[Review] Total Annihilation: Was it worth the wait?
Total Annihilation: Gold Edition for Macintosh
Contact And Other Information
|Product Home Page:
||Real Time Strategy game set in a galaxy far far away....
||GT Interactive Software
13110 NE 177th Place
Suite # B101, Box 180
Woodinville, WA 98072-9965
||Price (US$39.99) Outpost.com
||150 Mhz Power PC or faster
16 MB of Ram
Mac OS 7.5.3 or higher
40 MB available storage
4x CD or higher
|System Used For Testing:
128 Mb Ram
Nexus Rage 128 32 MB Video Card
Total Annihilation: Gold Edition for Macintosh
by Cory Harrison
If you are a fan of RTS (Real Time Strategy) games, then look no further. This game has everything you can want in the "gather resources, build up your empire, conquer thine enemy" approach to gaming. It is exciting, fast paced, and has many more units than most games in this genre which make replayability that much more enjoyable. Along with all the available 3rd party maps and units available on the internet, replayability is guaranteed.
Installation is easy and works flawlessly. Disc one installs the complete collection of multiplayer maps, as well as the initial solo campaign, and is necessary for playing skirmish mode (multiplayer maps with computer opponents). Disc 2 is needed to play the solo campaign missions, and Disc 3 contains the two add-on packages called The Core Contingency, and Battle Tactics. These add-ons include completely new solo missions and a nice range of new muliplayer maps.
You begin the game entering a war that has raged over a million worlds, and lasted 4000 years. The war began when the ruling body, a government ruled by science, decided that it was necessary for the "immortality" of their race to transfer human concious, called "paterning," over to durable machines. The civilians, unwilling to toss aside their bodies so casually, formed into a rebellious force named the Arm. The Arm fought tooth and nail to maintain their freedom by constructing machines and cloning their populations. This is where we begin.
This is definately not a "story" driven game. The cutscenes throughout the solo campaigns were limited to mostly scrolling landscapes just before you entered a new mission that are narrated by a rather ominous voice sketching out the details of each individual mission. The mission parameters are outlined in detail in text form. The story does nothing to outline the ruthlessness of the Core, the force responsible for the transferance of concious to machines, and nothing to humanize the Arm, which is the rebellious faction fighting against this abomination. It would have been a nice touch to add this extra element of drama to the story.
In the long haul, lack of story ends up being a bit stale after a bit. However, we must concede that this game doesn't necessarily need a story, and the one that is supplied is adequate for pulling your interest along as you try and vanquish the other side.
The documentation provided with the game was adequate for getting you on your way to annihilating your enemy, but didn't give much insight into the operation of the additional units and buildings available in the two expansion packs. Included are all the elements you would expect for getting you started on the basic Total Annihilation package. Some nice features worth mentioning are a list of quick keyboard commands that are useful for efficient management of your offensive and defensive force, unit build heirarchies of each side, comprehensive descriptions of each units function and capabilities, and a glossary of terminology.
One glaring aspect missing from the manual was text on the story. The manual includes one page of short text, and that's it. On the other hand, the name of the game is Total Annihilation, and perhaps the name says it all.
As with most RTS games, the story can be played from the perspective of either faction. The missions themselves start off easy, and build their way up in the manner of a comprehensive tutorial. This easily allows new players to learn the details of the game without being overwhelmed. By the end of each the game, the challenge is substantial, and with adjustable difficulty levels you are ensured decent replayability.
Resource gathering is an intesting variation on the theme most Real Time Strategy games are based on. Metal patches provide you with metal to build your units, as well as random boulders strewn abuot the map that can be "reclaimed" by your basic building units. The scrap left behind by a dead unit or building is also recoverable. Energy can be made with wind machines, solar panels, and geothermal vents, as well as scattered vegetation such as trees and creepers. Unlike Starcraft, metal and gas are a renewable resource so you can't run out. However, your mining equipment and energy collectors can be destroyed by enemy raiding parties, so defense is key to maintaining your supply. It is imperitive you build up a surplus of both resources to maintain your offensive upgrades and production lines.
What immediatly impressed us about the game was the terrain you do battle on. No more tile based, uni-dimensional playing fields here. Starcraft did a decent job of getting away from the one level maps by implementing multi level "tiers", adding a hint of additional strategy over their previous hit, Warcraft II. However, TA has done what Starcraft could only attempt. It has made terrain a major factor in gameplay. In TA, you do battle over and around some spectacular 3d raised terrain. Craters, ravines, spikes, rocks, hills, mountains, lakes, rivers, lava, forests (that burn and can even damage your units and buildings if caught in the blaze), islands, oceans and reefs. Raised terrain adds range and accuracy to your units, and can block enemy fire. The variety you are faced with is fantastic, and each new map you approach must be played a new way.
What I found very intriguing about this game was the variety in which you can approach battle with your enemy. The terrain completely changes your approach to planning and execution of your particular strategy. Imagine fighting around a forest of massive spiked mountains covering the entire map, tightly packed to block much of your long range weaponry, rockets and artillery.
|Your destroyed units quickly pile up into twisted wreckage, creating a wall which chokes off your approach and quickly leads to the mass destruction of your offensive army.
This forces you to focus more on cheap, close quarters melee units and flying units that can move quickly so that wave after wave can be sent across the map to batter and slowly push back the front line of defense your enemy has placed. Or you can run hard hitting raids on your enemies supply lines. How about a sea battle on a ring of very small islands? Lack of terrain limits your building to sea faring forces, and if you're careful with your limited dry acreage, supporting air units. As you can see, terrain quickly becomes a prime consideration in your approach to victory.
Another interesting feature is the vast amount of hardware you have to implement in your struggle against your enemy. Sea units, air units, walking ground units, rolling ground units, hovercraft... there is an amazing array to experiment with, supported by an even more impressive lineup of big guns to pound your enemy into dust from across the map. There is nothing more dismaying than to have round after round of heavy artillery smash your buildings to pulp while you scramble to mount an offensive, simply because you chose to upgrade your ground units rather than build up your big guns. A game ends quickly when a nuke or two takes out your front defenses and then a horde of angry enemy infantry swarm through to gut the centre of your camp.
One problem with the game worth mentioning at this point concerns battles with excessive quantities of units. The entire game can bog down and can sometimes even cause the music to get stuck and skip. However, this does not detract too much from the experience, and will only mildly annoy even diehard RTS fans. Another note worth mentioning is that the larger maps supplied with the game, as well as the absolutely huge maps available on the internet tend to use a lot of ram. The box suggests 16 MB of ram, but 64 MB is required for some of these larger maps, more if you can afford it.
TA has a very comprehensive approach to giving unit orders. A particularly attractive feature was "patrol", which, when directed at a construction aircraft, will cause it to search out every damaged unit and building in a localized area and auto repair it. Great for sending out raiding forces, then retreating to the safety of your closest staging area to refresh before the next raid. Also, buildings can be given "move" commands that send all built units to a specified location. Along with the unlimited unit queueing system (no more cursing at the limitations of 8 units at a time), this is very handy for sending a constant stream to essential locations. The other orders effect aggressiveness in battle situations, the behaviour of individual unit mobility, the ability to enable cloaking on select units, guard mode for protecting precious units, as well as the ability to capture enemy units and buildings. Overall, the control you have is very comprehensive and well thought out.
The game looks great. The units are rather blocky, but the software rendered real time 3d makes their movement unique in multiple ways. Fast air units dip their wings and bank when they turn, as well as detract their wings upon landing. Vehicle perspective changes when climbing steep embankments. Tank turrets move independently of the main chassie, and the guns pull back as they fire each round. The interface itself is fairly easy to grasp, and the control you have over each unit with the orders you can give makes unit management a breeze. My personal opinion is that a game can have mediocre graphics if the gameplay itself is tight and well conceived. Well, TA's graphics are good, but gameplay is excellent.
Starcraft has very unique unit design, with very distinct differences between the races. In Total Annihilation, you are hard pressed to really tell the difference between the two enemies and they seem to be almost mirror images of each other, with slight differences in each unit's shape and weapon damage. With experience it becomes easier to differentiate your units and their enemy counterparts. Starcrafts units are colourful, interesting, and have some pretty cool animations. However, the pixel based sprites limits the potential, whereas the realtime 3D rendering of TA allows for some interesting varieties to the look and feel of battle. Buildings explode in a variety of different ways, scattering scrap metal far and wide. We would have loved to see this game with a bit of 3D hardware support, as we can just imagine how much more beautiful this game would have been driven by a voodoo2, voodoo3 or an ATI Rage 128 card.
An additional feature that makes this game stand out is the ability to set your view of the battle field to a much higher resolution if your setup allows for it. I would highly recommend taking advantage of this, as its a nice touch to be able to see a much larger area of the battle field. Setting the resolution to the max makes the units rather small, but you see a vast increase in acreage. If only starcraft delivered this feature! This is why 3d is such a brilliant touch for this top down, isometric RTS game.
Did we mention the music? Total Annihilation comes stocked with a monumental orchestral soundtrack built into the game. As you play the music is pulsing in the background, and when combat begins, it swells to almost religous furver, building your excitement and anticipation for the battle as it progresses. Truly, the music is a beautiful feature to the game.
Multiplayer was a mixture of disapointment and delight. The main dissapointment was the lack of cross platform compatability (PC to Mac). This seriously curtails any chance of getting a good game online at any random time of day. The lesser dissapointment was that Scott Kevills "Gameranger" application, the software that facilitates online Mac gaming, doesn't yet have a Total Annihilation plug-in from Westlake Interactive, as a custom patch has to be constructed to allow the game to work with this clever little online gaming utility. However, we have received word that a fix is in the mix, and we hope to see full Gameranger support in the next month or so.
As for delight, well... The few people we met up with online have been very entertaining opponents, and have helped shape what would have been a rather limited opinion on multiplayer gameplay. Gameplay is generally pretty fast paced and hard hitting. Built into the game is an interesting variable in which you have the option in multiplayer setup to make your commander the prime target . If you enable this feature, when your commander dies the game is over, just like assassin in Myth2! This makes for some very heated battles around your commander.
|One trick we discovered that can really tick off your freinds is: build a carry-all air unit, and set up a large skirmish force of cheap air and ground units. Then, run a flanking manouver to draw your enemy to one side of the base. Have a few brawlers (heavy gunner air ships available to the Arm, built out of the advanced aircraft plant) escort your carry-all over to the enemy base away from the action, and take out any missile towers that happen to be there. Swoop in with the carry-all and grab the enemy commander! You can either self destruct your carry-all and destroy the enemy commander, or carry him way off to one side of the map and dump him somewhere he can't get out. Fun stuff, as you can see.
Overall, even with TA's various minor flaws, this is a game we would suggest to anyone. Macsoft did a great job on this port. If your a Real Time Strategy resource gathering fan, it's a must have. With the huge number of 3rd party maps and units available online, this title is a sure bet for long involved attention. With a variety of solid solo campaigns and literally hundreds of different multiplayer maps to experiment with, you are guaranteed many sleepless nights perfecting your strategies. It is a good title to tide you over till the next generation of games hits the shelves in the new year, and we know it will remain on our hard drives for a very long time.
Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Gadgies)
||3D Terrain and units make an interesting variation on a theme
Monumental Orchestral Soundtrack
Huge number of Units
Ability to adjust game resolution means more acreage onscreen
||Lack of Expansion pack documentation
Lack of Story
Game slows down in large battles with many units
Lack of cross platform compatability (PC vrs Mac)