"Project Garm will succeed at any cost! I will not have it fumbled away through the incompetence of the Pax Dei! We will complete Project Garm and I will be the fist of God!" - Cardinal Aegeri of the Order of the New Dawn, Ground Control.
Ground Control - A Retrospective Review
Ground Control is a 2000 PC-format real-time tactics game, developed by Massive Entertainment, more recently known for the game, World in Conflict, and produced by Sierra Entertainment. One of the first three-dimensional strategy games on the market, Ground Control was a technically-advanced game with exceptional gameplay, but didn't succeed on the market.
The year is 2419, and mankind has finally begun to reach for the stars. After the devastation wrought by the Third World War, humanity has rebuilt civilisation, and this time, it is controlled by gigantic mega-corporations who rule over the Earth. The largest of these is the Crayven Corporation, a massive terraforming company which controls its own security forces, large enough to be considered an army, and certainly large enough to give the corporation major leverage.
Opposing them are the Order of the New Dawn, the largest religious group on Earth, and possessing their own military forces which have remained since before the Third World War, their technology is unrivalled. While the Crayven Corporation possesses mass drivers and missile launchers, the Order of the New Dawn have developed beam weapons and lightning generators with which they rule the battlefield.
The source of the conflict is the rights for a planet named Krig-7B, a planet which the Order believes is imperative to their religious beliefs. As Crayven and Order starships jockey for position above Krig-7B, commanders on the ground pick off enemy installations and engage their forces in combat.
Over the course of the game, the player will take the role of Major Sarah Parker of the Crayven Corporation and Deacon Jarred Stone of the Order of the New Dawn as the balance of power shifts from one side to another. However, there are questions to be answered as the battle rages on. What exactly is the Order's purpose on Krig-7B? What purpose do the enigmatic Xenofact relics have? Is there an ulterior motive to the Crayven Corporation's presence on Krig-7B?
The plot in Ground Control is one of the many strengths of this game. Excellently told, with enough twists and turns in it to keep it exciting throughout, the plot is adept at keeping the player interested in continuing through the game. Every protagonist is sympathetic, and every antagonist is well-motivated. It is one of the best video game plots that I've ever seen, and I could have played the game for it alone.
But that would be ignoring the fantastic gameplay. Being of the real-time tactics genre, it takes a different approach to combat than most real-time strategies. Instead of constructing bases or training reinforcements, you have a limited number of troops who are deployed in through dropships, and without any reinforcements heading your way, you have to make the best uses of the resources you are granted.
In order to do this effectively, you have to make the best use of tactics possible. Using terrain to your advantage, taking advantage of suppressive fire, and flanking your enemy are some of the ways in which you can do this, as well as using appropriate forces for the mission given. Knowledge of tactics from real life will help, as this game is a relatively realistic look at military combat, from the realistic tactics already discussed to the small, elite units that you command and also to the greater effectiveness of smaller, faster-firing weapons on smaller targets. The game goes as far as to map out friendly fire, which will further make the player inclined towards proper tactics.
The resources you can call upon differ for every mission, but will always include the Command APC, containing the commander that you are playing, and also include a variety of infantry and vehicles of both the land-based and air-based types. The Command APC not only has the ability to carry infantry with it, it can also repair your damaged units, keeping them in the fight for longer, but critically cannot repair itself, and is vital to your success in the mission - if it is destroyed, your commander dies and you instantly fail the mission. Therefore, its inclusion brings up the question: Do you repair your units and risk damaging your APC, or do you use the other units to shield it?
The other units that you can call upon are all sorted into types of units. The four types of units are infantry, land-based combat units, air-based combat units and land-based support units. Within these four types of units are sub-categories, such as the terradynes of the Crayven Corporation, which are separated into scout cars, light combat vehicles armed with auto-cannons, main battle tanks and heavy tanks. While you have a limited number of each type of unit, you can set up the sub-categories as you like, and while it is usually a good idea to set up an even amount of lighter and heavier units, it is certainly possible to put all of your vehicles as tanks, or all of your aerodynes as fighters, or so on.
Once you have decided on your unit layouts, the game allows you to customise your units further, by giving you a selection of finite special weapons, which will increase unit flexibilities, and special equipment, which ranges from medical kits and repair kits, to mobile radar stations and light emplacements. Some of this equipment can be incredibly useful, like the standard infantry's anti-tank weapons, and can really increase the power which a squad can project on the battlefield.
The system's not perfect, though. Some units feel distinctly useless when compared to others in the game, particularly the scout units. Any use that you may have for the scout units is made redundant by their low strength, uncompetitive unit sizes and the abilities of certain other units on the field. To the game's credit, though, it is never necessary to use the scout units for any purposes.
Some units also feel overpowered, the most obvious case of this being the artillery unit. Although billed as a support unit, it is so powerful and can fire from such long ranges with its suppressive fire mode that once you obtain one, it can feel like the rest of your units are there to support it. While I'm glad that they made an artillery unit in a strategy game that isn't underpowered, like the ones in Command & Conquer, the fact remains that once you obtain even one in the campaign mode, it is possible to go through the rest of the game by simply shelling any areas that you consider to be suspicious and keeping the rest of your forces near to act as a shield for the artillery units.
The sort of firepower that most real-time strategy games could only dream about.
Another problem is the similarity of the two factions' units. And when I say "similarity", I mean that I haven't seen two factions so much the same since the original Command & Conquer. The main differences between the two groups are that the Crayven forces have superior armour, while the Order forces have less armour, but more speed and firepower. There are a few units which are unique to either side; the advanced infantry units on either side are very different, and the Crayven forces possess the ultra-powerful but very slow Bomber Aerodyne, while the Order forces have the powerful anti-vehicle Drone Carrier. However, both sides still have the artillery unit, so it's tempting to simply have a lot of these and use the rest of your forces to defend the artillery from close attacks and air assaults.
Despite these unit imbalances, Ground Control is a delight to play. Because there is no necessity to build up forces through training reinforcements or building bases, the combat can begin right away, making this a very exciting game and a supreme test of your tactical skills.
There are a number of other very strong elements of the game as well. The visual and sonic parts of the game are fantastically well-done. The three-dimensional camera gives the player the sort of flexibility of movement that could only be dreamt about until then. And then there's the graphical detail. For a game from the year 2000, the graphics have stood the test of time. Not only is there a great amount of detail, and not only are the graphics gorgeous, from the deserts to the jungles of Krig-7B, but they are also highly technically advanced, with substantial draw distances and fantastic particle effects.
Burning buildings and laser fire - proving the excellent graphical capabilities of the game engine.
The sound effects are superb, also. Not only are they excellently put together, they also show off the realism factor present in this game by sounding different from each angle that you listen to them. Up close to a unit, it's possible to hear the rumble of the engine or the rattle of their guns; from far away, you may hear the rounds blasting off the sides of units, or ending up hitting the sides of mountains. Not only that, but if you position the camera in the path of an artillery shell, you can hear the rounds whooshing past you. It is this sort of detail that just adds to the mirror shine to which Ground Control is polished.
There is, however, just one thing that I'd like to criticise about the game apart from the already-mentioned unit imbalance. Ground Control no longer has any online multiplayer. It had been serviced by the WON network, but when that was taken offline, the multiplayer was restricted to LAN games. It's a pity, because it would have made a great online multiplayer game for those that want a modern style of real-time tactics game.
Ground Control deserves a lot more attention than it got at the time. It is quite simply one of the best strategy games that I've had the pleasure of experiencing, and one that's an all-round success. There's one more good point to this game that I haven't discussed yet: It's free, released as freeware to promote the release of its sequel. While it does require a GameSpy ID, it's worth it to get your hands on this game.
I can't help it - it's just so fantastic.
(The download address is: http://www.fileplanet.com/promotions/groundcontrol )