Hell's bells, are good games hard to review. It's just so much easier to be presented with a despicable piece of crap and then spend a page or two bellyaching about why it's nothing more than a pallid facsimile of existing titles and how the interface needs to be taken outside for a good kicking. Why spending 35$ on a yard broom and then ramming the handle up your old brown Windsor would be a more worthwhile use of your time. In the end you actually want every game to be abominable, just so you can look cool pulling them apart in the most witty and clever way possible.
But every now and then, a sparkling jewel crowns the pile of second rate awful games and cold mugs of tea on your desk. A game that is so obviously streets ahead of everything underneath, you cuss and spit at the inevitability of having to be nice.
Yes, you guessed right: Earth 2150 is one such game. Almost every aspect of it, from gollywhopper cut scenes through to influential new features and sweeping 3D landscapes, is brilliant, which means this review has been a bitch to write. Don't you dare skip bits.
You join the game in a pre-apocalyptic scenario with the Earth hurtling towards the Sun after a series of nuclear explosions knocked the planet out of orbit - the same sort of disaster that befell moon-base Alpha in Space: 1999. That the explosion was part of an assault made by Eurasians on enemy positions at the North Pole should tell you it was no accident - it was warfare on a truly global scale. To add to the problems, one other group based on the moon has been drawn into the conflict, riled that their home is being pulled to a fiery doom thanks to the activities of their next door neighbours.
So what we have are three distinct factions with different technologies raping the Earth of all its resources in order to construct a massive fleet of ships to flee to Mars. Typically for a species that enjoys games such as Soldier Of Fortune, nobody thought about doing this in an orderly or peaceful manner, and it's your job to join in the fracas as either the Eurasian Dynasty, United Civilized States or Lunar Corporation and kick some bottom.
The movie that plays when you fire up the game is like the opening scene from Terminator set in the angular world of Total Annihilation, with a few Battietech style Mechs shown thudding their way across the scenery for good measure. Of course you'll stab the ESC key along with the rest of us next time it gets in your way, but it's still rather stunning and worthy of praise.
Interface wise, Earth 2150 is a mix of Battlezone and Warzone 2100. The various base elements and vehicles are accessed through a hierarchical range of panels that are constantly updated to provide information on the currently selected unit - it'll even show you a list of units held within a group. Like Battlezone you can select and view information on anything you control, allowing you to keep track of your chaps without the need for constantly sweeping back and forth. Like Warzone 2010you can 'mix and match' chassis and weaponry, allowing you to construct a massive range of homebrew units.
One thing that does strike you - perhaps more so than any other RTS game to date - is the detail of the landscape and the hydraulic effortlessness with which it glides into view.
Normally, the word 'terrain' when applied to a polygonal 3D world means swathes of stretch-to-fit textures, with units and structures looking as though they're sitting on a vast patio of blurry paving slabs. Here, though, the ground no longer looks like a carpet of prefabricated tiles, and instead is dappled by tones and grains that sweep up to cliffs and plunge deep into vales. It also has a very rugged complexion wherever you pan, rotate or zoom the camera, making it a pleasure to build on. It kind of invites you to make it your home.
You can also deform whole areas, flatten roads, build trenches to hinder enemy attacks, and even tunnel down to build underground bases and launch ambushes from beneath the Earth's surface. We'll say that again: underground bases, complete with interconnecting passageways and caverns. It's a major new dimension. Additionally, water has been used as a genuine feature rather than as eye candy and, like tunnelling, it can add to your strategy if you know how to use it.
But that's not all. Earth 2150 also implements day, night and weather effects that have a profound effect on how you play. Much of your base, as well as its supply vehicles and military hardware, is equipped with lights which cast an eerie glow over the landscape after dark - the taller structures looking like Manhattan office blocks at twilight. When you realise you can turn the lights off on individual units, shrouding your base in shadow and hiding friendly troops from enemy scouts, you find yourself getting sucked deeper and deeper into the game. The consortium of German and Polish developers have also redesigned many aspects of realtime strategy that, in the past, has been the cause of needless aggravation. For example, when building defensive walls, you now simply specify the start point and the end point - the raggedy bits in between are laid out and constructed for you. Simple, yes, but a massive time-saver.
Also, when new units become available, rather than overlaying a panel displaying what they are, the play area is actually resized to accommodate it. This means opening up menu boards or scrolling your way through build options won't blot out half your view area. You can even record macro commands - essentially a sequence of stacked build orders - that can be played and replayed any time you specify. Class.
A game like Earth 2150, which has a long list of Internet play options and a built-in editor, deserves to do well both on and offline. One of the positive aspects of writing about a great game is that it's possible to influence its success: if all goes well, other developers will be forced into rethinking their code and will have to start using innovation and forward thinking instead of churning out ancient gameplay elements that are there tor historical reasons only. For example, why does every unit have infinite ammunition? Why can't you have multiple windows? Earth 2150 answers these and many other questions, and in ways that don't affect the game's accessibility one iota. If publishers like Westwood follow suit, real-time strategy fans are in for an exhilarating ride, one that starts right here.
Download Earth 2150
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode