PrintE-mail Written by Callum Shephard

In many regards Grey Goo can be seen as the successor to Petroglyph’s criminally underrated Universe at War: Earth Assault. The trio of diverse armies focusing upon mobile bases, entrenched formations and scattered hit-and-fade attacks, would be proof enough; yet other points stand out, such as the human faction’s close resemblance to the robotic Novus. Thankfully this was not simply a spiritual successor but a re-envisioning. The end result is not only an outstanding game, but one of the single best RTS releases of the last decade.

The story follows the war on the planet Falkannan. Having fled the onslaught of an unknown, terrifying foe, the alien Beta are gradually rebuilding their society. However, the initial test-firing of their new wormhole drags an unknown threat to their doorstep and forces them to fight for their lives once more. At the same time, a human expeditionary force is drawn to the planet while following of a strange signal, and is soon dragged into a war they unwittingly created…

This is very much an RTS emulating the way of the 90s, requiring careful timing, planning and expansion over rapid rushes. Whereas Starcraft has become infamous for the abrupt charges mere minutes into games, Grey Goo focuses upon a slower paced and more methodical war. In terms of the Beta and Humans, supply lines and key facilities need to be much more carefully guarded, and even the hyper-mobile Goo needs to carefully divide up its resources. Each operates in an entirely different way. Whereas the Beta can split bases, with facilities working off of small hubs, humans require power lines from their HQ to keep everything running. While the Goo’s mother units prove to be surprisingly durable, they weaken themselves by spawning new soldiers, meaning the bigger the army the weaker your HQ may become. This means each production facility needs to be much more carefully defended, and creates an excellent system rewarding knowing when to strike, but ultimately maintains balance between each faction.

However, despite this many elements have been extensively streamlined, with the option to fully automate unit production in certain factions, and harvesting requiring far less input. With less micromanagement, you’re free to focus entirely upon base building and sending your units into battle. The actual units themselves largely consist of archetypes, or one or two basic variants. However, along with the traditional scout, tank and artillery archetypes, upgrades and unique units allow them to be a little more versatile. While some prove to be relatively straight forwards such as airborne scouts, or upgrading AA vehicles to fire upon infantry, others are that special brand of bonkers. Two standout examples feature upgrading artillery pieces to have railguns, scatter-firing through anything behind their target, or have hidden units serve as gigantic mines, burrowing underground and exploding when an enemy nears.

Even against the enemy AI factions prove to be intelligent and challenging, with diversionary tactics, massed charges and methods to keep players off-balance. While it never goes so far as to openly cheat or produce units at a faster rate, it knows how to exploit player weaknesses, such as hiding artillery beneath treelines or placing the more mobile Goo artillery on otherwise inaccessible terrain. Combined with extremely diverse and varied maps, it means that you can happily sink hours at a time into endless conflicts.

If there is something to truly criticise, it’s that the campaign itself is remarkably lacklustre. Despite a truly interesting universe, and some amazingly high production values, the method used to explore this universe is remarkably clunky. This isn’t helped by the campaign, while challenging, serving largely as an extended tutorial for certain units, and broken up with lengthy loading times. This might have been helped by the DLC expanding upon the campaigns events, but Emergence merely covers a few basic plot holes and little else. The levels are fine, fun and all, but it does little to truly expand upon the setting. Honestly though, there’s exceptionally little that the game genuinely does wrong.

While the main storyline might be problematic in some regards, that’s more than made up for by everything else here. With solid LAN support, excellent skirmish modes, plus both sets of DLC atop of this, and some of Frank Klepacki’s best work to date, the Grey Goo Collector’s Edition is a must buy for RTS fanatics. If you’re stuck waiting for Starcraft II to finish, or want a breath of fresh air in the genre, definitely give this one a look.


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