After playing a late beta of SunAge, I am convinced that the upcoming real-time strategy PC game can be a great one if the American version — due in early 2008 — doesn’t skimp on anything.
The game was originally conceived 11 years ago, the developer said on its blog. It went gold on November 21 and was released for direct download in UK, Scandinavia, Benelux and Italy December 2.
A patch came out three days later.
That’s disappointing but not surprising. I played v0.9-1 and encountered plenty of issues, particularly in point of view movement. Unlike most strategy games, SunAge doesn’t let you slide around with the keyboard arrows. You have to drag the cursor to the edge of the screen, and the map automatically moves.
That is a terrible, awful way to control a strategy game. The last thing you want to happen when you’re reaching to control your units is to have the map move around on you. Fix that. It’s a 2D strategy game. The keyboard isn’t too retro.
Getting past the controls and beta bugs, SunAge is a 2D post-modern strategy game with wonderfully crafted elements of cyberpunk, fantasy and military. Unlike early reports, the game is largely based on Earth, with an alien planet added. Earth. in an Al Gore-like prediction, is no longer hospitable for humans, who have retreated to secure domes.
You get to play as any of three races, the Federals, the Raak Zun, and the Sentinels.
“The Federacy was an organization born out of necessity. As conditions on Earth became increasingly hostile, humanity was faced with a difficult decision. Adapt, or die. The Federacy was formed, an international entity formed of many collapsing governments, to protect the remnants of a dying race,” and that’s the pseudo-noble human race you can control. Very post-mod, post-apocalyptic.
But — “When mankind retreated into the domes they also committed an act of grand betrayal – abandoning many of their peoples to perish in the toxic wastelands. But not all perished. Suffering decades of mutation and hardship, a new race was born with the instinct and brute force to survive the dangers of the wasteland: the Raak-Zun.” — They tend to look a lot like orcs.
The game uses four different kinds of ore and elements, Nitrium Ore, Plutonium, Zirkonium and Iberium Rods that let you produce units, vehicles, aircraft and advanced tech. It’s sort of like the original Star Wars strategy games where you’re seeking out futuristic materials to build your futuristic military units.
Just think of Zirkonium as chopping down trees for wood in Warcraft.
The game uses a lot of units and a traditional commander role on point.
SunAge has a good story, solid races and units and an RPG-type element with pop-in conversations and monologues that reminded me of what I used to see in Phantasy Star IV, one of the best RPG’s of the 16-bit generation. If they hold true to that — maybe some cut-scenes? — it’s a great feature.
I picked up the gameplay elements with a little effort. Grouping units together is intuitive and they will open fire on all hostiles. In my version, my units didn’t flock to a far-away enemy if I targeted it. They needed to be in range to respond to the attack command. The full version will improve on this with “combat queuing,” letting you issue batches of orders to your men. You can also formate your units in different ways depending on the enemy.
The game is 2D, but don’t get your shorts in a knot over that. The scenery elements look great and elements are detailed. There’s full voice acting and good character development as the story unfolds.
There’s some work to be done. The game is getting decent feedback on forums so far, but it is being criticized for a steep learning curve.
“This game keeps handing me my ass even in the early missions. It seems like you guys got so proficient at the game you forgot to see if us noobies could handle it,” said nailernforce on the Vertex4 boards.
I like SunAge. I think there’s room to improve it and make it ready for an ADHD American market. I also haven’t heard anything about unit or map editors yet — so we’ll have to see about mods and editing.
So let me put Lighthouse Interactive and Vertex4 on notice: You don’t get any second chances in the United States. Fix the bugs and controls before you put it out here. If the game can’t be played without some sort of bug or freeze-up, it will fail here. God dammit, you put 11 years into this one. Don’t let a month’s worth of bug testing eff it all up.
- 3 Distinct Races – Human, Raak-zun and Sentinel – each with their own units, buildings, technological advantages and disadvantages
- Unique Upgrades – Alternate modes can be researched for all units, unlocking dual functionality for greater tactical depth
- Graphics – Stunning sci-fi environments from vast industrial cities and devastated wastelands, to a lush alien planet. While displaying rich graphical environments and visual effects, SunAge is very playable on lower spec PC’s and laptops
- Tactical Landscape – All units and their alternate modes are crucial to the overall strategy. Exploit weaknesses in the enemy’s network while strengthening your own connection lines
- Formations – Squad concept combined with long distance camera views allows a large number of units to be fighting onscreen with a clear overview of the battle ground
- Singleplayer – 25 campaign maps with compelling plots for each race
- Multiplayer – LAN and Online – Classic multiplayer with focus on gathering 4 different kinds of resources and outsmarting the opponent in battle. 10 maps created uniquely for multiplayer mode
- Command Queuing – Command your units to prone, build or attack where you want them and when you want them to do so
- Indirect Intelligent Targeting (IIT) – Order your units to focus on pre-selected targets
- OS: Windows ME / 2000 / XP / Vista
- CPU: 1,2 GHz Intel® Pentium® III or equivalent AMD® Athlon processor
- RAM: 512 MB (1 GB Recommended for Windows Vista)
- Video Card: 128 MB 3D accelerated video card
- PC CD-ROM: 4x (or PC DVD-ROM drive)
- Sound: DirectSound compatible (Sound Blaster X-Fi series sound card recommended)
- Available Hard Disk Space: 1 GB
- DirectX: 9.0c compatible
- Other: Mouse, Keyboard and Speakers
- Multiplayer: LAN or 56K (or faster) Internet Connection
Learning Curve: [rating:3/5]
Overall: [rating:3.5] (Based on the Beta. As Homer Simpson said to Maggie: Prove me wrong Silent Bob)