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Battle of the 3D RTSs-Ground Control vs. Earth 2150

By Tristinian

 

The age of the 3D revolution is upon us for good now and for a while i don't think people really knew what to make of it. Homeworld paved the way for the 3D RTS genre and gave hope for the future...it showed that 3D COULD be done in a game genre that had predominately seen itself in a 2D universe throughout it's existence. And this revolution didn't just apply to the RTS genre-the RPG genre was also going the route of 3D and our first examples in Ultima 9 and Vampire TMR aren't disappointing. But, unfortunately, the same can't be said for the RTS variety of games.

Since the inception of Homeworld, game fans have had to deal with titles like Force Commander, which couldn't even hold a candle to most 2D games. Likewise, games that were bragged about as being 3D RTSs like Star Trek: Armada, soon showed us that the 3D RTS genre might have been going in a direction where 3D engines might be used, but the 2D perspective was going to prevail seeing as Armada itself had a 3D mode that was essentially useless, causing most gamers to simply stick to the overhead view.

Now, personally, i think that if one is going to create an RTS game in three dimensions, don't just use a 3D engine and make the entire game in a mostly 2D perspective with minimal camera abilities. Also, don't bother making a 3D engine with a camera that is just plain, hard to use.

Enter Ground Control and Earth 2150. Here are the marks we gave them before we start...

GROUND CONTROL-H2H REVIEW MARK AVERAGE: 85.5%
EARTH 2150-H2H REVIEW MARK AVERAGE: 88.5%

These two RTS titles are arguably the biggest RTS titles of the summer (note, Dark Reign 2 has yet to be released) and they both excel at what they intended to do in many ways, but how do they compare? Which one is the better game? And for whom?

Well, let's begin with Ground Control.

With its heated action, Ground Control can also be visually enthralling

A squad based RTS with no base-buidling, but an excellent 3D engine and camera with unlimited perspectives, although it is resource hungry and without an AI skirmish mode. Not to mention it has detailed and realistic moving vehicles and units. It is also somewhat simplistic in terms of goals and tactical maneuvers. To put it bluntly, it is engaging but still missing a piece or two. This is as close to a terrain based version of Homeworld as we have seen. As one of our reviewers put it, it is what Force Commander should have been like.

Now, in the other corner, Earth 2150. A pure RTS with base building, researching and possible full scale army battles. Beautiful texturing, a 3D engine, but not a full 3D camera. Average to less-than-average voice acting, unrealistically moving vehicles, but depth in the areas of base and army expansion and creation.

Earth 2150 does indeed have some nice textures...and explosions too.

Not as much of a resource hog as Ground Control, but still a hog. Again, this is a good game that feels like it is a piece or two shy of being perfect. It's not as engaging as Ground Control, but is a full scale tactical type-game. As one of our reviewers put it, it is what Tiberian Sun should have been like.

Now, with the pleasantries out of the way, let's evaluate everything and see who wins where and why.

3D Engine and Camera-Both games are 3D RTSs, and both make the use of the camera to varying extents. It can be argued that Earth 2150 has nicer, more realistic textures, but it makes limited use of the colored lighting (besides the headlights etc.) that can make the game look so much better. Also, the 3D camera movement can feel restricting at times, and the game might as well be in a 2D mode through the entire game, hence our reviewer's comment on the Tiberian Sun similarities. Ground Control's textures are very sweet, but somehow lack a little in comparison to Earth 2150's. However, Ground Control's battles are far more beautiful to look at and the smoke effects and colored lighting seem to blow away the comparably simplistic ground battles of Earth 2150 (minus the mushroom cloud explosions for power stations.). And more importantly, the 3D camera is simply perfect in Ground Control. You can be anywhere at anytime and get the perfect perspective of the battle from either up close beside a unit, or from far away-all very quickly and intuitively. Very much like Homeworld.

Winner-Ground Control

Units, Buildings, Building Options-Earth 2150 has units. Boy does it ever. With a research tree as deep as Earth 2150, it is hard to find another RTS that EVER had the building options for units that this game does. The buildings and units alike are upgradable and a lot can be done with them. Underground tunneling, teleportation and varying defenses at one's fingertips will keep any RTS player busy for a long while. Ground Control, doesn't let you build, well....anything. Seeing as it is a squad-based game, GC just gives you units as you progress from mission to mission-no building. Although you CAN configure your dropships, that is about all in terms of unit configuration and the units given are more practical and realistic than imaginative and large in number. One of the major setbacks of Ground Control-you can't even build a unit or a base.

Winner-Earth 2150

Music, Sounds, In-Game Options-Earth 2150's soundtrack is limited. Not that Ground Control's isn't to a certain extent though. With that out of the way, we have the sounds to look at. Earth 2150's voice acting is dismal at times and the sound effects don't overwhelm either. Ground Control has quite acceptable voices in the game, but the movies are terribly grainy (unlike a lot of Earth 2150's movies such as the intro cut scene which is quite sweet). However, the sound effects of the weapons etc. in Ground Control are somewhat beyond those of Earth 2150, but that is arguable to a large extent. So it comes down to the in-game options. In all honesty, both have close to the same amount of options to choose from, neither disappoints, except in one category: multiplayer skirmish. Ground Control has absolutely NO multiplayer AI skirmish-only online skirmishes. Ground Control trips and falls on its face here.

Winner-Earth 2150

Gameplay/Originality-We come down to our last category and it is a tough one, so get ready for a long deliberation. Earth 2150 offers what is generally, the usual sort of gameplay one expects from an RTS-specifically a 2D RTS. There is nothing exceptionally new here and the gameplay is often hardly phased by the fact that everything takes place in a 3D world-it didn't need to be 3D for this game to do want it wanted to. Not to mention, units can often look the same and be confused with one another. Selecting units using Earth 2150's provided, 'grid' mouse box selection method is often a pain since it might require a user to have to re-select the exact units one wanted to select over and over to get it right. Luckily, the grouping and platooning options were available so that once they WERE selected, a group could be formed and worry subsided until the next group needed to be assembled. However, the researching, deformable terrain day/night effects and weather are all aspects that make Earth 2150 original in a most notable way. Ground Control on the other hand does not have these features. No day/night changes, no weather changes, no researching, no deformable terrain-hell, no building! But, Ground Control DOES have redeeming qualities in the gameplay/originality category. Between the 2 RTSs, GC actually deserves to be in a 3D engine-it needed it to accomplish what it set out to do and thus the gameplay can get very exciting and up-close and personal depending on how you want it. The camera, selection of units and giving of instructions are all very intuitive despite the limitations that inherently come with a squad-based RTS. But as for originality, it now comes down to what original is. The only other major games to have tried 3D engine games with full 3D cameras are Homeworld and Force Commander. One broke ground and was voted 'game of the year' last year by many. The other fell flat on its face. Only one of those games dealt with terrain combat-obviously the latter. Which means Ground Control makes the complete leap to a working terrain-combat full 3D RTS that no other game could make before-unlike Earth 2150 which greatly improves on very old ground but tries to throw in a 3D element into the gameplay which is unnecessary and largely ineffective. Ground Control breaks newer ground and does it well despite its option set backs. So GC takes this one.

Winner-Ground Control

Conclusion-TIE

A tie?! Many of you are probably thinking, 'this shouldn't be a tie! someone has to win!'. Well, if you bought the game you thought was better and are enjoying it, then the game you wanted to win, did. But in terms of the RTS genre on the whole and its audience as a whole, a perfect 3D RTS isn't going to appear until you essentially combine what both Ground Control and Earth 2150 have to offer-the best of all elements. Combine the two and throw in a new storyline (and maybe even some more color-both games have a tendency to appear bland at times) and you have what could be the first 3D terrain combat RTS that has the ultimate package. Or you could go out and buy Dark Reign 2 (which by the time this article has come out, has been released) and see if that tickles your fancy more than either of the 2 RTSs discussed today.