Dark Reign 2
At this me msnt in time, the PC finds itself swimming in an ocean of 3D retl-time strategy games. I the majority of these were as rood as, say, Homeworld or Ground Control everything woulo be fine. Sadly, this isn't the case and we're drowning in cheap imitations and preelection line clones.
In Dark Reign 2 we have the perfect example. Despite the hype and the decent in-game presentation, DR2 epitomises the word 'average'. If there is any originality here at all, it's buried so deep you'll need a drilling rig to find it. Take the storyline: two sides (the capitalist JDA and the revolutionary Sprawlers) battle it out to discover alien technology that will ultimately allow them to rule the Earth. How many times have we heard that before? Unfortunately for us, the storyline is one of the best parts of the game. Other areas actually take a giant leap backwards for computer gaming.
The most disastrous aspect of the game has to be the AI and interface. Apart from moving extremely slowly, each and every unit (whether it's on wheels, on foot, on water, or airborne) has great difficulty simply getting from A to B. Bemused infantry units can't even manoeuvre around lamp posts without jostling and banging into each other. Obviously, actually fighting a war with these clowns is no easy task. If a group is already engaged in a skirmish, nearby units won't even try to help their comrades. Instead they erratically mince about, waiting and watching until the entire squad is dead. Finally they'll stand motionless and allow themselves to be blown apart by long-range missiles.
Even selecting one of the five stances available makes no difference. If you've experienced the interface in Ground Control you know what near perfection is. The interface in Dark Reign 2 is not even close.
It's probably worth mentioning the resource management at this point, not because it's particularly interesting or different, but because it's indicative of the lacklustre effort that's been put into DR2s creation. In order to build your base and army you have to collect a rock known as Taelon. The unit you use to collect this substance is called, wait for it - a Collector. Must have taken a while to think that one up. Even the icons depicting the different types of construction are difficult to work out.
At least with Earth 2150 a bit of originality was added to the micromanagement by including supply lines and units that ran out of ammo. DR2 is blessed with no such detail - units can shoot (if you're lucky) until the cows come home.
Don't expect too much in the way of sound either. What little there is lacks atmosphere, and the acknowledgement voice samples for the units, especially the Sprawlers, verge on downright irritating.
If you're looking for a high quality, free-roaming camera - forget it. To enter 'freelook' mode you have to press and hold down the F key while you scan the landscape. The same goes for the zoom button. Unfortunately, once you've zoomed in you can't move the camera anywhere else. To regain control you have to release the zoom button and return to the main view. To call this pointless is the biggest understatement since King Harold said: "I think I've got something in my eye."
It's hard to say why Pandemic has incorporated such a truly cack-handed view method. After all, every other recent RTS that's of any worth has managed to offer one that's simple to use and actually beneficial for general gameplay. Maybe it's something to do with all the particle effects and bilinear filtering, although Ground Control boasted similar effects and managed fine.
While we're on the subject of effects, you've probably noticed from the screenshots that DR2 is actually a great looking game. Detail on the buildings and units could be better, but the landscapes are extremely detailed and cover such diverse landmarks as waterfalls, rivers, trees, reflective water and majestic cityscapes. There's even a day and night cycle.
The Reign Is Over
When a game's strongest point is its two campaigns, you know you're in serious trouble. Sure, it's nice to know you can play through 20 missions from two different perspectives, but it's hardly the pinnacle of entertainment and let's face it - it's something that only the worst RTS's seem to do...
Pandemic appears to have gone out of its way to make DR2 as crappy as possible, and for the life of us we don't know why. Dark Reign had its critics but at least it was novel for the time. This sequel offers nothing new and even feels like a 2D RTS along the lines of Dune 2000, Tiberian Sun or dear old Dark Reign itself.
There's sure to be Dark Reign fans out there who'll pretend this review doesn't exist. Fine - go and buy it, but trust us, you'll regret it for the rest of your lives... Well, the next fortnight maybe.
Download Dark Reign 2
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
While completing the highly-rated Battlezone II, developers Pandemic have been simultaneously working on another sequel, the follow-up to the war-based RTS of choice for many. Dark Reign 2 is claiming to be the first true 3D RTS game, and is set against the backdrop of the war between the powerful Jovian Detention Authority and the upstart Sprawlcrs, thus providing a prequel to the conflict between the Imperium and Freedom Guard featured in the original.
Boasting an all-new game engine, Dark Reign 2 will introduce new strategic elements, such as day and night missions, with darkness opening up a whole different world of pain. With full 3D terrain, maps become living worlds and can be used to your advantage. Troops can be hidden under trees, for instance, and artillery positioned on high ground to control the passes to your base. It certainly looks impressive, and we sincerely hope they don't cock it up.