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Game Over Online ~ Ground Control II: Operation Exodus (c) Vivendi Universal

Ground Control II: Operation Exodus (c) Vivendi Universal

Published: Thursday, June 10th, 2004 at 02:07 PM
Written By: Lawrence Wong

A cursory glance at Ground Control II will convince people that it is yet another real-time strategy game. Looks, however, can be deceiving. While the successor to Ground Control has adopted a conventional real-time strategy interface, it is not a simple build and conquer type game. In fact, there are no building elements at all. Forces under your control are reinforced by taking specific victory locations and reinforcement spots.

This alternate approach gives Ground Control II a more tactical feel to it. Units are dispatched on to the battlefield via dropships. These dropships can only carry a limited amount of cargo. Thus, it makes whatever troops you have on the ground all the more valuable, particularly if the dropship landing zone is under threat or taken over by the enemy. Armament requested from home base costs acquisition points. In turn, points are awarded for completing mission objectives like capturing victory locations and seizing more landing zones. There is no 'mining' of any sort in Ground Control II but there is a limit to how many troops you can field in one outing.

Every mission in Ground Control II has an overall objective tied to the storyline but each mission can be broken down into a land grab. Victory locations tend to be strong points held by the enemy. On campaign missions, they can be secondary objectives that have a direct relationship to your primary goals. For example, destroying the power plant down the river can negate the defenses of an enemy fortification. Landing zones, meanwhile, are reinforcement bases for both sides. Capture of one provides twofold advantages. First, you don't have to worry about enemies sneaking up on you from behind. Second, you won't have to maintain lengthy supply chains to get fresh units to the frontlines.

Both fans and newcomers to the franchise will appreciate the addition of buildings and terrain in the game. Buildings add a whole new dimension as they obscure line of sight and provide hardened points for infantry to attack from. In fact, you can order your infantry to man specific sides of a building. This lets you hold a strong point but also retreat inside the building should there be heavier armor lurking around. Some of the missions take place in urban decay making it feel like modern urban combat; hollowed out buildings, multi-floor skyscrapers. Line of sight superiority will enable you to let fewer numbers decimate larger forces.

Most units in the game are versatile and multi-faceted. Ground Control II pits the Northern Star Alliance (NSA) against the Terran Empire. In realistic terms, it's agility versus technology and girth. The basic NSA grunt is anti-personnel but when dug in (and immobile) they can be used to ambush and take out armor with anti-tank weapons. Furthermore, the dropship itself can be equipped and used as an aerial support weapon. And like the original game, there is off-the-map artillery support.

Without looking at the game itself, the description above sounds like a stodgy wargame. The developers, Massive Entertainment, have outfitted the game with some gorgeous visuals. The units themselves, a trademark of Ground Control, are scalable from the individual soldier to the traditional top down view. Camera control is excellent and there are plenty of environmental features on the ground and even in the sky. (It is noted that strategy players will probably not ever point the camera straight up but I had the chance to do that during the tutorial and noted that this extra detail is something I rarely ever see.)

From the few missions I could see, it appears Ground Control II will have a more developed story too. The game takes place many years after the predecessor. The corporation versus religious zealot war is over. This game will revolve around Captain Jacob Angelus who sides with the NSA in a struggle against the Terrans. But new to the mix is a third side called the Virons; aliens who are new to the Ground Control mythos.

It's important to note that Ground Control II will come with a full-fledged multiplayer component. Up to eight players will be able to play together competitively. However, the most intriguing part about Ground Control II's multiplayer offering is a co-operative feature. Up to four players will be able to play the campaign missions together; definitely an interesting twist to keep an eye out for.

For fans, Ground Control II is more advanced than its predecessor. The inclusion of a better graphics engine lets the developers paint hollowed out cities, variable terrain features and most importantly, to make all of these usable on the battlefield. As a strategy title, this game plays at a little slower pace than what real-time strategy aficionados may be used to. Limited troop numbers will force people to be more creative in their strategies. That said, the level of difficulty should be within reach for most gamers.

The introduction of an alien species to the Ground Control mythos definitely has me perked. And I look forward to battling it out alongside a few friends when the game hits store shelves later in June.

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