We gamers certainly live in exciting times. Each day we see developers contribute titles to every genre across the board, and while many of these may come from smaller studios with less funding or musclepower than the big guys, more often than not their efforts best reflect a truly revolutionary product. Petroglyph, the same studio that brought us Star Wars: Empire at War and not much else since, has done exactly that with the release of Grey Goo, a stunning RTS with a clever name and unrivaled potential.
The War of Three Worlds
Grey Goo‘s plot circles around an open conflict between three separate entities – Beta, Human, and the Goo – all vying for a chance to survive. The Beta, a four-armed, intelligent species with conflicting Australian/Scottish/South African accents, are trying to operate a questionable space portal when they’re suddenly attacked by Humans. Not soon after, the Beta encounter a second, stickier threat (which may or may not be the Humans fault…again), and must make peace with the Humans in order to destroy the Silly Putty from outer space. While many RTS games (like the Age of Empires or Stronghold Crusader series) lack any kind of engaging storyline save for the little bit of filler between missions, Grey Goo excels with a truly interesting plot and action-packed cutscenes.
Each mission along the story path focuses on the handful of typical objectives the RTS genre is lousy with. If I wasn’t securing a base here or rescuing a few stranded crew members there, I was seeking out and destroying every single enemy unit or constructing some epic war machine. The whole operation became fairly stale after a few hours, and while I appreciate that not much can be done to break away from the building blocks of RTS missions, I couldn’t help but feel like a member of an assembly line, constantly pumping out the same units over and over to achieve the same goals for the umpteenth time that day.
One of These Classes Is Not Like The Others
Like many others before it, Grey Goo forces players to assume the role of every faction for at least some part of the game. If you do as I did and follow the story like a good little lemming, you’ll first be put in charge of the underpowered and over-whiny forces comprising the Beta. Four arms (and forearms I suppose) and intelligence aside, these hulking xenos are easily the worst faction of the three. While each force has its own variation of assault, heavy, artillery, and aircraft units, the Beta’s is easily the least exciting and most flimsy. It may be that Petroglyph intended them to be the training wheels, but I still found myself counting down the missions till I could play as a Human.
On the other hand, the Humans, while somewhat similar to the Beta in terms of unit types, had a much more maneuverable homebase mechanic. Where the Beta were forced to build individual structures close to resources, which sometimes led to failure due to having too much ground to protect, the Humans had the advantage of building bases, factories, and artillery outposts on a customizable grid, making mining, production, and protection all extremely easy to manage. Throw in the Human ability to teleport units and you easily have the second strongest faction.
The Goo, being the last species players get to command, was easily the most entertaining. Instead of building structures to harvest resources and produce units in the traditional manner, the Goo base all of their unit creation on mobile “mother” blobs, which can grow and reproduce when moved over a resource well. Where the Beta and Human factions became chained to one or two bases of operation, the Goo could go anywhere and produce the same types of units, so long as it had a constant flow of resources to rely on. Another advantage unique to the Goo is the mother blob’s ability to destroy and absorb enemies through touch, which came in handy during frontal assaults and base sieges. The dynamic properties of the Goo’s forces were difficult to manage at first because it goes against the basic instinct to buckle down and create a stronghold, but once you step out of your comfort zone, you’ll find that the achromatic sludge at your command truly is the greatest of the three factions.
A Ruk, an Alpha, and a Purger Walk Into a Bar…
While Grey Goo may fall victim to the sometimes tiring repetition that comes with being the Secretary of Defense, Petroglyph did its best to try and combat this inevitable ennui in the most badass way possible. Enter the Hand of Ruk, The Alpha, and the Proto-Purger, three faction-based epic units that strike fear into the hearts of enemy forces. The Ruk, a Beta-controlled airship, can mount multiple artillery units, produce any unit on the go, and fire a massive ground-effect missile, while The Alpha, a massive mech titan manned by the Humans, can unleash a sustained laser beam that deals loads of damage to surrounding units. The Proto-Purger, operated by the Goo, is a massive mother blob that can penetrate the earth with its tentacles to create devastating shockwaves around the enemy.
These epic units, while monstrously overpowered in the face of normal enemy forces, take a substantial amount of time and resources to build, so their presence on the field is never wanton. It sets the game apart in terms of offering more than just unit upgrades or class perks, giving players something to work for other than the tired main objectives.
Beauty is a Beast
While the actual gameplay proves interesting and sustainable, Grey Goo‘s prominent feature is the insanely high quality graphics. To this day, I have never seen an RTS spend so much time on its appearance. Apart from the cutscenes, which could have easily been pulled from a AAA cinematic trailer, each unit and the surrounding environment in every map is ridiculously detailed and meticulously animated. The amount of movement afforded to each individual vehicle or fighter is amazing, and you can even see specific units being built piecemeal in the factories! And though it will slow down the average player’s PC, it’s well worth the chugging to witness such beauty on a High setting.
Life is Cruel, and so is the AI
I’m not usually one to complain about being challenged (most of the time I just quit), but I had the constant feeling that Grey Goo had it out for me on the very first level (and each one after that). I even played using different difficulty settings, just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy. Whether it was the infinite resource supply, near-instant build times for units, or the “random” (a.k.a. right behind me) spawns, the AI seemed to enjoy playing god over me. Unfortunately, though I completed all of the story missions, the sheer, frustrating difficulty led me to steer far clear of the multiplayer community; I’d had my ass handed to me one too many times to bear the thought of it happening yet again, but this time with someone who could type crude things over the chat.