Windows - 1999
Description of Machines Windows
Why Can't We All Just Get Along?
It was inevitable that someone would bring the kind of graphics usually reserved for flight sims and first person shooters to the strategy table. The real time strategy genre where the player harvests minerals, creates bases, pumps out military units and sends them to their deaths is one full of quality games but most have yet to harness the new 3D technology (Myth, as a purely tactical game doesn't count). While Battlezone , Urban Assault and Uprising have used 3D, these games are fundamentally different from your standard RTS because they are built around the first person view. Machines (along with the likes of Warzone 2100 - Ed.) is attempting to bring us a new generation of RTS games. It has a first person view, a floating camera view, and a standard top-down view, but more on that later. While the graphics in Machines certainly aren't comparable to those found in other genres, it's still a step up from some of the rather bland sprites and terrain found in other RTS's. The question is, does Machines do anything with these graphics to enhance the gameplay that has already been taken to new heights by Starcraft and Total Annihilation, among others? Unfortunetly the answer is no, but Machines does manage to be an enjoyable game in its own right.
This ain't no Odyssey
The story of Machines is not a terribly involving or complicated one. In 2545 human kind died but its interplanetary colonization program, consisting of, you guessed it, self-aware AI super computers just kept going and going and going. These legions of 'machines' (the term robots is never used, maybe Mr.Asimov owns it) continued to colonize their solar systems and planets for hundreds of years, until two races of machines evolved, the Midian and Eden 4 groups. Unfortunately the prime directive of "colonize above all else" overrides the love machines usually have for each other and both sides decide to re-colonize the other sides already colonized planets, even if it means "the greatest war the universe has ever seen...the Machine War". Because cut-scenes are rare and don't advance the overall story as opposed to the current mission, who really knows what's going on in the big, bad, humanless world out there. The same principle can in seen in the stirring in-game engine intro. While it tells you absolutely nothing about the story, it does show off the new fangeled camera angles and graphics off nicely. Don't expect C&C; or Starcraft twists and turns in this game. Just crush the other robots..errr...machines in the 20, linear, one sided missions. As per RTS usual, there's a mix of base building and the rather weaker missions where the player merely has to control one force of non-refundable machines. The campaign has a nice learning curve, although once you hit the 13th mission things start to get very, very hard. But where, you may ask, does the player fit into this rollar coaster ride of resource gathering? Well, the Eden 4 prime controller has created several experimental, semi-autonomous AI subprocesses (that's you) to carry out the military offensive against the insidious Midian machines. And frankly, I've never been described in such glowing terms before.
While we're on the subject of glowing, the game is visually spectacular. The landscapes, units and buildings, even the gun fire, are 3D, with more polygons than you can shake a stick at. Explosions are also well done and I love the way the screen wobbles when buildings explode and the Gorilla machine uses its 'ground punch' attack. There's moons and other planets in the sky, night and day progress (with little tactical effect) and the colours used in the game are all, well, very colourful. Plasma fire lights up the night sky, nukes white wash your screen and the vortex creator spits a mushroom of black hole terror. The design of the characters, especially the Reaper and the Gorilla machines is excellent. While it's all very impressive, the terrain tends to be a bit sparse. The hills are often in very predictable places and rarely offer any tactical advantage that can be exploited. While the terrain is completely 3D, it hasn't been used to move the game forward. Water exists on a few maps and no units except certain APC's and flying units can travel over it, it's rarely used to good effect. Hills, plateaus and fortresses can all be found in Total Annihilation, where they were used in a more interesting fashion than in Machines. Of course if there are terrain advantages in Machines, they are given to the computer to make up for the poor AI. The only thing that uses these advantages with any skill are the pre-built turrets.
Danger Will Robinson, Danger
The AI is where this game really falters. The path-finding of your units and intelligence of the computer opponents hasn't progressed beyond Warcraft and C&C;. The same blend of units attack every mission at roughly the same time, wave after wave. The only way the computer is able to challenge is by possessing higher technologies that you either must research or cannot gain, by possessing pre-built bases and I assume, by not having to harvest resources within the campaign game (something about the harvesting stats just don't correspond with the unit's built stats). Just switch to the skirmish mode to witness the weakness of the opponent AI. The very first time I played the game was in this mode, and I won easily and despite building a base resembling a Picasso. Any veteran of any RTS will no doubt do better, while people who've fought the often terminally efficient AI in Dark Reign will romp through this game with ease, at least until the late missions in the campaign. Skirmish mode is essentially useless, which really hurts the game's replayability. In other games at least all the computer players would join forces to destroy you and I wish they would do the same in Machines. Once 20 missions in the campaign are over anyone left hungering for more will have to switch to multiplayer. A maximum of four players is accommodated, with a few options and several maps, although with no map or scenario editor and a lack of diversity in sides and units, Machines cannot compete with other games in this area.
The audio in the game is only ok simply because there isn't enough of it. The usual pings, bangs, shazams and pops are included for gunfire and are all good quality, and I still hear that sound of that vortex gun firing in my sleep. The machine's voices are well done if repititious. All are male, with the exception of the announcer and the mission briefer, who I assume is the Grand Controller. The announcer also needs to be much louder, it takes a sharp ear and the music turned right down to hear it. The music is well done and doesn't intrude on the game, although the default settings have to be turned down if you expect to hear anything beyond the often wild techno beat.
One of the major additions to Machines is the also a first person view, handy if you want to occupy one of your machines. However, it's rather jerky and you're unable to command your units while using it. It's only useful to just get into range of enemy turrets and destroy them, or to defeat the annoying area effect of the singularity generator by zipping up close and zapping him right between the eyes/headlights, or to use that very weapon with much more precision and care then the computer. Otherwise, the hectic nature of the game prevents you from frolicking inside your robotic minions for any substantial period of time, which is not necessarily a bad thing but it makes it only a small part of the game, a diversion rather than an awesome feature. The floating camera is a bit more useful and certainly more adaptable, although given the often large size of my unwieldy, often low tech army, I found the general view, which can be fully rotated and is zoomable (not quite out far enough though) the most effective one to micro-manage from.
What Is It Good For?
The problem lying at the heart this game is not only that it offers nothing new with the exception of 3D graphics, but it hasn't adapted any of the advances made in this genre since the release of Warcraft., with the exception of unit queuing in factories and the fps view. The AI is roughly the same bog standard found in C&C;. The 'unit initiative' tag is given no description in the manual, probably because it does very little, unlike Dark Reign, where the AI for your units and enemy was excellent. I begged my healers to heal without my constant, time consuming prompting, but it did no good. What's more the fact that a lot of your units can destroy each other with their weapons means friendly fire is not only possible, it's inevitable. Because of this too many causalities occur that could have so easily been avoided. I guess even machine war is hell.
Despite the fact the different sides in Machines evolved in different solar systems, they somehow managed to create exactly the same units without a single exception, so this game doesn't have the balanced race drawcard of say, Starcraft . Although there are around 50 units in the game split into 6 different groups, the grunts (think infantry), reapers (light armor, good weapons), knights (tanks), the diverse heavy assault units (special weapons, gorilla machine, vortex creator ), the flyers (a bomber and fighter), and the commanders (healers/tough units/decent weapons/night-vision/expensive), most of these are the same chassis with two different sorts of weapons attached. There are also four groups of civilian units: builders, transporters, technicians and locators. These can be upgraded three or four times, but are hardly exciting because they are unable to directly deal death in even the smallest form. The two branching technology trees, 'light' and 'metal', fail to make up for the lack of variety. It's mostly the same machines, only different weapons.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the Machines but apart from the graphics, nothing lifts it above current titles. It doesn't offer a substantial single player or compelling multi-player expeirence although I don't doubt multiplayer would be fun, for a while. Considering the graphics and beam weapons, I don't imagine it's quite as lag resistant as others in the genre. Despite having been there before for the most part, I did enjoy playing Machines. The entire game reminds me of my favorite music from earlier days; I still enjoy listening to it every now and then but I've moved on to (hopefully) better things. With so many innovative strategy games looming on the horizon that promise to blow the old games away, like Giants, Shogun, TA: Kingdoms and Black & White, for most people Machines will only ever be a diversion. If you're desperate for polygons in an RTS or can't get enough of the crazy resource gathering and technology scrambling fun within the genre, then Machines may be for you (or you should probably check out Warzone 2100 - Ed.). Otherwise, keep your eyes on the horizon.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
Comments and reviews
Steven 2018-11-09 2 points
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