Earth 2150: Escape from the Blue Planet

For the uninitiated, Earth 2150, released in Europe under the TopWare moniker, is the sequel to the rather average Earth 2140, a real-time strategy (RTS) game published by Interplay a few years back. This time, however, almost every facet of the game -- including the story, engine, graphics, interface and sound -- has been created from the ground up, resulting in a stunning and immersive 3D RTS.

Unlike similar sleepers such as Acclaim's Machines and Warzone 2100, Earth 2150 may be the first mega-successful polygon-based Command and Conquer-style click-fest to grace store shelves. Mattel Interactive -- the publisher on this side of the pond -- is certainly banking on it.

Back again is the post-apocalyptic struggle between the United Civilized States and the Eurasian Dynasty for the sparse natural resources left on Earth. This time around, the war between these two powerful rivals has wreaked such havoc on the planet that it's caused minor but irreparable damage to the Earth's orbit. An independent colony of scientists living on the moon (known as the Lunar Corporation) predict Earth is now moving closer toward the sun and will eventually be no more. Instead of working together on a collective evacuation plan, each side furthers its own agenda to save only themselves, and the war grows more bloody. To make matters worse, the once neutral Lunar Corporation decides to militarise its forces in a three-way battle for survival.

The intro CG cinematics that set this tone before the game begins are absolutely a must-see, but the game itself is equally stunning. The player first chooses which faction to join (each side has its own attributes and strengths/weaknesses, of course), and then once the mission objectives are given, the camera glides over a true 3D landscape to start this epic fight. And epic it is -- the single-player game features over 90 non-linear missions, plus a bundled map editor and multiplayer support for up to 15 simultaneous players over a LAN or the Internet.

The goal in Earth 2150 is to collect resources from the environment to fund a diverse assortment of war-ready men and machines and, of course, annihilate the enemy before they annihilate you. Ultimately, you must abandon this doomed rock called Earth, don't forget.

A number of gameplay features separate this title from the pack. Most importantly, I've yet to play an RTS where the tactics used to fight a battle rely so heavily on the environmental conditions or will vary so greatly because of them. That is, Earth 2150 adds real-time day and night cycles, weather effects (rain, snow, fog and thunderstorms), and environmental changes as the Earth moves closer to the sun (meteor showers rain down, lava spews from underground, and river tides rise, for instance). On top of this, the terrain is deformable and, based on the beta installed on my PC, using and altering the landscape must be mastered in order to successfully destroy the opposing factions. For instance, you may dig trenches to entrap enemy vehicles (and if it rains, it further aids your defensive tactic). Not only are there land, sea and air battles, there are also subterranean manoeuvres for surprise tunnel attacks. Unlike the stale top-down view of Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun, this game features a lush, multiple-camera system that is truly something to see.

As a quick note on the non-combat portion of the gameplay, building creation falls into four categories: Production, Economic, Defensive and Other. Military and civilian units must also be created and, as a nice twist, they're all completely customisable with variable weapon, chassis and special power-up selections. Research centres offer better features over time.

The beta of Earth 2150 seems quite polished, so anxious strategy aficionados can expect this game sometime before the spring. Let's just hope Mattel Interactive takes the time to make sure all three sides are well balanced (complicated by the unit customisation, no doubt) and the multiplayer code is stable for smooth Internet play. If this pre-release version is any indication, Earth 2150: Escape From the Blue Planet may very well be the defining RTS of the year.

Product: Earth 2150

Publisher: TopWare Interactive

URL: www.earth2150.com

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