Windows - 2000
Description of Ground Control Windows
Real time strategy games are pretty simple affairs when you dissect them. Most require that you build and harvest resources in order to create massive armies that go out and defeat an enemy. That's it. The variance occurs in RTS games when you start examining the level of detail in each component. Some require a lot of resource "micromanagement" (a RTS curse word if there ever was one) while others don't have any resource management at all. Some allow for pretty detailed grand strategy where others are purely tactical affairs. Units in these games can be very smart or incredibly dumb or not have any intelligence at all. Your ability to command and control your units can be extremely easy or it can be virtually impossible to give even basic orders. The graphics can be spectacular or they can be very bland. RTS developers must go through an agonizing process designing their games and trying to fit their new title within these categories and some succeed in making compelling products. Many, however, fail so grossly in one of the RTS components that the game is a chore to play.
3D RTS designs can be pretty much lumped into the "chore to play" category for two specific reasons. These games usually have poor interfaces or the AI is non-existent. RTS games are fun because they are accessible but can also have quite a bit of game play depth if executed properly. Age of Empires 2 and Total Annihilation are excellent games because of the ease that anyone remotely interested in this genre can load up a game and play. They are also excellent because they provide the more advanced player the ability to exploit many AI and formation enhancements not found in many other titles. 3D RTS gaming hasn't had anything close to an equivalent type of game until Sierra's Ground Control hit the shelves. It is the first 3D RTS game that I've played which is easy to use and has entertaining missions. Ground Control is not a perfect game by any means, but it is a step forward in 3D tactical gaming.
The KISS Principle
Ground Control does not install and run smoothly for everyone. There is a problem with certain CD-ROMs that required a patch to fix it. I installed the game with no problem and ran it the first time without a hassle. The second time, however, was a different story. The video sequences were extremely choppy. The game itself ran fine, but the video slide shows were a chore to sit through. Turning off 32 bit rendering corrected this problem, but a patch needs to be released to address this and other problems folks with GeForce cards are having with the game. My problems were limited to the videos when I had every level of detail turned on. Other GeForce owners complain about poor frame rates during certain missions. Massive and Sierra are working on the problem. The trick for me was using 16 bit rendering, but you spend all of that money for the fancy video card and shouldn't have to deal with these nagging issues.
The manual that comes with the game is quite hefty by RTS standards. It is 93 text pages long and only around 7 pages aren't very useful. It contains information about playing the game and 29 pages of detailed unit data, including descriptions and vital statistics. A pretty long description of the game's story line is in the manual, but it is typical RTS fare. One greedy corporate side (Crayven Corporation) is trying to find out what some religious zealots (Order of the New Dawn) are up to, and they are searching with a big stick. You assume the roles of Major Sarah Parker (Crayven) and Brother Jarred Stone (Order). Those of you who played Battlezone II will be familiar with the dutiful but always suspicious that something isn't right Major Parker and the dutiful and courageous Brother Stone. This simplifies the story a bit, but it covers the basics and we've seen all of this before in many other titles. All higher ups are worthy of suspicion in most RTS games and the cut scenes and dialogue in Ground Control promote this familiar theme very well.
The campaign structure is linear and includes 15 Crayven and 15 Order missions. The sequence is interesting because you first play the 15 Crayven missions as a "company" person but then you switch to the 15 Order missions and view the world from their side as they scurry from your previous successes as a Crayven commander. The missions start off pretty easy and build in difficulty so that by the time you hit the Order missions they are quite challenging. Ground Control does a good job easing you into your role as commander through the campaign progression and an excellent tutorial. The first time you play the campaign you will be taken to a multi-mission boot camp before you play your first real mission. The tutorial is nicely done and comprehensive. The first couple of missions start off with one squad and you gradually increase the number of squads that you control. Each campaign mission begins with you being dropped into a hostile area by one or more drop ships.
Ground Control 's tutorial is where you are introduced to a wonderful interface. The Achilles' heel of most 3D games is the interface and, more specifically, the camera angles used in the game. There are typical mouse camera movement features, but the ability to double click on a vehicle to center the camera is a nice touch. You can zoom up or down using the page keys. There's a small tactical map and a larger tactical overview map that makes movement much easier than relying on the tactical map. The cursor will change to reflect different types of commands. You can group units or create a long line of following units. There are also a number of controls on how your squads will react under certain conditions. For example, they can be told to hold there fire unless fired upon or to fire at will. Your squads can be ordered to assume a number of different formations and the interface works together very smoothly. Units will gain experience and receive medals that will enhance their accuracy and effectiveness.
One thing that I don't like about Ground Control is the number of winding corridors that you have to maneuver through. You feel like you're in one large labyrinth. The tactical overview eases this a bit because you can get a better picture of where to move than if you use the tactical map. You cannot save games in the middle of missions and the paths to various objectives aren't as obvious as they should be, so I found myself relying very heavily on the tactical overview, especially when I simply had to run for the hills.
Unfortunately, as good as the interface is, the enemy AI is pretty non-existent. Maybe it's asking too much for the 3D RTS world to make a game that has it all, but the extensive use of scripting and trigger events has to stop. You drive your vehicles past a certain point and a hoard of enemy vehicles are waiting for you. They'll just sit there until you come and stay there when you leave or blow them up. There isn't any feeling of a dynamic universe. This problem isn't as big in Ground Control as it is in Dogs of War, but it really started me questioning just how much strategic thinking is required to win this game. The path finding AI of friendly units breaks down pretty quickly in tight terrain. The vehicles will sit there bumping into each other for hours if you have them packed into a narrow corridor and want to have a lead unit change direction backwards.
Ground Control has a number of play balance issues. I don't understand this trend with games these days, but not allowing an in mission save is a big problem in Ground Control. The puzzle nature of the terrain makes it very frustrating when you've spent twenty minutes playing a mission only to lose because you cannot find a path through the labyrinth that allows you to get your people out safely. So you have to go through the entire mission again in order to find the correct path. Each side has 14 distinct units and special weapons that can be used to augment normal firepower even further enhance each. The artillery unit is much too powerful in the single player game and is dominant in multiplayer settings. You can do some real damage with artillery and this needs to be addressed in a patch. Squads cannot be broken down into smaller units, so if one of your vehicles is about to explode, you cannot simply move the vehicle out of harm's way. You have to heal the vehicle while it is fighting or move the entire squad to safety. The game can be paused, but you cannot issue orders while it is paused (though in this game that wasn't too big a deal as far as I was concerned).
I really have to question whether or not Ground Control is a strategy game. I think I can make a pretty good argument that this game is similar to Mechwarrior except with squads. The complete absence of any resource gathering doesn't by itself remove it from the strategy sphere on influence. The lack of a credible enemy that can force you to think strategically does begin to shift the game into the action genre. The only strategic decisions you can make in the game do not come until you are well close to the middle of the 30 missions. Prior to that, you take what is given to you and blow things up. That's not strategy. You do use tactics to defeat the enemy because using shadows to hide in will make it more difficult for the enemy to hit you. You do want to attack vehicles from the rear or flanks because you get a hit bonus. Line of sight is important and there is a fog of war in the game. There really isn't much that makes Ground Control qualify for review in the strategy camp. Don't expect to be setting up patrols or building bases. Reactions to game events will be what keeps you busy.
Graphics are, as expected, one of the strong parts of Ground Control. The highest resolution isn't quite up to other 3D game standards, but at 1024 you get quite a visual feast. The maps are very nice to look at, explosions are great, and Ground Control has some of the best residual fire effects I've seen in a strategy game. Rounds that don't hit their target continue down range and you can see their impact far in the distance. The sound effects are top notch. I could identify where my vehicles were and what types they were based on the sound of their guns.
Multiplayer options are quite numerous and mission and map editors are included with the game. One of the design decisions made about Ground Control was that the developers wanted to allow players the ability to drop into continuous games like FPS fans can in Quake. The map changes after a specific interval, but the game is continuous and all you need to do is configure your forces and drop into the game. This design decision would explain why there is no skirmish AI in the game, but it does not excuse it. Another theme in 3D strategy gaming these days is developers stating that their games are primarily multiplayer affairs. This reasoning excuses the developers from working on enemy AI bots that you can use to train against before you enter multiplayer action. In Ground Control 's defense, it does offer more than your usual set of options to choose from. In addition to the drop-in multiplayer games, you can also set up a standard game where you choose a map and play it like a traditional multplayer game. There were problems with people that owned the German version of the game not being able to connect with certain servers, but that was fixed in a patch. The GenEd map editor utility is found on the CD-ROM but doesn't load when you install the main game, so you must to do a separate install.
Judging A Book By Its Cover
One problem with Ground Control is that the game really needs a significant patch. The GeForce issues are problematic and the game has a number of bugs and problems. For example, I couldn't get past the last Crayven mission and had to download a saved game file in order to get into the Order missions. The WON servers were reset and invalidated a number of people's CD keys. This was fixed in a patch. There are parts of the game when you have a large number of units on the screen where it doesn't feel very stable. This could be related to the GeForce issues, but there were some chaotic moments created by stuttering and stopping. I also hated the jungle maps because those stupid trees would constantly obscure my vision and I would have to move the camera angle higher than I wanted. You have to be very conscious of where you are when you move your camera because if you are next to a cliff, you will be looking at solid cliff and this can be disorienting at times.
I really have a hard time thinking about Ground Control as a strategy game. There just isn't too much strategic thinking going on. The tactics are interesting, but I cannot think of a game design that could come much closer to being a pure action game but still be considered a strategy title. This means that a potential purchaser must understand the limitations of this title. What you will be getting is a game that places a great emphasis on tactics, but not so much that you are required to react to a dynamic single player enemy AI. If you want challenging enemy AI your only option is to play a multiplayer game. If you enjoy FPS games and want to dip your toe in strategy waters, then Ground Control may be your game. You will appreciate the multiplayer experience while at the same time find yourself in familiar territory in the single player campaigns.
Too often I go through the following cycle when playing a 3D RTS game. I first marvel at the graphics for a couple of campaign missions. Then I begin to notice dents in the armor. And finally the game becomes boring and I stop playing it. Ground Control ultimately ends up being part of this same cycle, but it did hold my interest longer than other 3D RTS offerings. The interface is a step in the right direction and makes these games very accessible. The graphics are very nice and add a great deal of atmosphere to the title. I would recommend trying the demo before you decide to purchase Ground Control because you really must have an inclination toward action gaming in order to enjoy it. That and be willing to replay the same mission over and over thanks to the lack of a save-game option. Ground Control is a step in the right direction, but it won't cause a mass migration from traditional strategy titles.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
J_Thanx 2017-09-24 1 point
I played this in 2014. It took me awhile but I finished it.
Two things made me love this game:
* excellent design of tactical mission
* a well-presented story
Manga--X 2017-07-20 1 point
This was one of the best, early, 3D, strategy games for the time.
If you're itching for frantic skirmishes and massive size battles involving hundreds of units, then keep looking. But, if you want a more contemplative game filled with high risk battles and tactical nuances, then Ground Control is just what you need.
It's entirely free of time-accrued resources (gold, crystals, tiberium, etc.).
So, each objective has to be achieved with the troops you're provided with at the start of each mission -- making each level a strategic and flexible battle-puzzle.
cortex 2014-05-16 1 point Windows version
ha ha ha i played this game long long time ago but didn't finish it. thx
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