Sunday, January 09, 2011

Greed Corp Review

Greed Corp, developed by W!Games and published by dtp entertainment AG.
The Good: Resource collection changes map layout, short games with no stalemates, extensive tutorials, online matches search for games in the background
The Not So Good: Repetitive games with restricted depth, few end-game tactical options result in tedious drawn-out matches, very few buildings and units, no map editor, some multiplayer maps initially locked
What say you? Player-directed terrain destruction highlights this light turn-based strategy game that suffers from limited tactics: 5/8

Maps are an integral part of any strategy game. They can range from realistic to fantasy, and have a strong impact on when and where your troops will be positioned. But what if the landscape were constantly changing as a result of player interaction? Thus is the basis of Greed Corp, a turn-based strategy game where mining resources results in the destruction of the map. This game appeared on something called an “XBOX” (I know, I never heard of it either) about a year ago and has finally made its way home to the superior platform for discerning strategy gamers. Does it’s unique land annihilation model make for a distinctive title?

Greed Corp offers some nice audio and visual effects. The game's 3-D presentation can be considered to be simplified a bit, but it does not skimp on some areas of detail such as the distant background clouds of the mystical planet made out of floating hexes. The land hexes are easy to identify to whom they belong, although the buildings are non-distinct and vary according to which side you are controlling. The game really needs to clearly indicate which tiles are adjacent to a harvester (being a direct influence on the , as it can be hard for beginners to visually identify the different between a walker, harvester, or armory of all four races. Movement and crumbling animations are decent, though a bit drawn out, especially when you are waiting for the computer to finish their turn. On the sound front, results are typical: acceptable but repetitive effects coupled with pleasing background music. Overall, Greed Corp offers good value in terms of graphics and sound design.

Greed Corp is a turn-based game that takes place on an alien world that consists solely of floating hexes (a convenient setting for a strategy game!). The goal is to be the last surviving player on the map as the terrain slowly crumbles away (more on that interesting innovation shortly). Single-player content includes four campaigns totaling twenty-four missions in all; the difficulty is pretty high, partially because the AI is good at the game and partially because you are typically up against multiple computer opponents. The games are usually quick, and you can implement a time limit for each player’s turn (only really necessary for online matches). Greed Corp also features online battles: you can host a match or join a queue for human opponents. The game searches for matches in the background (just like another XBOX derivative Swords and Soldiers), although sometimes the searching process lags the game performance in a significant manner. While Greed Corp provides twelve maps for each player count (two, three, and four), you must unlock about half of the maps in the single-player campaign. In addition, there is no map editor to increase the content or create custom levels. Greed Corp does offer comprehensive tutorials that teach the mechanics of the game, though there is no manual. In all, Greed Corp offers typical features for a turn-based game.

The reason I initially became intrigued in Greed Corp is how economics is handled. You construct harvesters that extract resources from all surrounding tiles (two gold per turn per hex). The interesting thing is that extracting resources causes the surrounding land to fall, and eventually it crumbles away, taking all of the units and structures with it. You can also manually self-destruct a harvester to lower adjacent tiles (a good choice if the enemy is close by), and chain reactions eliminate all adjacent crumbled tiles that are one turn away from destruction. This makes for some really appealing strategic decisions, as you don’t want to harvest all of your territory away, but you still have to have some income above the base per-turn allotment. Finding the right balance is key to winning.

Greed Corp features a disappointingly limited suite of buildings and units. Your only unit is the walker, which can move into one neutral or enemy hex per turn (or up to three hexes through friendly territory to move new recruits up to the front lines) and is used to capture new tiles. Walkers can be transported to far-away tiles using a carrier, but that’s it. For buildings, you get the previously-mentioned harvester, an armory to produce walkers, and a cannon to destroy hexes (and five of the units parked on those hexes). And that’s it.

Greed Corp features very elementary battles: whoever has the most units wins, and since there is only one unit that does battle, you can easily figure out how to distribute and use your forces to maximize victory. There is no chance, or really strategy, involved in combat, and with no defensive bonuses, territory will quickly swap to the most powerful player. The interesting decisions involve where to harvest and build, and Greed Corp features large enough maps where multiple options are possible. Unfortunately, each map follows the same general pattern: the map gets split into islands that only allow for cannons and airships for late-game clean up. You then build sixteen units at each armory hex and wait for enough money to purchase an airship to transport them on top of the enemy, or simply pound away at their remaining hexes. There is no possibility of stalemate because the map will eventually disappear altogether, but the end-game can be really, really tedious because each side is out of harvesters and is gaining the same base income, matching each other move for move in a war of slow, painful attrition. Eliminating a player gives you all their funds, hexes, and carriers, so there is some incentive to go after more powerful players. The AI is quite skilled at the game, but it appears to be very scripted in the campaign (using the same opening moves) and it’s pretty predictable. It also exhibits the occasional really dumb move, like destroying its last tiles by building a harvester.

Greed Corp has one fantastic idea, but fails to surround that idea with meaningful depth. Altering the game map by collecting resources is a brilliant mechanic that offers clear risk/reward balance. However, the remainder of Greed Corp is oversimplified to the point of being trivial. There are only two buildings (the resource collector and a unit producer) and one unit for capturing territory. Combat also leaves nothing to chance, as the superior force in terms of numbers will always win. The end-game is always the same: each side clings to a couple of isolated hexes (the rest being harvested away), and the only way to engage the enemy is by using the long-range cannon or investing in expensive air transport. These very limited options make Greed Corp excruciatingly tedious to play. The game does offer a challenging campaign and online play, but these standard features don’t alleviate the gameplay constraints. While Greed Corp offers a very intriguing economic system, the game suffers from limited strategies, a tedious end-game, and questionable longevity.