I'm A Little Confused. On The One hand I've got a press release that tells me all about interstellar exploration and trips to Alpha Centauri to further man's colonisation of the stars, and on the other I've got a storyline document telling me that all the action in Gametek's Command & Conquer-style resource management game, Dark Colony, takes place on Mars. Of course, I shouldn't be surprised. One of the things I've come to learn as a computer games journalist is that marketing-produced press releases usually bear little or no congruity with the finalised game. Better, I think, to go straight to the horse's mouth, this particular filly being Gametek's own programming team.
"Dark Colony is a futuristic real-time strategy game based on a war between a Grey alien race and human colonists over the planet Mars," they tell me. "You must choose between the Greys' superior genetic technology or the humans' advanced robotics and cybernetics. To claim total victory you must exploit Mars' hidden resources and unlock the dark secrets of its ancient alien race."
In case you're wondering, the word Grey has a capital 'G' because it's now the 'official' name for those long-fingered, large-eyed, stretchy-faced alien beings that have started showing up in every piece of paranoid US television show. They're also the aliens that you face (or control, depending on personal preferences) in Dark Colony.
In fact, while playing the current version of the game, images of Tim Burton's insanely brilliant Mors Attacks! kept springing to mind. The aliens have just the right level of psychotic malevolence about them, as well as sporting a wonderful array of strange organic weaponry.
"One of the main intentions of the game was to provide a graphic punch to the battles," explain the team, "to immerse the player in a far more intense atmosphere than those of other games. We feel confident that Dark Colony's look and feel currently surpasses our competition."
Of course, the competition (namely C&C relied on more than just looking and feeling good. At the core of every strategy game of this ilk is the Al system; Gametek are confident that while their engine doesn't exactly simulate the highest levels of human brain patterns, it's more than capable of putting up a decent challenge while still offering a few nice bonuses.
"It isn't possible to cover everything using our present game mechanics. For example, if you attempted a surprise attack your units would probably be decimated as they turned back to retreat - but it is good enough to mount effective attacks, know when to fight or retreat and do its best to circumvent your forces to obtain its objectives though. Objectives are constantly updated through continual scouting of your troops' positions and so on.
"As well as that, the game features several innovations, including line of sight firing, terrain types in which you can hide units, commanders that affect how well your troops fight and who gain ability and experience from mission to mission. Dynamic resource allocation provide a non-static battlefield, and day and night effects which change each side's abilities on the fly."
In some respects, Dork Colony is similar to El DOS' forthcoming Conquest Earth, although it's fair to say that Gametek's effort has a lighter, more humorous feel to it, in the same way that Mors Attacks! is a lighter version of Independence Day. And we all know which of those two films is better, don't we?
The C&C clones keep coming and what this sci-fi effort offers - by way of compensation for its disregard for originality - is some of the most detailed graphics in a strategy game.
Humans and Grays slug it out for control of Mars' greatest resource, Petra-7, which enables the construction of buildings and fighting units. Erecting buildings is a simple straight forward modular affair, which really has little bearing on the action except to allow construction of new units. Unfortunately, as there are only a few that become available throughout the game, there's a painful lack of variety.
The human hardware looks, well human, while the alien side sports more Giger-esque style machinery. The dissimilarity ends here though, because both sides have units that do exactly the same thing and the differences in performance are only affected by whether it's night or day.
As for the Al, it's noticeably better than other games of this ilk. Units will usually get stuck in and divide themselves up evenly when attacking in force, and fortunately they don't wander off in strange directions when you send them round the battlefield. One infuriating omission though, is the inability to assign keys to teams -which means that you end up moving your army as one disorganised rabble.
While the missions are well put together, they offer nothing over and above what's currently available elsewhere. Furthermore, the differences between the two sides are mainly cosmetic, so there seems to be little difference between the two campaigns. The animation could have been enhanced further for some units and, as the scale leans more towards games like Warcraft2, the highly stylised graphics could be lost on some people. The sound is atmospheric and multiplayer options are fairly standard (stopping short of Internet support), but the whole package has too many bog/sub standard features to race ahead of a crowded pack.
Download Dark Colony
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode