Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3
Dominion Is The First game from John Romero's upstart megabucks development penthouse Ion Storm. Surprisingly, it's not a 3D shooter. Nor does it sport giblets, cartilage, or huge geysers of bubbling body parts sprayed from floor to ceiling. It's a real-time strategy thing not a gadzillion miles away from C&C, WarCraft, Age Of Empires or any other of the 20 or so ore-war-and-tanks games in the genre.
Dominion is being produced by a guy called Todd Porter, one of the heavyweight game designers who live under the Ion Storm umbrella. He was working on the game at Texas-based 7th Level before he joined Romero's side. In between slaving on his chief title, Doppleganger, Porter found time to snaffle up Dominion and its team and bring it to Ion to get it finished.
"It didn't look too good when we got it," he says. "The install program crashed my machine." But in the five months since they nabbed it, Ion Stormers have been hard at work cannibalising the code, redesigning the interface, redoing the graphics, jigging this, honing that, tweaking the other. And the result of all that is a fairly voluptuous, very accessible well-implemented slice of entertainment.
The plot is the usual kind of Dune-esque sci-fi nonsense. The planet Gift3 is said to be the resting place of a powerful ancient artefact - the Gift3 Messiah. It has tremendous power, and anyone who owns it can snuff out planets with just a sneeze. Naturally, at the news of the technological terror, three other races plus the master race (Man) zipped quickly over to the Gift system to claim the object. And like a bunch of drunken sailors bumping into a group of pissed-up firemen who had just nearly fallen over a team of rowdy ranchers chasing a band of lagered-up postmen, a huge and lengthy battle ensued. The aim: control of the planet and thus the artefact.
You can choose to play as any of the four races in this titanic struggle, be it Human, Darken, Mercs or Scorps. Each has its own distinctive look, feel, taste, smell, strengths and weaknesses. The Mercs, for example, are big on firepower and have a tendency to play their technological joker - the Widowmaker, a vehicle which can remote-control opponents' tanks and pilot them against their own forces. But they may have a problem if they attempt the tactic on the Darken, an ancient species renowned for their heavy fortifications. The Scorps are no push-over either, being rather ruthless, predatory and hive-mental. Then, at the bottom of the food chain, there are the Humans, relying on their guile, average technology and big, shouty commanders.
The ability to pick and choose your race and grapple with the different weaponry of each is one of the big sells for Dominion. It builds an element of surprise and fear into your battles - you never know quite what's going to come marching at you from the edges of the map. The other big gimmick is the fast, get-in-there interface and the pleasantly effortless ease of use.
It's got the look
From low-powered C&C munchkins to those scary chrome-domed Professors Of Strategy you bump into on the Internet, Dominion is easy to play. There's not much complex resource management, you simply park a refinery over one of the planet's energy wells and your cash starts pouring in; as you build more and more tanks, towers and troops, your factories and installations can be upgraded; bridges can be created to span gorges; and faraway energy wells can be colonised and then linked to your main base via power umbilicals.
Graphically, the game looks detailed and pretty. The various settings - Arctic wastelands, grassy tundra, deserts and generic temperate zones - are nicely drawn in the C&C isometric mould. Each tiny soldier or huge, walking robot has a quillion frames of animations, making each hugely pyrotechnic battle scenes fizz around your monitor.
Technologically, the game has some substantially improved code over its companions in the genre. Screen resolution goes up 1280x1024 for poshos with 19-inch monitors to play their proletariat 14-inchers at 640x480 (although that's not much of an advantage considering that it also promises a 30 frames per second smoothness at all sizes). The Al is also being touted as special.
"We can track over 2000 units on any map," says Porter. "All of them moving. And then your enemies will work with their limitations. If they don't have the firepower to take out your base, they'll destroy your power lines or find another weak spot."
The game CD comes packed with luscious-looking cutscenes - 90 minutes of the damn things, showcasing Ion Storm's substantial art talent. John Romero has been producing the music (expect heavy, expect guitars). The plural-player networking option supports eight-player deathmatch or - for the hand-holding, doubles badminton players among us - the much maligned 'co-operative' mode. Both IPX and Internet TCP/IP are supported, as are direct modem and cable connections. It's not a world-breaking concept. It doesn't use world-breaking technology or some wazzy new experimental interface. Dominion is a simple genre game with some neat visuals and clever enhancements. And if you like this kind of game then that's exactly what you want to hear. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Download Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode