How long have we all been waiting around for a strategy game to offer something different for a change? Y'know, one where you actually spend most of your time fighting, rather then starting off with an invasion force consisting of three soldiers, a rocket-powered pushbike and a transit van that miraculously transforms into an impregnable fortress. If you're tired of building the same old buildings that chum out the same old units, Ground Control seems as though it could be worth the wait.
Previously known as Genesis: Aperian 7, Ground Control is the first game from Swedish (and probably very blond) outfit Massive Entertainment. It is, obviously, one of those new-fangled 3D real-time strategy games, and there is no -absolutely no - resource gathering or base building involved. Novel as it may sound, before each of the 30 missions you choose what units you want to take with you. Choose the wrong ones (three soldiers and a pushbike, say) and you're toast. Infantry, tanks, hoverbikes and planes make up most of what's on offer, all of which can be equipped with different weaponry, formed into squads and given formation orders - artillery at the rear and so on. Once your troops are ready to rumble and the map of the battlefield committed to memory, they are dispensed from their orbital stations to the planet below.
Because this is a squad-level game, individual units cannot be controlled directly. Rather like the criminally overlooked Warhammer: Dark Omen, you instead move whole squads in whatever formation they currently occupy. Higher ground obviously gives you greater advantage in battle, allowing you to bombard the enemy from further away, or if you're feeling sneaky you could take the low ground and keep to the shadows, making your units harder to detect. Formations too will play an important role, especially as most units will have stronger forward armour and therefore the capacity to soak up more hits. Get yourself caught in a crossfire or outflanked by faster moving units and you could find yourself in a spot of trouble. If your units do make it through the mission, experience points will be lavished upon them, RPG style.
Of course, Ground Control will live or die depending on the computer intelligence and your units' ability to move in roughly the direction you want them to. But with the features outlined above, a 'gripping storyline' (that isn't) and multiplayer modes 'new to the genre', Massive Entertainment may find themselves on the frontline of a genre that's currently in fighting retreat. Let's hope they can turn things around.
What's going on here then? This can't be right. Have those devious PR chimps been drugging our water again, or is this the third superb RTS game in as many months? Forgive the cynicism, but generally speaking this sort of thing doesn't happen round here. First Shogun: Total War, then Earth 2150 and now this?
Yes, Ground Control is an absolute stonker of a game from debut developer Massive Entertainment. Hailing from Ronneby, Sweden, they've spent the last three years creating what has turned out to be a hybrid of Force Commander, Earth 2150 and Homeworld. More significantly GC is a major leap towards ensuring that playing RTS games is as easy as scoring in a brothel.
So, what's the story? Basically, Ground Control is a straight race between two warring political parties, the Crayven Corporation (the player) and the Order Of The New Dawn (the bad guys), to colonise an alien world. Both sides rely on giant motherships orbiting the planet to send troops to the planet's surface and to claim new territory -oh, and find alien artefacts of mass destruction.
Cut The Crap
To put it bluntly, GC gets straight to the point by washing its hands of the whole resource management thing. In other words, you never have to build a base, thus you don't have to go through the motions of collecting enough raw materials to manufacture units, and thus you don't have to fall asleep, or browse pornography on the Internet while your production line troops are laboriously 'bom'.
GC simply pops your readymade army onto the battlefield using a dropship (or three) and away you go. It's a simple concept. Some argue that it's just a bit too simple, but let's get one thing straight: the strategy element does not suffer. GCs level designers have proved that by adding enough twists to the plot and concentrating on creative scenarios, RTS isn't solely about building ttie biggest base or producing the most troops before the enemy attacks.
Anyway, just because you don't build bases yourself, it doesn't mean they don't exist. They play their part in the slowly unfolding plot, as do many other strategic locations throughout the 30 or so levels. Your job is to kill people - not build poxy houses. That's left for the builders - and so it should be.
So, what can we expect from the missions? Well, on one mission your team is dropped into the surrounding foothills of an enemy stronghold and ordered to attack the east defences while your computer-controlled co-commander and his squad assault the west side. This co-ordinated push must be timed accurately or its curtains for both teams.
On another mission you're required to protect your own base. Two dropships speed your troops to the planet surface where you must find strategic locations outside the city to dig in and fend off the approaching Dawnies.
Other forays ask you to protect scientific convoys, some ask you to simply patrol an area and sometimes you have to rescue defectors. Rest assured there is plenty of variety - you won't be bored.
Ground Control To Major Tom
One of the most significant gameplay aspects of GC is the way you're encouraged to recognise the value of each individual unit. Whether it's infantry, light tanks, battle tanks, artillery, aerodynes (airborne attack units), or any of the other numerous units featured in the game, your primary concern is to have as many of them survive as possible. The reason? Because in true Cannon Fodder style each unit gains experience for the amount of Dawnies killed and the manner in which those kills were achieved.
If your infantry charges ahead of the main pack and wipes out an entire enemy force single-handedly, they're awarded a medal for field excellence and classed as aggressive. Alternatively, you could have a tank platoon that sticks to the main core of your force and protects them like a mother would its children. The same amount of kills can be achieved this way, yet the unit is classed as defensive or balanced.
On top of all this, units also get promoted. Ultimately your strategy in the latter part of the game involves running around like a nutter protecting your experienced campaigners, because if you reach the final showdown with a bunch of rookies you don't stand a chance. Of course, none of the above would have worked if the AI and interface weren't so damn good. Each unit has three attack modes: free, return and hold. You can also set the movement mode to offensive, defensive or hold position, and finally you can have the formation as line, box or column. Whichever combination you choose, units perform exactly what they're told. GC doesn't throw hundreds of icons at you either like other RTS games; in fact, you won't find a single confusing icon. The interface is so straightforward you can perform virtually every command with the right mouse button alone. It's simplicity personified and it makes the whole thing a joy to control.
Location Location Location
Hiding in shadows beneath mountains, lurking in long grass and ambushing in narrow valleys are tactics that reward the wily player over and over again. Shrewdness is a massive part of the game and the sooner you grasp that the better. The addition of computer-controlled friendly forces also means you can experiment with a whole range of diversionary and flanking tactics. It's worth trying this at every available opportunity too, because like the tutorial says, armour is strongest at the front, so going for the sides or the rear can lessen your casualties and shorten conflicts.
While computer opponents are slow to catch on to these tactics (although not necessarily on the hardest of GCs four difficulty settings) human opponents are an entirely different story.
The multiplayer options for GC are varied and utterly engrossing. Interestingly, yet completely in line with the game's general philosophy, LAN and Internet skirmishes focus more on the action side of things rather than waiting to build up your troops for one massive assault. Capture The Flag and deathmatch scenarios make up the majority of the remote play, but whether you choose to fight alone or as part of a team is completely up to you.
I See You
So far there hasn't been one mention of the graphics. Why? Because as you can see for yourselves, they defy belief. The latest batch of 3dfx cards are devastating weapons in the hands of the right coders, and GC is solid proof of that. The view distances are incredible: landscapes seem to stretch for miles with textures and intricate bump-mapping laid down to perfection. The explosions cause you to shield your eyes, and when all is calm the shadows from clouds and mountains sweep over the landscape in majestic silence.
The dust clouds and track marks churned up by your forces may be a gimmick, but as we all know it's the little touches that pay massive dividends. The only negative aspect in this respect is the lack of weather. Earth 2150 - that prize is yours.
Then there are the camera angles. You can zoom in and out, rotate left and right, look up and down and generally experience total freedom to go wherever you want on the map - you can even assign the camera to follow specific units. What you can't do is split the screen up and have separate windows. Again this is where Earth 2150 nudges ahead in the innovation stakes. This may be a small gripe, but you can't help thinking that multiple windows is set to become a mainstay RTS feature.
In And Out
Unfortunately, and Inevitably, the absence of resource management will put off many hardcore RTS fans. If you feel you fall into that category Shogun or Earth 2150 will be more your cup of tea. On the other hand, if all that resource lark bores the arse off you, this game has your name written all over it in 150ft high neon letters. Ground Control goes straight for the jugular - in, out and no messing about. Buy it - you won't regret it.
The Crayven Missions
Crayven Mission 1
The objective here is to destroy the enemy communications relay. Head northwest keeping to the high ground to eliminate light enemy resistance. Once at the enemy base, concentrate your firepower on the communications relay before withdrawing to the safety of the pick-up point.
Crayven Mission 2
You're tasked with assisting the defection of an enemy agent. Head north where you'll find that he has already been ambushed. Use both squads of marines to set up a safe perimeter and send your APC to render first aid. Although the enemy agent dies, he does hand over information vital for future success.
Crayven Mission 3
Tasked with destroying an enemy generator, skirt around their base and attack the power station hidden in the valley. If you're successful within the strict time limit, then reinforcements will arrive - and with the gun turrets deactivated, it's simply a case of destroying all the buildings to ensure victory.
Crayven Mission 4
A simple mission to defend a research base turns sour when you suffer two attacks from the east, the second onslaught being reinforced by Light Hoverdynes. Use the shadows and hillsides as cover and overwhelm the enemy by making use of mortar attacks and uranium rounds. Head north using infantry rockets to pick off the Crusaders and then go south disembarking your marines to attack the enemy Howitzer.
Crayven Mission 5
This is a hit-and-run mission -the target being an enemy convoy. Send a squad of Light Terradynes west to anticipate the ambushes that follow. Meanwhile, send your main force northwest, where you'll receive a message that the enemy convoy has changed course. They'll be heading your way, so it's just a case of lying in wait to pick off the accompanying Hoverdynes before destroying the trucks.
Crayven Mission 6
Load up your vehicles with marines and head north. Divide your foot soldiers into two groups to defend both points of attack using the hillsides as cover. Gather all your troops and head northeast, climbing a slope on the approach to the enemy base. Spread your troops thinly - with the APC to the rear - and advance very slowly, picking off the enemy. Eventually you'll push through to the Command Centre, the destruction of which completes the mission. G Split your troops to fend off the two-pronged attack.
Crayven Mission 7
Tasked with destroying a fallen satellite, your first objective is the defence of your base. That achieved, you'll need to head southeast to rescue Sergeant Cole. Return him to your base to reveal the location of the fallen satellite. Trek to it using the rough terrain to protect your troops from ambushes. Once the satellite is found, have your Jaegars attack it with their special weapons.
Crayven Mission 8
Your base is under attack from overwhelming forces. Divide your troops into three contingents and fend off the three-pronged attack. Eventually reinforcements will arrive, allowing you to evacuate four medical trucks. Head north, dodging the sporadic Attack Aerodynes - use your sentry guns and Light Terradynes to hold them off. Just before you reach the extraction point, send in some marines to wipe out the enemy ambush before escorting the medical trucks to freedom.
Crayven Mission 9
This mission involves a few skirmishes with the enemy prior to an attack on their outpost. Heading west, scout ahead using high ground to give the best vantage point, then use artillery to cause devastation before moving ground troops in to mop up. Reaching the outpost, stop short and use your artillery to take out the main Pulse Turrets - failing that, target the power stations to cut the power. Keep shelling the base and eventually a pick-up point will become apparent.
Crayven Mission 10
There are three anti-aircraft bases to destroy. Reccy the area surrounding each gun finding suitable high ground. Use your artillery to destroy the anti-aircraft batteries before swarming in to take out supporting troops. Should the enemy send in Hoverdynes use your artillery on them too and take out the Templars before they get too close. With all three guns destroyed, the enemy base will become apparent. Using all your forces and special weapons, head to the base, taking out the Templars on the way. Stop off east of the main base using your Jaegars to destroy the power stations - this will cut power to the enemy base. Once inside the enemy base destroy the Command Centre and the Cathedrals around it to complete the mission.
Crayven Mission 11
Acting as a military escort to a bunch of scientists, your first task is to head east to protect them while they examine a Xenofact site. On route you should lead with your main Battle Terradynes and scout with Jaegers. Halfway to your destination you'll need to use your artillery to bombard the enemy Hoverdynes and finish off any stragglers with your Battle Terradynes. At some point, the enemy units may get reinforcements (Crusader Infantry), in which case your marines can be called into action. At the Xenofact form a defensive perimeter with your Battle Terradynes facing west. Once the boffins have done their work, you'll discover a new pick-up point. Head that way, picking off the enemy as you go. At the evacuation point, you need to survive for five minutes while awaiting rescue.
Crayven Mission 12
The task here is to take out the base, while allowing your scientists to examine another Xenofact. To achieve this, move all your forces to the northwest. Send some infantry up the passage to the northeast to act as a lure for the enemy units. Withdraw your troops and use an artillery barrage and marine weapons to hammer the enemy units. Advance until the enemy's static units become apparent and then spread out to map the base. Take out the numerous pillboxes and the missile launchers and send some troops to meet your engineers. You'll then receive instructions to clear a passage west, and can do so using all your heavy weapons and artillery. Send the engineers through, guarding them with your APC and then set off in convoy keeping your Terradynes up front.
Crayven Mission 13
This is a straightforward mission with two objectives. Tasked with destroying some radar jamming facilities, you also get the chance to take out the enemy headquarters. Initially, send all your units north using your Jaegars to take out the Howitzer, and shell with your artillery to mop up any support troops. Once the base is in view, bombard it with your artillery to destroy the defensive turrets. Keep shelling and then send in Battle Terradynes to destroy the central turbine and biohazard tank. Finish off the jamming facility and clean out the base to complete the mission.
Crayven Mbsaon 14
This is a 'seek and destroy' mission with numerous diverse targets. Stealth and speed are essentially the keys to success. Although the targets are unrelated and scattered throughout the map, the same general strategy applies for all of them: use marine troops to scout ahead and, once a target has been identified, take it out with your artillery and then move in with heavy guns and bombers to clean up. There's a secret base northeast of your final designated target but, other than that, it's fairly straightforward.
Crayven Mission 15
Don't even bother trying to be subtle - this is all-out war. Using all the weaponry and tactics honed in the previous missions, it's time to take the enemy out head-on. Go north and use all your weaponry on the troops guarding the outpost. Destroy this sub-base and continue north avoiding the minefield. Put all your heavy weaponry to the fore and use your rockets and artillery to pound the enemy defences. Finally, when the defences are down, move in to take out the Cathedrals and the Command Centre to ensure a well-earned victory.
The Order Of The New Dawn Campaigns
New Order Mission 1
This mission is a straightforward game of cat and mouse with the destruction of enemy trucks being your primary goal. Drop your troops at the northern most point and head east. Engage the lightly armed Crayven troops. Leave a small contingent of marines to act as cannon fodder and send the rest northeast to the base at the centre of the map. There you will find the Crayven base largely deserted. Destroy the buildings and scout the perimeter to reveal the randomly located enemy trucks that have to be destroyed to complete the mission.
New Order Mission 2
Three anti-aircraft sites need to be destroyed before enemy reinforcements arrive. The key to success is speed because you don't have the troops or the artillery to win a firefight. From the drop-zone, head south and take out the first base. That achieved, you have to charge southeast to the second base before heading northwest to take out the third. It's pointless engaging enemy troops encountered on the way - if you arrive at the bases and they've been reinforced the situation quickly becomes impossible.
New Order Mission 3
One of your bases is about to fall into enemy hands and vital intelligence is about to be lost. Your mission involves retrieving a data crystal from the base. From your drop-zone, head southeast to the bottom of the map and then west to approach the base. This isn't the quickest route, but it allows you to avoid most of the enemy troops and a minefield, too. Once inside the base, take your APC to the southern most comer to retrieve the crystal, and then evacuate before the Crayven reinforcements arrive.
New Order Mission 4
This mission requires you to protect engineers as they break into an enemy base. Initially, head northeast to meet the engineers, and then continue on in the same direction to take out two Battle Terradynes. Destroy them using your Electro Daggers and then the research facility will be revealed over the ridge. Storm the base and destroy Crusaders to take out the enemy marines and use the speed and manoeuvrability of your hover bikes to destroy the defensive Battle Terradynes. Escort the engineers to the research facility and defend them while they break in and steal equipment. To complete the mission, head west at speed in order to avoid reinforcements.
New Order Mission 5
This campaign requires you to follow your fellow Commander, Magnus, around the map as he wipes out enemy resistance before attacking the Crayven base. Simply follow Magnus' troops as he draws the enemy's fire. Stick to the high ground and offer supporting fire. Once the opposition has been eliminated, follow Magnus to the Crayven base and take a hillside position overlooking the base. Destroy the power station inside and ensure victory by sending in ground troops as reinforcements.
New Order Mission 6
Split your troops into two groups, sending the first group southeast to a repair base where two Heavy Terradynes await repair. A convoy of engineers that need escorting to the base will join the remainder of your army and will meet up with your second contingent at the repair base. Freshly equipped, you can either launch a direct assault on the enemy base to the northwest or head directly west to take out the power generators fuelling the automated defence systems. Your newly acquired Heavy Terradynes will be able to take out the Light Terradynes and marine forces that attempt to thwart your progress and, once inside the base, you should use them to destroy the control tower to complete the mission.
New Order Mission 7
Tasked with recovering a medical truck from a Crayven base there's several ways to go about it The most effective and fun of these is a full-frontal assault by all your forces on the base. Charge in and gain control of the medical truck and then retreat, leaving it behind. The massed ranks of the Crayven troops will follow you, throwing everything they've got at you. It's a straight fight, so make good use of your special weapons and split your troops to set ambushes. With the Crayvens defeated, the medical truck can then make its own way to the pick-up point unmolested.
New Order Mission 8
This is a very straightforward mission with the multiple objectives of destroying a supply depot to the southwest and mining facilities and fuel tanks to the south. Thankfully, the supply depot is only lightly guarded and you only need your Templars to complete the other objectives. The only complication is that you are also required to destroy all the enemy trucks. Patience is required in finding them and there's some target practice to be had taking them out.
New Order Mission 9
A massive Crayven base is your primary target and you'll need to take a circuitous route to ensure success. The perimeter of the base is protected by Jaegars perched on the hilltops, but Hoverbikes are effective against them. It's essential to gain control of the ledge overlooking the base to secure a good vantage point from which to destroy the Rocket Terradynes, G-lob Artillery and Artillery Terradynes. And with these targets destroyed, taking out the power station in the northeast corner of the base will drop the enemy defences for two minutes, giving you enough time to shell the buildings with your Heavy Artillery.
New Order Mission 10
The intelligence for this mission indicates that you need to hold and control four key bridges - you don't. Simply move your troops to the bridge situated at the northeast of the map and wait to ambush the Crayven troops. Use your artillery to decimate the advancing forces and finish them off with the might of your Heavy Hoverdynes.
The End Of The War
The final five missions are a test of everything you have already learnt, although, there are still a few surprises along the way, so we won't walk you through them and spoil the fun. Suffice to say that if you've managed to get this far, then a methodical and strategic approach should see you through. Be sure to scout ahead and pay particular attention to the mission briefings - they rarefy lead you astray. It's very uniikely you'll complete any of these missions first time round, so a better tactic is to practice each sub-mission In Isolation before linking them successfully to complete the missions and win the war.
The world of Ground Control is - surprise, surprise - based in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear war and sees you taking control of various Crayven forces on the disputed colony of Krig-7b. Your opposition are troops of the Order of the New Dawn (OND), and a thoroughly unpleasant band of religious nutters they are too. Heavily armed, passionately faithful to their beliefs, and with a heartfelt desire to kick your armoured butt back off the planet, they make for an enemy that only a foolish commander would treat with disrespect. This game will get the old grey matter working overtime. It is a superb mixture of 30 action blasting and cerebral tactics.
In creating GC, however, the development team at Massive threw away the strategy game rulebook and decided to come up with something a bit different. Out went the need to build a base and scrabble around finding resources to work with. Into the bin flew the almost obligatory view from above.
In fact, the whole RTS game concept took something of a battering as the Massive team set about adding a new twist to the genre. So, in place of the more familiar RTS offering, along came a masterpiece that offered not only in-depth battle tactics, but also the opportunity to get into the action within a couple of minutes. The remote camera facility allows you to observe the action from the air or stand virtually shoulder-to-shoulder with your troops, and share their triumphs (or failures) first hand.
You really can play Ground Control however you like. Armchair generals who fancy leaping straight into the fray to lead their forces in a death-or-glory attack can do just that (and good luck to them -they'll need it), while hardened campaigners can choose their troops and armour, select an approach to gain the element of surprise and win the day through superior tactics. Either way it's great fun. Now, onto the maps...
Processor: PC compatible, P-100
OS: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game Features:Single game mode
Ground Control Screenshots
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