Anyone who feels the real-time strategy world has been on something of a downer since Total Annihilation may find Shattered Galaxy is the pick-me-up they've been waiting for. While not RTS in its strictest sense, with events off the battlefield as important to progress as events on it, and with the minutiae of resource management handled for you, the game's combat interface borrows heavily from household names like Red Alert and ensures that the first few hours of fighting pass without confusion. So although the back of the box may confound you with talk of fusing real-time strategy, turn-based strategy, role-playing and squad-based combat, conjuring images of you frozen with embarrassment as teammates laugh at your incompetence, rest assured that the way it looks and the way it plays will be instantly familiar to any real-time devotee.
Command And Conquer
Players kick things off by naming a new hero, allying with one of the game's factions, choosing the appearance of their avatar, and juggling a set number of points between tactics, education, clout, and mechanical aptitude. Tactics determine how many units your hero is able to control - if you outrank all others in this respect, you automatically become field commander and are rewarded with experience after your encounters.
Education allows you to use advanced weaponry and the latest gizmos, clout represents not your physical strength but political status and power (brawn doesn't come into it: heroes control armies telekinetically using a mindexpanding drug), and mechanical aptitude governs your prowess at maintaining and designing your units. As you progress in the game, you are able to top up each area of your character with points as you win them, and in turn increase the potency of your units.
Go online and you'll find yourself looking down on your hero's avatar from a third-person, isometric viewpoint that evokes memories of EverQuest (or Leisure Suit Larry, depending on your gaming heritage). You are able to move the avatar freely around the capital of your chosen faction, entering city buildings to perform different duties, such as repairing damaged units, resurrecting dead ones, exchanging items for money, or playing skirmish battles against computer-controlled aliens. This latter area acts as a tutorial for rookies, allowing them to hone their combat skills, it's also a place where existing players can notch up experience points and test new troops. The politically minded among you will be able to vote on foreign policy and determine how and where your faction expands.
More Gt Than C&C
As with Earth 2150 or even MechWarrior, units can be built from scratch using a wide range of chassis, power plants, armour and weaponry, with possible combinations nearing the non-finite as your skills improve. There are four core types of unit: infantry, mobile, aviation and specialist. The first refers to the most basic type of troop, and is the cheapest way to build your forces, the second to the more expensive tracked vehicles including tanks and armoured cars, the third to aircraft, which is fast but fragile and the last to specialist units such as medics, trackers and mine layers. At the start of the game the variety of hardware at your disposal is somewhat limited, but as things progress you'll find the selection opening up nicely.
It's actually very rewarding, and in this respect it's more like Gran Turismo than Command & Conquer.
You control between six and 12 units in battle - the exact number under your command is dependant on your tactical attributes - and must consider the military science of each encounter rather than relying on stockpiles of tanks and missiles for last-second armageddon. If you lose your troops, you do have the ability to return with replacements from the substitute bench, but generally speaking such foolhardy behaviour gets you nowhere. Battles are immensely enjoyable, and with the right people backing you up can be very rewarding.
The fact that each battle can have up to 50 players throwing their weight around makes reckless strategies all the more likely to fail, and the need for diplomacy paramount - annoy those fighting alongside you, and previously friendly guns are likely to be swung round to point in your direction. Never forget that, as a persistent state game, the success of your faction is more important than the success of the individual.
The chat interface at the bottom of the screen is the best place to announce your intentions and ask for assistance, and unlike many other online team-based games, communication seems to be the norm.
Shattered Galaxy is a hugely involving game, its star attraction being the alliance of EverQuest-style role-playing with Total Annihilation-style top-down combat. You can play it as often or as little as you like, and each time the feeling of camaraderie and achievement will keep you thinking about it as your head hits the pillow.
The only reservation we have about this game is the online patch system, which sucks, and its slightly flaky behaviour under Windows NT.
Download Shattered Galaxy
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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2019-01-11 Shattered Galaxy game added.