Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lunar Domination Review

Lunar Domination, developed and published by Valen Games.
The Good: Interesting economic gameplay with some unique mechanics, really challenging AI, good tutorial
The Not So Good: Repetitive gameplay, no random maps, no multiplayer
What say you? An economic simulation restricted by its lack of variety: 5/8

So there are these people who want to mine the moon for resources. Now, the moon used to be a chunk of the Earth (a very large object struck the earth four billion years ago, shearing off material that accreted into the moon), so anything we mine from the moon is exactly the same stuff we would find on Earth. What’s the point? They want to mine the moon for materials they need to construct the equipment needed to mine the moon. Sounds like a foolproof plan to me! Cashing in on this moon mining mania is Lunar Domination, and economic simulation that takes place on the moon.

People don’t usually play economic simulations for the cutting-edge graphics, and Lunar Domination is no exception. These are outdated isometric graphics with hardly any animation, circa SimCity 2000. The upside to this presentation is that the game is fairly easy to get around, although I would like most of the options in the game to be present on one screen; having a menu for two items seems silly. Of course, the graphics in this type of game don’t really matter, but it would still be nice to play in a dynamic environment. The sound effects in the game are understated and the background music is non-intrusive. Overall, Lunar Domination lags behind most of the computer gaming world in terms of graphics and sound, but these aren’t focuses of the game, so in the end it’s superfluous.

The object of Lunar Domination is to fill the quota of two clients before your opponent does. You do this by mining and processing three kinds of ore (iron, aluminum, and titanium), making bids on contacts, and fulfilling them. The lowest bid wins and you are limited to one bid per contract, and you must fill your contracts or the client will stop offering you orders. Lunar Domination features a good tutorial to the game, but the other features are greatly limited. There are only a handful of maps to play on but the maps look to be easily generated on the fly due to their simplicity. The game also lacks multiplayer and you can only compete against one opponent.

Each map is divided into sectors that you can purchase, but you can only purchase ones adjacent or diagonal to sectors you already own. In each sector, you will build structures that will either extract and process ore or support your operations. Clients will request either raw or processed ore; raw ore is extracted with a mine, and it is processed in a refinery. You will also need to construct space ports to deliver the ore to your customers. You will need to construct life support buildings, housing for workers, and warehouses to store finished product. Resources, including housing and storage space, are shared among connected sectors; however, taxes are higher for connected sectors, so you might make more money using diagonal sectors, but then you’ll have to build more buildings for life support, workers, and storage. It’s an interesting strategic decision that among several present in the game. You’ll have to guide your construction options towards two of the three clients to win the game, and managing the bidding, acquisition of sectors, which buildings to buy makes for an interesting game, at least in the beginning. Each successive game plays out the same, since the orders and the companies are always the same. A single company asks for the same two types of ore each game, so once you get a basic build order down, it’s just a matter of going through the game. Helping this monotony is the very challenging AI: even on “easy,” the computer will own you until you get the mechanics down. But once you’ve played the game once, each successive game will be almost exactly the same as the AI is fairly linear and keeps to its own. The lack of multiple player games makes Lunar Domination a lot less interesting in the long-term.

Lunar Domination has some good components, but the originality wears out after the first couple of games. I like the multiple facets to the game: bidding for contracts, acquiring new sectors, and deciding which buildings to construct. The AI proves to be a very capable opponent, and there are some interesting decisions to be made in the game. However, since each game is the same as the last, with the same ore quotas from the same three companies, repetition rears its ugly head. Also, there is no multiplayer, no random maps, and you can only play against one AI player. While an entertaining core game may be present, the extras are lacking, and ultimately Lunar Domination is fun for just one or two games.