This season, one strategy title rises above the rest--literally! The high-flying Net-Storm combines real-time fantasy combat with puzzle game elements in an attractive multiplayer package.
As a high priest in the fantasy realm of Nimbus, you rule a floating island in the sky, harnessing nature's elements in a struggle for knowledge and power with other high priests. To conquer your enemies, you'll have to build platforms from Tetris-like bridge segments, creating outposts for your war units, such as Whirligigs and Ice Towers.
Different weapons sport distinctive, detailed looks, while the purely mouse-driven interface puts every action a few clicks away. Though the standard fantasy music might bore you, the occasional burst ot thunder adds a nice touch--and you'll never get sick of hearing your ogres grunt. "Yes. master." IMetStorm was conceived for online play. Once you've practiced in the singleplayer mode, you can connect to Activision's free server and challenge up to eight opponents to duels. For a pleasant change the lag time rarely poses a problem.
Storming the Gates
While the real-time strategy genre may soon burst at the seams with titles, NetStorm's impressive Internet support and novel gameplay, which mixes solid strategy and quick thinking, help it stand apart from the rest.
- Use Sun Disc Throwers as your first weapon. They can fire in any direction, even into the air.
- Avoid cracked bridges. They may enable fast passage, but they're very unreliable.
- Get to a geyser as quickly as possible. They'll give you valuable Storm Power for more units.
NetStorm may be the most creative and original real-time strategy game to come along in some time. It combines Tetris-like puzzle elements, real-time strategy, and even some role-playing elements into one nice little package.
Built specifically for multiplayer online warfare, NetStorm gives each player control of one of a handful of floating islands in the airborne world of Nimbus. Nimbus is ruled by the Furies, and if you please them, they will reward your priest (your leader) with knowledge of new units you can use in future battles. To please the furies, you must conquer your enemies' islands and sacrifice their priests on your altar.
When you begin playing NetStorm, all you have is your priest standing on an empty island. You must direct your priest to build a temple, workshop, and altar. Buildings and units in NetStorm come in four varieties: Sun, Rain, Wind, and Thunder. As you gain levels by winning battles, you can research new units in any of these areas. It's not a bad idea to specialize in one of the elements before attempting to master others.
In NetStorm, as in many other games of this genre, your success in gathering resources is directly correlated to your success in battle. Here, money takes the form of storm power, which can be harvested from floating geysers. There are a number of units you can use for harvesting, though some are more efficient than others. You can also earn storm power by destroying enemy units. In this way, aggression is rewarded and it doesn't pay to camp out and wait for the enemy to come to you. I really liked this feature. It means that even with eight players, a game will at most last an hour.
Another refreshing feature of NetStorm is its use of bridges as a main tactical element of the game. You build bridges in a Tetris -like fashion, using the various bridge pieces that appear in your sidebar. You take these pieces, which come in several shapes and sizes, and construct bridges to get to storm geysers, reach the enemy's island, or to make a wall defense around yours. When bridge pieces first appear, they are cracked (though they harden in a few seconds), so if you use them right away, they may collapse on you, costing you time and the potential loss of any units that were built on them. I found the puzzle aspect of bridge building to be a very innovative addition to this genre. Sometimes I even won a battle because of my superior bridge building techniques, though my opponent had more firepower and resources.
When it comes to battle, placement of units is everything. Almost all fighting units are stationary. So once you place them, that's where they'll stay. Add to this the fact that each unit has a certain firing range and direction, and you can see the tactical advantages to unit placement. For instance, the Sun Cannons have a powerful shot and a long range, but can only shoot north, east, south or west of themselves. If you place a weaker but omni-directional Sun Disk Thrower diagonally from a Sun Cannon, the disk thrower will win out.
NetStorm mostly plays like a real-time strategy game but also exhibits some role-playing elements. By winning battles and sacrificing enemy priests, your priest gains knowledge of more units that you can use in future battles. For instance, I really wanted knowledge of the balloon unit, because it is a much faster way to collect storm crystals than using ground units. In order to get the knowledge for use in future games, I had to sacrifice two enemy priests in the same game (one to upgrade my altar, one to gain knowledge of the balloon). Unlike all other current real-time strategy games, this means that there's a tangible reward (besides bragging rights) for winning battles.
Activision's free multiplayer NetStorm environment is top notch. They promise no lag, and except for a few minor instances, they hold true to their promise. Each game can be re-routed to another game server if problems arise (with just a momentary pause for reconnect, then the game picks up where it left off). This was great. I'm sure we've all experienced those moments when we invested over an hour in an online game only to be kicked off by the server at an inopportune moment. In NetStorm, even in the unlikely event of you being dropped, the computer will play your units and you can log back in and take command at any time!
The NetStorm online game environment has multiple levels, and it's very easy to set up a game with others of your skill level. Each time you sacrifice an enemy priest (and have consequently gained knowledge) your player level goes up. You typically wouldn't want to play with those of much higher level than yourself, because your units would be outmatched. The only suggestion I have for Activision is to make the reward greater for sacrificing priests from high level players. Otherwise, all players tend to attack the newbies first, because their defenses are weak, and a priest is a priest...
This is the one area where I wanted more from NetStorm. Although for the most part the graphics were pleasing and played into the fantasy aspect of the game, I found the overall graphic quality and variation to be sub-par for the real-time genre. But, in the overall picture, I can't say that this fact kept me from wanting to play NetStorm into the wee hours.
I live for the sound of priests screaming at the sacrificial altar. There's nothing like that crowning moment after a well-earned victory. The other sounds and music fit in nicely with the action, but that whole little ritual of sacrifice with my priest dancing around and paying tribute to the Furies as the pitiful captured priest pulls weakly at his chains is the ultimate in gaming bliss.
Required: Windows 95, Pentium 90 or better, 16 MB RAM, SoundBlaster or compatible sound card, 256 colors, 14.4 modem and Internet access for network play
Reviewed on: Pentium 2-266, 64 MB RAM, 16X CD-ROM drive, Diamond Stealth 2000 video card
If you are a fan of the real-time genre, buy NetStorm, especially if you are ready for something a little different. If you are not a fan of the genre, you might try the demo anyway. The refreshing puzzle aspects, tactical model, online gaming environment and overall personality of NetStorm make it stand out from the majority of this year's real-time strategy crop.
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