What is the Earth series?

Earth 2150 was a ground breaking RTS title going back some time now, it opened up a new level of play and introduced some pretty interesting features to the genre. It gave us tunnels to use and allowed for the building of Headquarters that could control certain aspects of the base for us, like upgrading and design of units for instance.

You could even assign one of the HQs to research. There's been talk of a sequel for a while and Games Xtreme was lucky enough to get both preview and review code. Since this is a preview I won't be going into the usual level of detail as I do with reviews - which will be soon, I want to give the game some more air-time before I sit down and tap out that one since I have a feeling it's going to be fairly big and comprehensive.

Right now I want to whet your appetites a little and explain how 2160 differs from the first game(s) and what new features you can expect. The good news is that the developers have tidied up the interface and made things a lot smoother in the long run for the player; since everything can be tidied away with a click of a button and brought back you can customise the display HUD to your own preference.

New and shiny?

The graphics have been notched up quite considerably and the whole thing looks sharper and nicer than ever, the camera moves a lot closer to the models and action and provides a good view of the surrounding area at maximum zoom-out. There are nice new shader effects and with everything turned up full the game is a visual feast for the eyes, especially when massive fire-fights break out and the pyrotechnics and lighting effects kick off.

There are now four factions. The Eurasian Dynasty are back, with the UCS and the Lunar Corp...joining them are some mysterious Aliens that I won't mention too much about apart from they are the strangest faction to learn to control in the game and multiplayer. Each faction has its own distinct look and building style, with the Lunar's still assembling their buildings in LEO and shuttling them down to the planet's surface.

Additionally the game includes heroes now, personalities that seem to be a nod to games like Warcraft 3 but in 2160 have far more to do than just gain skills and abilities. Gone are the HQ buildings of old, where they used to control various aspects of production and defence, replaced now by hireable agents that have a set vehicle and type of thing they're good at.

For example: Pepper the soldier and his mech can build up a functional base, a Doctor can heal your men and a Scientist can control your research, this makes multiplayer especially far more tactical as in a MP game you'll have to bet for the mercenary and the person with the biggest stockpile of cash will win them.

You can have up to three of these at any time and you must re-hire them when their time runs out, so make sure you have sufficient resources to foot the bill or your carefully hired team might become available for another player to use.

The tunnel system has been removed however and this is one of the biggest changes to the game, that I feel will upset a lot of hardcore Earth fans - I was a little put out to see this feature removed and always felt that it was one of the things that truly set the other games apart from the rest of the genre.

The developers have included on-foot units for the first time as well, the infantry are a nice little addition that are quick/plentiful to bring out and provide a small amount of defence against a lightly armed and armoured attack force.

The research tree has been simplified and cut down, with a lot of the earlier Earth tech removed and replaced by other things; this will be covered in the forthcoming review in greater detail, have to leave something to the imagination.

The Picture in Picture view remains intact as well, this little feature made it particularly satisfying to watch your enemy's forces crumble when you unleashed a special weapon - while you concentrated on building even more installations to your base and expanding your influence on the map. It was also another tactical tool and useful for marking a section of the map where you needed to keep a closer eye but couldn't afford to keep the main camera there for long.

AI hordes!

So far the AI seems particularly formidable at the higher levels of difficultly, using a wide array of tactics and not just throwing itself endlessly at your position. It seems to test for weaknesses however in your defences and will quite happily stamp a barely defended base into the ground even on Easy. It has a couple of path finding issues which have been fixed with the review code, they were only tiny minor niggles and the whole thing seems to be smoother now in that respect.

Wrapping up

So far Earth 2160 is still shaping up nicely and has a lot of scope for growth before it's released on the 26th of this month, unless the date changes. The game is fun and challenging and takes advantage of the nice new shiny graphics effects and has a good quality engine that handles the massive battles without any problems.

It has a superb level of detail and the models/animations for the various units are nicely done, combine this with solid sound effects, ambient noises and an uplifting interesting musical score and the game's looking shipshape and Bristol fashion already.

Join us soon for the full review, where I will be making sure no stone is left unturned.