Thursday, November 01, 2007

Galactic Dream: Rage of War Review

Galactic Dream: Rage of War, developed and published by Evolution Vault.
The Good: Straightforward once you learn the mechanics, random maps, sense of humor, huge battles and quick build-up
The Not So Good: Antiquated user interface, hard to see units, extremely linear building requirements, drawn out dialogue that must be manually advanced, ships must stop in order to fire, very difficult
What say you? This by-the-numbers real time strategy game has a fast pace and big fights, but it is somewhat hindered by a steep learning curve, high difficulty, lackluster features, and a bland presentation: 5/8

Small developers have a tough time making good games. Throw in limited budgets and small teams with limited feedback and you usually have a recipe for disaster. Take for example Galactic Dream: Rage of War, a game I’ve been aware of since late 2005 when I first contacted the developers about a review copy. Fast-forward two years and the game has finally been released, and I received a copy of the first retail release of the game in September. The game was very rough around the edges and it was missing a lot of common features, so I let the developers know this and they actually listened to my feedback and made a number of improvements in 1.01. Apparently my opinion matters, or something. Anyway, the game appears to be in reviewable form now, so let’s get to it!

The graphics of Galactic Dream are a bit behind the times. The game is rendered in 3-D and features some nice looking space backgrounds, but the buildings and units are generic metallic models. It can sometimes be hard to see units on top of buildings, because of size and the fact that they have the same colored textures. I’ve “lost” countless builder units because they chose to hide next to a newly constructed building. The larger units have a lot of flashing lights and boxing a large number of units will select the military units, so they problem only really happens with constructors. The units really need a static icon near them to make them easier to spot. You can zoom out to see more of the battlefield and the minimap does a good job showing friendly and scouted enemy units; for some reason, clicking on the minimap will reset your zoom level, which can be a bit disorienting. The sound is OK, with repetitive (but humorous) voice commands and a variety of annoying to not-as-annoying music. There isn’t any voiced dialogue in the campaign, though, which requires a lot more reading than I want to do. So while Galactic Dream features a good presentation for an independent title, it can’t obviously compete with the big boys in terms of quality.

Galactic Dream is a standard real time strategy game with resource collection, base building, and pure destruction. The game features a single player campaign with varying objectives, from simple “kill all enemies” to timed defenses to escort missions. The amount of variety is appreciated and it increases the replay value somewhat. The campaign is driven by dialogue, but unfortunately it is not voiced and only appears in annoying pop-up windows that are manually advanced. Well, to be truthful, they do advance on their own, but I was never patient enough to wait; I guess I am a fast reader. The story isn’t very interesting and the dialogue seems very extraneous and unnecessary; it would have been much better to have some voiced lines to lend some authenticity to the story. There are multiplayer skirmish battles available and Galactic Dream features an in-game browser to easily find matches; I wasn’t able to test online performance because I never found any opponents to play against. The objectives in multiplayer matches are all the same: eliminate all enemy forces and buildings. This can make for some drawn-out battles and isn’t very innovative. The two races in Galactic Dream are identical except for different ship names and some small, generally insignificant changes. Multiplayer matches do take place on random maps, but since all of the maps consist of simple asteroid fields, this isn’t that impressive of a feature. Galactic Dream does not offer anything innovative in the features department, but at least it offers some skirmish battles to let the action last a bit longer beyond the campaign.

The user interface has been improved since I last saw it, but it’s still tough to get pertinent information in a timely manner. There is a lag after you select units to when their information appears on the screen. While the minimap (now) shows important objective locations, these are not accompanied by a short briefing text on what you are supposed to do; accessing the log and reading through the drawn-out dialogue is the only way to jog your memory. Galactic Dream also doesn’t zoom out as far as I’d like, although I may be spoiled by the bird’s eye view offered in games like Sins of a Solar Empire and Supreme Commander. Resource collection in the game is very straightforward: build a mining base, build some workers, and they will automatically gather and deposit resources, bringing in fat stacks of cash. You will also need to build housing to increase your population cap (called “supplies” in the game). Workers can also be used to construct any of the game’s buildings; they are placed at the worker’s current location and can be placed anywhere on the map, which makes hunting down the few enemy units at the end of the game a chore in multiplayer matches. There is a very linear technology tree present in Galactic Dream: one building is required for another, and that building is required for another. This doesn’t allow the user to customize their attacks, focusing on, say, defensive structures, since you have to build everything in a set order to access higher-level units of any type. While this makes for some boring and repetitive gameplay, this does cause the game to be easy to learn since the build order in every game is exactly the same. Most of the buildings in the game either produce units or unlock units for production, and there are a few defensive turrets available as well. Unit-producing buildings can queue five units at a time; once you get your economy rolling, this is far too few and an infinite queue where a single unit could be produced automatically would be greatly appreciated. Units run the gamut from small fighters to hulking battleships, and they generally get better as you advance up the building list.

I’m no slouch in strategy games (I review enough of them), but Galactic Dream is very, very difficult. While you can set different AI skill levels in skirmish games, this doesn’t seem to do any good as even the easier setting offers quite a challenge. The campaign is also set at a default difficulty level, and I had quite a time with the first non-tutorial mission (and even ran into some trouble in the tutorials!); luckily, you can now save the game mid-mission, which reduces the annoyance level somewhat. The generic gameplay of Galactic Dream doesn’t help replay value, since you will use one of two strategies: rush early or advance to the high level buildings. It seems that the latter strategy is preferred from the games that I have played. The general mechanics of Galactic Dream is classic RTS, featuring large quantities of units and massive battles. There are some strange happenings in the gameplay, however. First, none of the ships in the game can fire on the move. I’ve never known any type of ship that had to stop in order to fire; imagine an F-14 stopping to launch a missile! You also need to make sure to issue an attack move to make sure your units stop along the way and engage enemy ships. Shouldn’t all moves be an attack move, or at least an attack move by default? I know if I saw an enemy unit I would fire on them. Galactic Dream: Rage of War doesn’t offer anything innovative to the genre, but it is, at its core, a decent strategy game. I had fun for moments of time, at least before the tough AI destroyed all of my ships. I will say that the developers have shown a willingness to improve the game, which bodes well for the future of Galactic Dream. Based on my initial feedback I alluded to earlier, changes or enhancements were made to the minimap, AI, resource collection, screen resolution, rally points, and mid-mission saves. So it appears that Galactic Dream is not one of those games where it is released and the developers throw away the key: a good sign for longevity.

Galactic Dream: Rage of War is a game that’s arrived about ten years too late. While the gameplay might have been remarkable around the time of Red Alert 2, now it just feels archaic in comparison to recent strategy offerings. The basic gameplay isn’t necessarily bad, but Galactic Dream doesn’t offer anything new to the genre. The completely linear technology tree, less than stellar interface, lack of campaign voice acting, and stop-to-fire requirement all add up to a pretty generic game. The high difficulty will turn away some players, and the lack of strategic variety will turn away some more. Galactic Dream seems intended for novice players, based on the simplified technology tree, but the high difficulty makes me think otherwise. It is promising that the developers improve the game based on user feedback, so maybe Galactic Dream: Rage of War will have an extended lifespan. Galactic Dream does offer up some old-school real-time strategy gaming, but old-school is just old fashioned these days.