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Dark Reign 2

by Tristinian.

With all the money we spend on games you would think that some of us would learn not to spend it so foolishly. Well, 'whoops'. Once again, a game that i believed would have some promise has found its way into my shopping cart and like some mutant newborn in a baby-carriage, Dark Reign 2 unfortunately bursts with cries of generic gameplay and RTS yawns-why did i not listen?

It would appear elementary to many that after the releases of games like Earth 2150 the summer had seen its best RTSs-anything else that was to come in the next little while was obviously not going to be as pleasing. After all, how much hype did Dark Reign 2 get anyway? Not a huge amount. But the trooper i was, felt that it had some up-side. The screenshots looked decent enough for the game...just like Shogun...hmmm. No wonder i ended up being the only one on staff who was willing to review it. Well, upon installation and playing the game (often against my will) it would turn out that this game generally provides nothing new and those looking for some of that Starcraft/alienesque RTS essence won't find it here either. Here is the low down...

The general plot is basic-the world is in ruins, blah blah blah '2 races fight for supremacy' sort of stuff. I won't even insult you by going further into it. But the game starts you off with 2 races to choose from: the JDA and the Sprawlers. Now, besides the fact that both races play extremely similarly, and that they both have units that feel either like a waste of time to use or look and move unnaturally, you would have thought that after Tiberian Sun, someone would have learned that only having 2 sides to choose from isn't exactly cutting it anymore. Perhaps if the two sides were different enough, it wouldn't be an issue, but the fact is, the JDA and the Sprawlers have WAY too much in common and the technology trees for both aren't mind-blowing either. Once again, you have a game where the pictures of the units in action can look great, but the actual in-game sequences are utterly disappointing.

Now, speaking of the graphics, for some reason, the environmental graphics are somewhat nicer for the single player mode...a little more attention to detail than for the multiplayer maps. Then again, ALL the maps are somewhat repetitive in terms of motif. Then again, i am probably wrong and just losing my mind.

Most of the multiplayer maps look like they came right out of Evolva. But other than that, the graphics in general don't blow a game like Force Commander out of the water entirely. So, the graphics are ok, but not great by today's standards. Dark Reign 2 does sport some neat water-mirroring effects and even low-end systems will be able to run the game while being able to see the game's graphics in reasonably high resolutions. Problem is, even when playing the game at high resolutions with textures etc. maxed out, the game doesn't look that much greater than when run at, 640 x 480 with medium texture levels applied. Furthermore, the unit and building designs appear uninspired at their best and pathetic at their worst. No real detailed texturing on any of the buildings-just pastel color combinations and the occasional small patterns.

But once again, this game is a 3D RTS, so we are left to look at how Dark Reign 2 handles the 3rd dimension in terms of camera and control. It frustrates me to say it, but this game (like others) makes such poor use of the camera. I mean please-if you are going to sport a 3D engine game with a 3D camera then let the camera move in FULL 3D. But the makers of DR2 haven't caught onto this. There are only 4 different 3D compass perspectives available via hot keys on the num pad. You can navigate the camera to appear completely overhead or from a ground view by using the mouse wheel, but if you don't have one, combine that issue along with the 'hot key 3D camera navigation' issue and you have unintuitive camera usage in a genre that begs for the opposite. Luckily, moving the camera, front and back and side to side is as simple as it was in Ground Control, but that doesn't make up for the lack of perspective positioning for the game camera.

But, come come, there must be good things about DR2-right? anyone? OK OK, there are.

The soundtrack for this game (although small) is nothing short of perfect. The music totally rocks from install to in-game. The cinematics are also decent enough and please the eye as much as they need to. The game sounds such as weapons etc. range from bad to average, but with the music turned on, one can kind of tune out from the dumb unit voices like that of the 'Go-Go' tank. How would you like to be a girl and play a game that has female driven vehicle-units that say stupid things in flirty, ditzy voices like 'big guns' for no reason at all. LAME. At least the AI can provide a hearty challenge at times and the changes in day and night are somewhat 'intriguing' although there never seems to be much of a visual difference between the two when playing.

Let me not stray from the positives though...Dark Reign 2 actually provides game engine add-ons up to twice a week for the rest of the summer. They also post mods, wallpapers and other downloads pertaining to the game. Now THIS is a huge positive-especially for improving the game down the road if possible. But at the same time, one has to wonder if it won't just become some semi-covert method of handing out patch fixes for the game without receiving a lot of flak for putting out an unfinished product-and frankly, this game DOES feel unfinished to a certain extent.

To pinpoint it even further, this game feels like it would have been great a year ago-but after the likes of Earth 2150, Ground Control, Homeworld, Armada-and EVEN Force Commander-this game missed the boat and its developers would have been FAR happier with the results if it were released around the advent of the 3D Real Time Strategy. I alluded to this before, but Dark Reign 2 makes better competition for Force Commander than any other game recently offered in the 3D RTS category this summer and it's strange-even if the graphics were improved and the camera were fixed, the gameplay offers so little that is new that this game still wouldn't fare much better than it does right now.

So, expecting a surprise from this title? Think i am being too tough? Well i tried to play it and enjoy it (honestly!) but, this just happens to be one of those games where once you think you can convince yourself to enjoy it despite its shortcomings, those same shortcomings throw themselves in your face and make you realize what a fool you were to try and be an optimist in the first place. Perhaps had i not been spoiled by the recent 3D RTSs i might be less harsh on DR2...perhaps. At least keep that in mind.

But, let me just end it with this: making a quality RTS isn't about throwing in the average, required elements anymore-it's time developers faced that. Just because you throw the 3D aspect into a game doesn't make everything better. Based on that, it would seem that the creators of Dark Reign 2 still have some learning to do.


FINAL MARK

Generic to the bone when it comes to gameplay, units, buildings, races-you name it.

The 3D engine not only feels a tad dated, but the camera is even worse

The soundtrack for the game rocks-even if it only consists of a handful of songs.

62%

As you can see, this picture of beating up on the local refinery looks pretty sweet! But watch it in motion and you'll be surprised. To be honest, i can't think of another game that ever looked this good in a screenshot and yet looked so disappointing when actually played. Well, besides Shogun.

 

A nice two-on-one fight. Of course, if you wanted to see the action squarely from the side, you wouldn't be able to-the camera only gives you 4 compass perspectives to choose from. Pick the best one and go with it...by the time you find a nice one, you'd better hope you aren't dead. Oh yeah, and that rectangular looking thing to the rear left-one of the architectural marvels you have at your disposal when creating buildings. wow. zzz...zzz

 

Alright! One lone hovering soldier taking on a command center all by himself-and winning! Note, the details on the command center such as the flames and the track lighting are the most details you will see on ANY building in the game. Also note the intensely thought-out design of the building below-yeah, that's right-that star looking thing. That's supposed to be a solar array for those who thought it was plant-life. (and by the way, because of the lousy camera it took 10 minutes to position this shot)

 

Here, a nice example of the mirroring water option that can be selected. But as usual, the environments in this game look better than the bland, candy-striped buildings. And if you couldn't tell, there is an attack on the base in the background, but those cool, laid back troops to the right think it's a better idea to just wade around in the water and talk about sports or something.