Earth 2150: The Moon Project
Windows - 2000
Description of Earth 2150: The Moon Project
When the news of financial trouble at Polish development company Topware Interactive hit the gaming community a few weeks ago, many hardcore RTS fans bowed in a moment of silence. Not only was it a shock to hear that this small, successful company - makers of the well regarded Earth 2150 real-time strategy game - was having money troubles, it also made most fans wonder if the highly anticipated sequel Earth 2150: The Moon Project would ever see the light of day.
The good news is that, yes, the game has been released. The even better news is that The Moon Project is even more impressive than the original, offering richer gameplay, deformable terrain, real-time lighting, new zoom capability, and a host of other improvements that puts The Moon Project at the top of the crowded RTS genre.
Interestingly, many of the problems that plagued the first game make their triumphant return... and they are just as easy to forgive. The learning curve is still high (true of most complex games), the interface seems unfriendly (but only to beginners), and the objectives are not always clear (that's one of the reason's we call it a "game" instead of "pretty graphics with stuff you get to play with"). The sounds and storyline seem like they were bought at a wholesale RTS game auction, and there isn't a huge amount of innovation at work here - at least in terms of breaking the basic build base/combat model (more to come on that).
Still, what's so amazing about The Moon Project is the sheer depth of gameplay and how it always seems like there are a hundred different things happening at the same time. Victory requires equal parts stealth, combat tactics, and the ability to retreat when the outcome looks negligible - more important here than in other RTS games. Units are extremely well balanced, and the graphics are just short of spectacular. In short, it's one of the best RTS game on the market.
One twist to this full sequel is that the events in the game unfold in parallel to the original. The Moon Project pits the same three warring factions against each other, each trying to escape a doomed earth, and you're required to accumulate credits for your evacuation just like in the original. This ties the missions and storyline together well in the campaigns, and it's cool that you can imagine the original game taking place as you battle it out on the moon. It also means that Topware was able to re-use the same story and focus on adding new units, new maps, and updating gameplay.
For those unfamiliar with the gameplay of the first game, The Moon Project uses the classic RTS formula. Build base, mine resources, amass your army, and attack. The big difference in this series is that your home base is separate from the mission map. You send units into the mission and back, thus maintaining your base throughout the campaign mode while adding experience to units and carrying them over to the next mission. Skirmish mode (the only one available in the original demo) is a bit misleading in this regard: units appear from the sky and the battle occurs on one map. In Campaign mode, there are many different maps and locations - all easily switchable using the "Q" key or an icon.
The three new campaigns allow you to play through several missions as the Eurasian Dynasty (tanks and helicopters), United Civilized States (mechs), or the Lunar Corporation (varfied sci-fi units). Mission objectives are always clever and challenging, having more in common with the somewhat arcade-like Star Trek: Armada. For example, an early LC mission requires that you guide a convoy to another part of the map, but the twist is you have to "recoiter" or scope out any enemies before the convoy will move - giving the all-clear only after you've knocked out a significant number of units (and lost a few yourself). As missions progress, they sometimes feel more like an action game (a la Ground Control) than pure strategy.
The United Civilized States campaign actually uses a different approach from the other two -- it borrows the super-unit concept from Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 (namely, Tanya). This campaign was also the most fun to play because of the scripted sequences and frequent tunnel routes.
Enemy AI is not particularly intelligent, but the easy, medium, and hard settings do help novice and experienced users get the right amount of challenge. Interestingly, the action often gets so fast and furious, with battles raging on different parts of the map, that any specific AI used for enemy units is sometimes lost in the clutter. The overall sense is that the attackers use a variety of tactics, even if that isn't actually the case. One thing's for sure: throughout the campaign, my own units were almost always outnumbered, requiring more strategy and stealth than just brute force.
The new "moon units" (sorry, couldn't resist the reference to one of Frank Zappa's offspring) seem to behave the same as many of the existing units with a few notable exceptions. The Orca Submarine is an interesting stealth sub in that it is only detectable by certain radars. It also packs a punch - namely, the "God's Arm" ballistic rocket. The earthquake generator is another powerful stationary weapon that can wreak mass destruction on even the most resilient structures. Weather effects seem to have a greater impact on gameplay. In these conditions, you'll be well served if you know the key commands and workarounds when selecting units. For example, the standard of putting your tanks into groups (using Ctrl and then a number 1--9) allows you to easily select and control them with one key press, helpful when a blizzard completely obscures the action.
Deformable terrain means that many structures in the game can be blown out of the way at will. This has always been a frustration from early RTS games where some objects were completely impervious to assault - lowering the realism and also forcing a specific route. The worst offender as far as immovable objects is Dark Reign 2, which had one specific path around structures that couldn't be damaged or blown away. Not so here, although scripted sequences do force you to follow a specific path at times.
All of these gameplay tweaks are important, but there are also some notable visual tweaks. The best enhancements are some new explosions and damage effects on buildings and units, greatly increasing the visual impact during battle. Also, real-time lighting improves the overall atmosphere of the game since each unit casts its own eerie glow over the terrain. Seeing a unit flip on its headlights when the sun finally sinks below the horizon line is one of the coolest effects in any RTS game.
More than anything, it's the depth and character of the game that kept me coming back for more. Each new mission was a self-contained exercise offering a new experience and challenge, sometimes throwing bridges and mazes at me, and sometimes just putting me right into the thick of battle. Where other RTS games had clear objectives and mission structures, they now seem to offer way too little - Dark Reign 2 is a good example of a game that is based on a similar sci-fi premise but lacks the originality and variety of The Moon Project.
Depending on your style of play and how much complexity you're willing to deal with, there's a good chance The Moon Project could become the most thrilling and challenging RTS game you've ever tried.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
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Earth 2150: The Moon Project is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. GOG.com and Zoom provide the best release and does not include DRM, please buy from them! You can read our online store guide .