Windows - 1998
Description of Global Domination
Reviewing a game with the initials GD ought to get me excited, and the impressive graphics I saw when I tried out Global Domination at last year's E3 show certainly peaked my interest. In what's something of a rare event these days I find myself writing about a strategy game that is very innovative in its manner of presentation. The game is played out over a fully rotating 3D globe of the world over which fly missiles, bombers, fighters and satellites. The style is slick, the game looks great, but is there the gameplay under the glossy coat to match the appearance?
The best way to describe Global Domination is as a mixture of Risk and Missile Command. The Risk element stems from fighting over a globe split into some 50 or so territories, where each has various offensive and defensive resources. Not all resources are available in every country, so some, particularly those with satellite weaponry, are more valuable than others. Weapon ranges are very long - the disadvantage of a long-range attack is not in its potential destructive power but that it's easier to defend against as the defender has more time to intercept the threat. The homage to Missile Command comes in the frantic and well-placed clicking required to down inbound missiles with defensive fire. Combining these ideas with a stunning 3D view should produce a similarly stunning game, but somehow I felt it didn't quite gel.
The main stumbling block I ran into was the manual, or rather the lack of one. Sadly, just as with Settlers 3, Global Domination follows the "thin CD insert" school of manual provision, and, unlike some games which only need a thin CD insert manual, Global Domination is complex and innovative enough that the unintuitive interface and cryptic icons are a notable hindrance to gameplay. Part of the problem may be that the game is a direct port from a console format, or at least it apparently has the same format for both media. Not that this is a bad thing in itself - there's a lot of console games I love - but it does mean the game's interface is geared around two or three buttons and mouse clicks where a more "standard" PC-style interface would probably play a whole lot better. Regardless of this personal preference, the complete omission of key information from the manual is inexcusable. While it may be possible to write a good manual of CD insert size for this game, Psygnosis' effort fails woefully.
Today Azibikkizazistan, tomorrow...
The game is, or appears to be, all about offensive and defensive assets. Each of the countries on the globe can potentially have air, sea, missile and satellite bases, able to produce weapons with which to attack enemies (by air bombers, by sea submarines) or weapons to defend with (by air fighters, by sea cruisers). Bombers, subs and missiles can all be fitted out with any of a number of different warhead types - though the difference in gameplay terms escaped me somewhat. The in-game help suggested certain warheads were good to "suppress" an enemy, but how you checked the level of suppression or damage was unclear, as was how much suppression or damage you needed to do to particular targets to "win" a territory. The only sure thing I could determine was the importance of hitting hard when you do attack, and if possible to attack from multiple countries with different weapon types. After a certain amount of pounding the victim country would yield.
The countries in general have realistic names. They may all be genuine names but there were a number which as far as my knowledge of the globe goes might as well be fictional. You don't need a geography degree to play the game, but if you don't know Italy from New Zealand, be prepared to learn because the briefings you get only refer to countries by name. However, Iraq is in there, as is Israel, so the designers weren't pulling any political punches. Nuke Baghdad. Nuke Libya. Nuke Canada... your choice. But it's not that simple. The game has two modes - free skirmish mode, where you set up a "random" open conflict over the whole globe, or a 20 mission campaign. The campaign sees you play the part of defence coordinator for ULTRA (Universal Tactical Response Agency) against the bad guys WOE (World Order somethingorother).
The campaign tries to introduce the game concepts to you as hints and tips in the mission briefings, but while the effort is laudible it doesn't make up for the manual's deficiencies. The campaign does have some very good video cut scenes with acting that, while not exactly Oscar standard, is certainly a cut above the usual fare. Yes, there are a bunch of 20 year old kids running the operation, and some gratuitous blonde babe interest, but the story is sound enough and the climax very tense with a twist or two in its tail. Quite Command and Conquer in feel. The idea of the early missions is to ease you into the game mechanics, but the lack of explanation of how such things as production, repair, control centres, technology advances and alliances work is always going to cause grief. You can make educated guesses of course, but you shouldn't have to.
Attacking and defending is quite easy though. All you need to do is move over a country and tap the 'A' and 'D' keys to cycle through either its Attacking or Defensive assets. Then either left-click a target to attack, or right-click to launch a defence. On the attack, to be accurate you need to look at your target nation's asset locations by tapping SPACE while over the country, then select a target asset (e.g. the defence missile silo). On the defence your aim is to launch to intercept - that may be a cruiser to depth-charge a sub, a fighter to shoot down a bomber, or, in Missile Command style, a missile to shoot down a missile. Timing and placing a sequence of defensive missiles takes a fair bit of practice, but when effective it looks spectacular. I could almost feel myself wanting to play the game with a roller ball rather than a mouse, just as I did when Missile Command was 10p a go in the local arcade. Yes, that probably was around 1983. How time flies.
While the basic mechanics of the game - launching attacks and making defensive interceptions - are simple in concept, there's an uncomfortable level of confusion to the gameplay. If you do manage to work out how the more subtle game elements work, you should be at an advantage when it comes to winning your missions. The campaign missions are each built up of a sequence of subgoals, presented in turn. Unfortunately there's no in-mission save and the subgoals are identical with each play, so if it's the fourth part of a ten minute mission you're struggling with, expect to get a little hot under the collar as you repeat the "easy" bits each time you fail the hard bit. It's irritating, but it does make completing the overall mission that bit more rewarding I guess.
The action itself can be very hectic, especially in the "open conflict" battles. Keeping track of who is attacking who is hard, and you need to pay careful attention to where the trails of missiles lead back to. There's no "who's at war with who" screen, you just have to duke it out and hope to avoid nuking the innocent. Coordinating attacks while defending your own territories is very hard, and you have to almost accept that you'll lose some ground while gaining key objectives. The AI is aggressive and will fight other AI countries, and there are three difficulty levels to play at. The more territory you conquer, the more assets you have to attack with yet the harder it becomes to defend everywhere effectively. There's no "auto-defend" options, bar launching fighters which will shoot down missiles and bombers using their own initiative.
Hit or Miss?
The strength of Global Domination clearly lies in the very flashy and innovative way it combines elements of two classic games of yesteryear. It offers an RTS format in which the action is immediate without the usual sluggish "base-building preamble", and as such it should make for an enjoyable and quick multiplayer experience. The graphics, with the benefit of 3D acceleration, are super. The sight of streams of missiles soaring over the globe is quite breathtaking. The addition of good quality (for a PC RTS game) video cut scenes is also a nice bonus.
However, I get the feeling that Psygnosis came up with this great idea for the 3D globe graphics and inter-continental missile warfare, were very able to bring off the great visuals, but somehow failed to really think out the mechanics of the game itself. Or if they did they certainly didn't bother explaining them in the manual. The "huh?" factor is a turn-off, as is the way missions are split into subgoals with no option to save inbetween. There is also a certain repetitiveness in the way you end up sweeping the globe taking over one country after another - while it all looks lovely there's only a limited number of attacking options open to you, and defences are similarly few in number.
So, Global Domination isn't a game I can recommend. I've already seen it at a reduced price in the UK, and if you're keen enough to try something new then if the price keeps dropping you could do a lot worse than give it a go. The shame is that the presentation is so good, yet the game lurking beneath the flashy exterior could have been so much better. A chance missed. Nice try Psygnosis, but no cigar.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
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