Game Over Online ~ Dark Reign 2

GameOver Game Reviews - Dark Reign 2 (c) Activision, Reviewed by - Rorschach

Game & Publisher Dark Reign 2 (c) Activision
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium 200, 64MB Ram, 500MB HDD, 3D Accelerator, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 82%
Date Published Monday, July 31st, 2000 at 10:33 PM

Divider Left By: Rorschach Divider Right

Dark Reign 2 is an unlucky game. Reviewed all on its own, in a vacuum so to speak, it would have done pretty well. It is, at its heart, a well thought out and well executed example of the new breed of RTS - the 3D RTS. However, coming as it does close on the heels of my review of Earth 2150, comparisons to that game are inevitable, and on most fronts it simply isn't as good. Perhaps its "failing" is that it adheres to the RTS recipe too closely, really offering nothing over the standard RTS except the hills and valleys of a 3D landscape. I think it also suffers from the hype factor in that I got all jazzed up waiting for the game to come out (I would have to say that RTS games make up the majority of my personal gameplay), and after some playtime am overwhelmed by feelings of ambivalence about the game as a whole. I suspect that as time goes by and still other 3D RTS games come out, Dark Reign 2 will fall farther to the back of the pack in comparison.

The story of Dark Reign 2 is one of a future earth ravaged by wasteful consumerism (the manual especially so leading me to believe it was underwritten by the Sierra Club) to the degree that it will soon become entirely uninhabitable, and yet on this ruined landscape a battle rages between the JDA (the powers that be) and groups of the disenfranchised called the Sprawlers. The cutscenes that advance the story are an interesting combination of radio transmissions, news reports, military reports, and action sequences using the game engine. The missions in the game are strictly linear which leads to a more cohesive storyline than Earth 2150, but makes you feel less like the captain of your own destiny. Finish the mission and advance or keep trying over and over again until you do - there is no alternative. The missions themselves are sometimes fairly complex with a number of goals to achieve, which are linked quite well with scripted in-mission events to give the story a still greater flow.

The action is played out on a fully 3D landscape with a flying camera similar to Ground Control or Earth 2150. The difficulty in controlling the flying camera to let you get a good look at the action is no better or worse than in those other games. The day advances through day to night over time, but the darkness in this game doesn't alter the field of view of your units much. The main effect of darkness seems to be to reduce the output of your solar power plants, but that's about it, and with just a little planning, it is never a problem. Weather likewise appears to be just eye candy with no noticeable effect upon the play of the game.

The lucre of choice in this game is called Taelon, and it is collected from crystalline deposits on the landscape. Cash is used to buy buildings that in turn construct units. Buildings can be upgraded for still more cash to allow them to produce more advanced units. Both units and buildings are fairly expensive given the available quantity of Taelon so bases and forces are perhaps not as massive as in other RTS games. There is no research tree at all.

In theory, the JDA are the high tech people and the Sprawlers are low tech bruisers - or that is what you would be lead to believe looking at the campaign selection screen and the overall story - but in actuality the two sides feel more alike to play than unalike which is somewhat of a disappointment. Each side has only a few units that do not have almost exact analogs on the opposing side. The positive side in this is that the balance between the JDA and Sprawlers is nearly perfect - neither side having the clear ass-kicking advantage. Both sides have ground, air, and water units. Some unit types are unable to attack other unit types (i.e. some air units can only attack ground targets while others provide air-to-air coverage), or are far more/less effective attacking certain unit types, forcing you to used mixed unit forces. This isn't really anything dramatically new in the RTS domain, but I felt it perhaps more acutely in this game than in others, as the wrong collection of units in the wrong battle could lead to utter obliteration.

Graphics are above average, though instead of going for the realistic look of Ground Control, this game uses bright colors and vibrant explosions that are almost cartoonish. At resolutions up to 1280 x 1024 with 32 bit color, I experienced high frame rates throughout. The game screen is well laid out, showing enough information without being overly cluttered. In game sound is adequate, but as I write this review I can't actually hear any of the in game sounds in my head, so I would have to furthermore add that they are entirely forgettable.

By far the game's greatest fault is the unit pathfinding. Units spend a lot of time jostling one another when trying to move even across open ground or water. When set to guard a unit, they will sometimes kind of mill around it impeding its motion as well. You can set unit aggressiveness from stand in one spot and shoot to the death to run at the first sign of the enemy and everything in between, but due to the poor pathfinding almost any collection of units is unable to retreat because they spend all their time bumping into each other. Oddly, while the computer is quick to take advantage of an unguarded power generator or some other base defense flaw, it also gladly turns dozens of units into fodder sending them into a well defended valley of death. Since the supply of Taelon on any given game board is limited, holding some kind of defensive line until the computer simply runs out is unfortunately a workable strategy on many levels.

Above average graphics + average sound + somewhat below average AI + average gameplay = average game.


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