Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Globulation 2

Having not yet reached a full-release version, Globulation 2 is still one of the most polished and interesting games I've played in Linux. While there are areas for improvement, if they stuffed it in a box and put it in a GameStop it would totally be worth 20 bucks as it is, and probably be superior to anything else in that price range (new, for the record).

At its heart, Globulation 2 is a different take on the real-time strategy genre. Most RTSs involve direct manipulation of units, sometimes in a frantically fast-paced manner that gives the same sort of feel as an intense action game. Rather than trod that well-worn route, the makers of this one elected to combine RTS mechanics with management-style games, and ended up with a beautiful hybrid that plays like an incredibly deep take on Desktop Tower Defense.

As a player, you don't order your 'globules' to do things, you just sort of proclaim 'Let it be done!' by placing something on the map (a new building or a rally point) and your globules respond by... trying to make it happen. If you give an order that taxes your poor critters to the breaking point, it'll happen very slowly, and you might even end up with some losses due to starvation (I'm not sure, but I think that's how I brought about the cataclysmic downfall of my first non-tutorial empire).

Basically, you never give commands; the only thing you give orders to is the architecture. If you want something specific done - lets use an attack on a specific building for example - you place a marker on the building called a 'war flag' and if you've got any warrior types, they'll all rally 'round the flag, if they can get there. They automatically attack the enemy, so once they get in range of the target, they attack it. Delete the flag and they'll return to your defensive areas.

Which is how everything works... you define goals, and your people make it happen. Want to make sure they're defending your HQ? Paint the area with a defensive marker, and they'll be sure to keep the area patrolled. Trees in the way? Paint them with a 'clear' marker and your workers will harvest lumber from that area first. It sounds like a mere difference in semantics, but it plays out as a substantially different beast from your standard RTS.

It's very intuitive, and while you may occasionally be reacting just as frantically as a player in a standard RTS, you're usually busier strategizing than real-timing. Deciding what to do first, what needs to be upgraded, how large your army should be, how you want to manufacture units... that's the gist of the game. Set your architecture up correctly and defense will take care of itself; when you're ready, wipe out the other guys.

It most resembles Desktop Tower Defense in that you can build defense towers. And walls. And if you like, you can build them in such a way as to channel enemies into specific areas, and slow their progress, creating kill-zones and... you see where I'm going with this? If you haven't played Desktop Tower Defense you don't, but if you haven't played that, then you should click on the link up towards the top of this review and do that. It's a Flash game, and it's rather ingenius even if I do suck at it.

Of course, if you want to build intricate structures you're going to need workers, and workers need food, so you'll need more workers to harvest food, and you'll need inns for workers to eat and so on. Globulation 2 is an expanded and uber-deep implementation the basic mechanics of that game, combined with the resource gathering and population management of the RTS genre and ends up something else altogether, with the potential to become something greater than the sum of its parts.

It's not quite there yet. On the handful of maps I played, it seemed too easy - I never played a map where I didn't just build all the useful structures, max out their upgrades, build an army, and go to town. Some of the smaller maps may have played out differently, with constant skirmishing redefining the pace and prioritization, but that wasn't my experience.

Most damning is the lack of a campaign. The version offered by Ubuntu's package sources has a tutorial that's quite short, and no campaigns. The most recent release (again with this complete out-of-sync thing going on; there have been three releases since the one the packages are distributing) has expanded the tutorial into a four-part campaign, but it's still just a tutorial. For single-player fun, a campaign is (IMHO) essential for this game.

There are a decent number of varied and interesting maps, for the record. This makes online multiplayer sound very appealing, as it's almost certain that human opponents would not only make victory more appealing, they'd offer up surprising and entertaining strategies compared to the rather blasé experience one gets from the AI. Thankfully, there is networked multiplayer support (LAN or internet), and so all is right with the world.

The graphics are nice, and actually remind me of the style you get from some of the better Flash games (possibly just because I was thinking of Flash games as I played it). Crisp, but also cute - I seem to have neglected to mention that the game centers around competing tribes of 'globules', gelatinous-looking faceless creatures. I mention it now. They're amusingly cute, almost relaxing to behold, and the art-direction goes with the trend. Everything has a sort of pastoral, innocent vibe.

Well, except for the combat music. It's whimsically menacing, if not exactly impressive, making for a vaguely edgy vibe when one of your globules encounters a combat unit of the opposing side. There isn't a lot of variety in the sound-track, but it never gets insanely grating despite the repetition.

As it stands, the game's a bit limited as a single-player game, but still capable of providing hours of enjoyment to the lonely gamer. Should you be inclined to rock it all multiplayer-style, you'll find it even more rewarding. This is among the most enthusiastic thumbs-ups I've given in this blog: Check it out. Even if you're not a big RTS fan (I'm not) you might find that it wins you over.

1 comment:

SandJ said...

Globulation is another of those games that as not moved on in the five years since you wrote about it. :-(