Saturday, July 30, 2005

Trash Review

Trash PC, developed and published by Inhuman Games.
The Good: Original resource collection and research, easy to learn, up to 24 player maps
The Not So Good: Old skool sound and graphics, may be too simple for some used to overly complex games
What say you? Original ideas make up for shortcomings in sound, graphics, and simplicity: 6/8

This review is based on the 05July 6b beta patch, not the first release client. However, according to the developers, differences will be minor but will include support for clans.

Trash is a real time strategy game that harkens back to the days of Command and Conquer with its simplified technology tree and smaller selection of units. Trash is easier to learn than other comparable games, and hopes to substitute fun for insane depth.

For a really small install (~50 MB), Trash actually has some fairly good graphics. They are nothing spectacular, but we’re not looking at a hex-based wargame with small squares representing units. I would say they are on par with World War III: Black Gold in terms of detail and overall polish. The sounds are a little worse. There are only your basic combat sounds, and units never give acknowledgements. But considering how annoying these sound bytes can be in some games, maybe this is advancement.

There are two sides to Trash, humans and mutants. Both sides use trash as their primary resource. Trash is scattered around the map, concentrated in areas near the starting bases. Trash is never completely depleted from the map: if a unit is destroyed, it deposits the amount of trash required to build it on the ground. This is a very, very interesting dynamic, as it benefits players who are aggressive and can overwhelm the enemy, and then collect the trash from their destroyed units. Of course, it can hurt you tremendously if you are on the receiving end of a whoopin’. Each side must also generate electricity to power their buildings, and connect pipe to each structure in order to power it. A strategy that can be employed during the game is to destroy the pipes (which have low hit points), which prevents units and upgrades from being produced by buildings. Each race has a secondary resource to collect for higher-level units: humans have gas from gas sites, and mutants have people from huts, both of which are at fixed locations on the map.

Both sides have generally the same units, with a slow moving, powerful melee unit, a fast moving, not as powerful melee unit, some ranged units, and units which give area of effect bonuses. There are subtle differences on cost and damage, but these are not too terribly dissimilar for each side. On each map, there are a number of sites where upgrades and other buildings can only be built, although destroying some units may result in new sites. Mostly, these sites are used to house upgrade buildings, and each building adds a bonus for a specific type of unit (flame, bullet, etc). The upgrades do not have an upper limit, so you can build 10 bullet upgrade sites and your bullet units will have 10 stacked upgrades. The flipside of this is that there are no automatic retroactive upgrades, meaning units built before the upgrade was obtained will not automatically receive the upgrade. However, each side has a unit whose specific purpose is to deliver upgrades to units. Another interesting aspect of research is that it can be shared between teammates, even of races. So humans can share human upgrades with mutants (and vice versa). Connecting pipes between bases will not only share this research, but electricity and resources as well. There are some expensive, needed upgrades (namely to find gas sites) that only one teammate needs to spend the trash on, and the rest can reap the benefits.

Trash features scalable maps that can support up to 24 players. Each map has a general shape theme (such as each player on a mesa), and self-adjusts depending on how many players are involved. This is very similar to the Battlefield 2 model, but actually works better. The maps are also random in their placement of special resource sites, so you can’t always guarantee that the toxic waste site you need is where it was last time you played. Trash also features realistic line of sight, where units can hide behind walls and even in trash, and can only be seen by units on higher ground. Humans also have roads that can transport units faster, and mutants have warp gates that anyone can use.

Trash boils down to a balance between building and researching upgrades, constructing units, and expansion. Although on the surface it may look like a simple game where the person that churns out the most units wins, there is much more lurking under the surface in Trash. The resource modeling is very original and something I don’t recall seeing in another RTS game. Stackable upgrades removes a glass ceiling in the research department that can be seen in games such as Rise of Nations, where once everyone reaches the maximum tech level, the game results in a stalemate. Large numbers of players, at least for a RTS, are supported on the scalable maps, laying the foundation for a strong multiplayer community. In addition, stats are tracked for each player, and used to balance the multiplayer games, automatically placing good players on opposing teams. This exemplifies all the little details that add up to make Trash a very interesting and unique addition to the RTS genre.