Reviews From The Backroom: EarthSiege 2
For anybody who grew up playing games in the 90's, there was a large number of games available to them that featured the player taking on the role of the pilot in a giant, weapons-laden, walking abomination called a Mech (usually). This was not a coincidence, either. Most of these games sought to capture the success of the 1989 game MechWarrior. Sometimes it showed, and the game was a failure, having been rushed out of the development stages too early. However, from time to time some of them were quite good.
One particular series to come out of the over-used genre was the (apparently little-known) EarthSiege series. This series featured the two Earthsiege games, followed with Starsiege. Later on, the Starsiege story-line became the Tribes online multiplayer FPS series.
How the quantum leap from vector-graphics mech-sim to online-shooter ever happened, I'll never know.
Arguably, the best out of the early games made was EarthSiege 2. But the question stands: does this game still hold up today?
That very much depends. Read on:
EarthSiege 2 was released in 1995 for Windows 95. This was in stark contrast to the DOS exclusive Earthsiege that had come out just one year prior, and which leads us to the first (and quite possibly, the main) issue with E.S.2, which is compatibility. I'm going to take a moment out here to say that I had to take a whole evening out of the week putting a Windows 98 install onto a separate computer just to play this game. Most people today (and back in the 90's, even) found out that when they attempted to install and play this game that, in one way or another, this game was not compatible with their current computer setup. Fortunately, once you got past the compatibility issues, you were in for a treat.
The story goes that humans created a race of self-aware, networked robots called "Cybrids". Initially, these robots worked in harmony with mankind, working in every capacity from agricultural to military. After a while, the military went too far with their use of the Cybrids, eventually leading up to a nuclear holocaust. When mankind was nearly wiped out, the now-sentient Cybrids decided that humans were a detriment to the well-being of, well, everything, and started waging war. The events of Earthsiege take place at what seems to be the lowest point of the war, with human-kind near extinction. At the end of the first game, all the Cybrids on Earth are either destroyed, or are exiled into space.
The story for Earthsiege 2 goes that the Cybrids re-located to the moon, and are massing a large army to completely wipe out what little is left of the human race. It's up to the player to protect Earth, wipe out the Cybrids, and destroy the controlling A.I. "Prometheus", located on the dark-side of the moon. The game starts with the player taking on the role of another Rookie pilot in "Alpha Sector", the eastern half of the U.S.
Prior to Earthsiege 1, everything on Earth was destroyed in nuclear winter, and the developers went out of their way to show it. Even though the game is separated into 4 acts (U.S., South America, Asia, and the Moon), there is enough same-y, brown, post-apocalyptic landscape to make any modern, "Realistic" game look bright and colorful. The ground is brown. The sky is brown. The mechs (sorry, HERC's) are brown. The buildings, both friendly and otherwise, are brown. The only things that AREN'T brown are the Cybrids and the moon landscape.
On top of that, everything is mapped out a little too simplistically. Most of the maps will feature your small, insignificant base, a hill somewhere in the center, and an enemy building with turrets around it; usually just a stones-throw away from your base. Yes, somehow, the enemy managed to hide a listening post just on the other side of a hill from yours. Oh, the Super Advanced Technology of the future!
That aside, the gameplay is actually really satisfying. The missions, despite being set in very similar locations, all have a slightly distinctive feel to each of them. From doing patrols, attacking an enemy base, deflecting an attack on your base, hunting down transports, and downloading virus's into aforementioned listening posts; all of the missions require a different strategy to complete.
One of the clearest parts of the game where strategics comes into play is setting up prior to missions, particularly in weapons selections. EarthSiege requires you to pick weapons based on a balance of firepower, ammo capacity, energy consumption, reload time, and the cost to repair/replace it should it be damaged. While it seems simple at first, it gets much more tricky later in the game when enemies start shooting the weapons off of you before they destroy your HERC. Energy weapons drain power, preventing shields from recharging. Chain-guns don't use power, but they either do a pathetic amount of damage or carry very little ammunition.
The same goes for building and using the HERC's.You can build light, fast HERC's that carry few weapons and have little armor, or you can build gigantic, heavily armored monsters that carry many guns; but they cost loads to build and arm, and move about as fast as hardening syrup. Fortunately, the developer decided to make the game fair, and carries the same principles over to the enemy side. The only time this balance is NOT present is when, in the 5th mission, you are tossed into a flying HERC (called the "Razor") that carries almost no weaponry, has armor made of duct-tape, and is so clunky to control that you'll kill more Cybrids by hitting them than shooting. I wish I was making up that last part.
Which brings me to the last part, the controls. Never have I seen controls that span an entire keyboard AND hate you. When controlling the HERC, you have controls to spin the top-half right and left, acceleration/deceleration, tilt-up and tilt-down, fire, tracking (which ALSO uses power) with 4 different tracking selections, 7 different squad commands (which take another key just to transmit), missile controls, status screens for you AND your squad, and 3 possible weapon combinations you can pre-set and cycle through. Hitting ESC will bring you to a radar screen, which has it's own separate key-settings that, seeing that I can't figure them out after 15 years, are just a waste of time.
Some of this is made easier through use of the mouse, but switching between the keyboard and mouse during an in-game fight has gotten me killed. A LOT.
EarthSiege came from a then over-used genre of games, but managed to bring something new to it. Though the first one is simple and dull, EarthSiege 2 is still a fun, challenging game, and well-worth the very low prices it goes for nowadays. If you can run games designed for Windows 98, are alright with low-res graphics, and don't mind a complicated control scheme, I heartily recommend you pick this game up.
If you enjoyed this review, please tell me! And if you have any suggestions for future games to get for my back-room, let me know!