After the recent additions to the gaming market of such titles as Metal Fatigue, Ground Control, Dogs of War and Force Commander, another RTS game awaits in the wings almost ready to be released. But what does it have to compete with the gameplay of Ground Control or the all powerful 'Star Wars' license of Force Commander? What will lure the casual gamer to buy such a game when surrounded by a whole host of competitors? Well Microids have come up with a rather neat and different idea. Instead of all the generic tanks, rocket launchers and soldier units of current titles, the gameplay will revolve around insects, primarily ants. These ants have created their own parallel civilisation, with new sophisticated technologies and a previously unseen art of war. It will be the player's task to control, expand and defend this society.

This game seems to put a lot more emphasis on building and maintaining the ant society. It is not just about attacking and overcoming rival insects, although this does come into play when the nest is threatened. The game will offer a rich simulation of life in a real life anthill, which you must harness and control. Hopefully this game bridges the gap between run of the RTS titles and 'sim' style simulations and not just another 'build base / collect resources / build army / defeat enemy on map' classic RTS.

The player will, through the eleven standard missions, be able to control every element of the ants life including breeding, foraging and colony expansion. Your nest must grow until it is the 'Empire of the Ants'. Of course these are just unit building, resource collection and base construction by other names but it is an interesting take on the genre. The controls should be the intuitive RTS fair seen in other titles. Support for teh game comes in the form of various tutorials, an 'in game' help system and an encyclopaedia to help recognise the different insects; for complete user friendliness.

You will get to control thirteen different types of ant and the developers promise sixty different species of insect (including snails and beetles) and animals faithful reproduced in all there glory. Interestingly some of which can be used as transport, and others as a friendly workforce (they must be tamed first).

The game graphics look very organic (just check out the screens), with beautiful insect models, arenas that will take you right back to nature with real time weather effects and a clean, simple interface.

But the most hyped aspect of the game is the AI. Quoted as "the most realistic artificial intelligence yet seen in any simulation." The ants will be learning all the time, replicating the insects' real life instincts and responding as such to different stimuli as the game progresses. For instance they will be able to decide when to attack and when to retreat. Also the insects will have a visible stress indicator, varying according to what tasks you give them to do. If the stress level is high there overal effectiveness will be low, not just for the job at hand but presumably to surprise attacks. So the key will be keeping them happy, even when they are doing the most arduous jobs.

Similar in a way to Metal Fatigue, the game will be played on several different levels. Action will occur both inside and outside the anthill. This should add extra variety and complexity to the game with the player having to keep an eye on, not just on the different areas of a map, but levels as well.

Additionally, there will be multiplayer game support, with a choice between head to head play and up to 8 players 'skirmish'. LAN, Internet and null modem serial play will be supported.

This game has now been in development for over two years now and the French developers Microids will have released it here in the UK by the end of the month. The game engine certainly looks damn fine but will the gameplay and AI live up to itself. I am hoping for an organic and complex game where controlling and building an ant society will be just as important as war tactics and strategies. I should be getting the review copy whisked to me in the next week, so we shall have to wait and see :)