Total Annihilation

a game by Cavedog Entertainment
Platform: PC
Genre: Strategy/War
Editor Rating: 8/10, based on 3 reviews
User Rating: 9.0/10 - 2 votes
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Before groaning "not another real-time strategy game," take a good look at Total Annihilation. Granted, it's another title in the C&C genre, but Total Annihilation has features and graphics that could push it to the head of the class.

Excellent Details

Annihilation sports fantastic graphics, especially the incredibly detailed attack units. One unit, a walking mech, actually pulls out its rifle and obliterates targets. The explosions feature flying debris and colorful blasts. The various 3D battle environments are depicted with equal detail, from the green trees in forest areas to the plateaus and rocks in barren deserts.

Real physics also apply to Total Annihilation. For example, if you set a tree ablaze, the wind can create a forest fire, while vehicles will slow down when going up a hill or speed up when going down.

The action is point-and-click, and the objective is simple: Obliterate your opponent. Other tactics, however, include salvaging opponents' wrecked vehicles to collect valuable resources and combining land and sea forces. For example, you can drop a tank on a battle cruiser for added firepower.

Annihilate the Competition

Although it's far from finished, Total Annihilation looks like a hot title. This is one real-time strategy game that has the potential to total the rest of the field.

Download Total Annihilation

Game Reviews

The latest in a long line of real-time strategy games, Total Annihilation may use the tried-and-true Command & Conquer game engine, but so far it doesn't come off as a run-of-the-mill clone. The controls in the pre-alpha version are very responsive. It's easy to move various units around, and the actions menu is easily accessible. Only 5 of the 50 terrains are available at this stage, but they're challenging, with hills to climb and trees to clear. The game still has several features to be implemented before it ships, but so far, so good. This title could annihilate the competition.

Overview

Since Command and Conquer rocked our hard drives with the benchmark for real-time strategy gaming, many others have followed with their "new and improved" stabs at this lucrative market. Wading through the sea of C&C clones for the past two years has been frustrating, to say the least, because none (in my opinion) have come close to the plot immersion and detail that C&C created. Until now -- Cavedog's Total Annihilation is the first real-time war game that captured my undivided attention since the original C&C hit the shelves.

The Total Annihilation storyline revolves around the ancient conflict between the Arm and the Core. Of course they hate each other and would do anything to eliminate the other from the galaxy. Your army will be made up of Kbots, tanks, planes, and ships, all mechanical (no human units here), adding to the futuristic feel of the game. The first thing you will notice are the incredible graphics and animations of the units; then you will be awe-stricken by the realistic terrain complete with hills, valleys, rivers, and realistic ground cover; finally you will feel overwhelmed at the number and diversity of unit types at your disposal. Needless to say, I rushed home the minute I got my hands on the CD and fired it up on my new Pentium II 266 ... I was not disappointed.

Gameplay

The controls and overhead view of Total Annihilation are standard for real-time games. You will have no problem figuring out how to move your units, group them, etc. There are a lot more things you can do in Total Annihilation than in other games of this type, so there is a slight learning curve you will have to go through to be the most effective. In Total Annihilation, the most important and powerful unit you have is the Commander; you don't want to lose him. Fortunately, he is not a building that is defenseless and stationary -- he is mobile, he can cloak (at a price) and he has one seriously bad weapon that can destroy most units with a single shot. Even if surrounded by enemy units, the commander won't fold and go down easily; he is also easy to hide and protect for those who are a little extra paranoid. Don't get me wrong -- you still have to watch your commander every now and then to be sure he's alive and kicking, but since he is no pushover you can think about that air raid you are conducting and not worry about a couple of engineers taking over your primary unit and thus ending your game.

The resource system is divided in two parts, metal and energy, both of which are critical to your success. It is much easier to get energy than metal, so I found that the game revolves around who can control the largest supply of metal. To get energy you simply need to construct a few solar generators or windmills in the center of your defenses, and presto, instant energy. For metal, you must plop a metal extractor on top of a metal mine which is usually not right in the middle of your base. Yes, you will have to venture out and plan your offense to include securing as many metal mines as possible. The player with the most metal mines will usually win because they can out-produce their opponents since every unit built requires metal. Another way of getting metal is to salvage it from battle wreckage, but I found that this is somewhat time-consuming for little result, so unless the reusable metal was close to or in my base it was not worth getting.

You will notice a multitude of units at your disposal, ranging from ground units to air and sea assault forces. I had plenty of fun optimizing my forces with the right mix of units to get the job done most effectively. With a mobile commander and construction units, it was easy to build outposts or expand my base to occupy more and more of the map. One of the best elements of the game is the ability to program your units. You can automate their actions and attitudes in relation to battle situations as well as set patrol routes, etc. The controls are quite intuitive and Cavedog deserves praise for the job they did in this area.

Finally, Cavedog promises the ability to download new units from their website on a weekly basis. This should keep the game fresh and interesting. Better check often unless you want your best friend to walk all over you with the new whup-ass tank that just came out.

Graphics

In 100 words or less -- outstanding. This game truly rocks in the graphics department. The system requirements may be a little steep, but on my Pentium II I ran the game in 1024 X 768 and never experienced a slowdown! For those with lower-end systems, never fear; you can change the resolution to fit just about every situation. Every unit is rendered in 3D for a very realistic feel, and the terrain varies from flat to mountainous, with deserts, oceans, rivers, lakes, lava pits, and other planetary schemes as well. It is rare to get such high marks in graphics from me, but Total Annihilation deserves every bit of it. Plus the level of the terrain actually affects your units' ability to move and their line-of-sight to targets, adding a couple of new dimensions to the real-time strategy game.

Audio

Total Annihilation has excellent sound effects, very crisp and distinguished. In the middle of a large battle I could hear the different weapons firing and the individual explosions wreaking havoc on the battlefield. The soundtrack was good as well, just not my style. I like some serious rock and roll to go along with all the destruction, and sometimes the musical score was a little less punctuated, even classical. That is a personal gripe, though; overall the quality of the sound effects and music were again outstanding.

Multiplayer

Multiplayer is supported in a variety of ways and through a number of different online services, including DWANGO, M-Player, HEAT, and KALI, and this is where the game really shines for me. The balance of the two sides is good and you can get into some extremely heated battles with exciting finishes. Last night a friend and I played for over two hours, each building up formidable defenses and then conducting raids and bombing runs on each other's outposts. This is certainly a game that favors defense, though -- once you are fortified, woe be to the guy who marches his mechs into the teeth of your laser and missile batteries. I say it favors defense, but there is one offensive weapon that can undo all that in a hurry -- the nuclear missiles. Unlike the "barely scratched me" effect of the nukes in the C&C universe, in Total Annihilation one nuclear bomb really does ruin your day. And your base. And your commander. Once my opponent got nukes, it was all over in a matter of minutes; the first strike completely wiped out my main base -- everything on the screen was vaporized, and from there I had no way of getting back the resources I needed to retaliate. Nonetheless, despite that one tactical oversight in terms of balance, I still highly recommend this game for multiplayer fans -- it adds many new twists to the genre and forces an entirely different type of thinking about your strategies.

Editor's Note: We have received several emails from readers who say "yes, but what about the anti-missile batteries? You can defend yourself against nukes with those." True, but should there ever be a single weapon in a game that can end a 2-hour battle with a single blow? Because resources are so easy to come by in Total Annihilation_, it seems that an epic game should not boil down to a race to build a nuke before your enemy builds an anti-missile defense. It's out of balance with the power of the rest of the units in the game; thus the note to that effect above._

System Requirements

Minimum: Win95 or DOS; 16 MB RAM (8 for DOS); SVGA 256 colors; 4X CD-ROM drive; SoundBlaster or compatible sound card.
Premium: Pentium 100 or higher; 16 MB RAM; Win 95, 28.8 modem, etc.
Warning: The box is more than a tad bit misleading about real-life system requirements. Here is the REAL optimum configuration: Win 95, 32 MB RAM, 6X CD-ROM drive, SVGA 256 colors, SoundBlaster, 28.8 modem. In DOS you can get by with 16MB RAM. In multiplayer you MUST have 32 MB RAM or it simply will not run.
Reviewed On: Pentium 133, 16 MB RAM, SVGA 256 colors, 6X CD-ROM drive, SoundBlaster compatible sound card, 28.8 modem, Trio 64 S3 video board with 1MB RAM

Bottom Line

From reading the above you might expect me to give this game a very high score, and you are right; it won't be shabby. However, I don't believe Total Annihilation to be a classic like C&C, and to understand why you need to play the single-player game all the way through. Total Annihilation lacks one critical element that would have put it on my all-time list, and that involves immersion. In other words, the storyline and between-mission cinematics (which were somewhat lacking) did not suck me in as C&C did. I felt that Total Annihilation was incomplete in some sense, that if it could be placed within the shell of C&C it would truly shine, never to be dethroned. As it stands now, Total Annihilation is still a heck of a game which will keep any fan of this genre occupied for months to come. I give it a score of 88; now back to the battle!

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