeover, in the textures, landscapes, models and everything. The day/night cycles of the previous games have been tweaked to perfection regarding colour, lighting and shade. The effects have been beefed up and everything has had a nice lick of new paint, textures are definitely sharper and the various particle and emitter effects look stunning on the higher settings and resolutions.
The models are good, crisp and clean with enough variety between the units to be able to tell them apart faction, by faction.
I found the title song to be a little bit jarring and off-putting to be honest and I usually like that kind of music. The sound itself, ambient and otherwise is done with a clear and solid recording, the samples are well done and there are no tinny-sounds or over-amped bassy ones. Explosions sound good with a thunderous bang when something big goes down; weapon sounds are likewise well done and have a feeling of power as they hammer against an enemy's hull.
A mixed bag but nothing that will win any Oscars, so to speak, what is there does well enough and some of the dialogues are amusing. The exchanges between the Virtual Agents can be quite funny.
It's good adaptive AI, sometimes there are pathing problems and the CPU might seem a tad too aggressive upon the harder difficulty levels, but that's what hard is supposed to mean. It probes your defences and tries to work with you if you're allied with it, most of all it can provide a good challenge to new and old players - using tactics to keep you on your toes, drawing you into ambushes and sometimes just rushing you outright.
It's got Skirmish, Single Player, Multiplayer and a host of improvements over the original but for me it didn't quite hit the mark I was expecting. It is however a good game and well worth getting, the fact that you can join an AI in MP is a good bonus, since that kind of play was absent from the last games. The game does feel as though it could have been improved upon though with a few more tweaks and polishes, the lack of the tunnel feature is a real loss but there are probably reasons it didn't make the cut. It's a good sequel to the 2150 legacy but it might disappoint some fans. It does however still keep a number of the features that made Earth 2150 a really great game, so I'm more than happy to award it the score I did.
And yes, the game does have a Map and Level Editor, which adds to its replayability.