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Dark Reign 2

Score: 85%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Pandemic Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 32
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics in Dark Reign 2 are quite fantastic. Each map is realized in full 3D, with sweeping mountains, full of vibrant hues. In the snowy regions, flurries are constantly falling -- and as you pan the map, youíll realize that theyíre not just a moving bitmap thrown on top of the screen. The foresty maps are bright and green, with swampy waters. Everything looks nice and detailed, which is a pleasant change from the usual drab RTS fare.

The models themselves are quite nice, if a bit generic. As a general rule, the JDA is blue and the Sprawlers are brown, but other than that, everything looks pretty normal. You wonít find many fantastic structures or units, just a lot of cool-looking dudes with guns and ships and flying whatsits. Youíll never have a problem differentiating between the various types, but it would have been nice if there were a little more variety.

The music in the game is quite suitable, sitting peacefully in the background when called for or jumping at you when needed. Nothing spectacular, mind you, but you wonít ever have an urge to turn it off. Similarly, the voice acting is just about what youíd expect -- not stellar, but certainly not that bad. I especially like the grumbling of a lot of the Sprawler units.

Almost all of the cinematics in the game are rendered with the game engine itself, which is nice, since you donít have to worry about cutting away from the action to see some pre-rendered tripe. Itís usually quite relevant as well, which is pleasant.


Gameplay:

Dark Reign 2 is a 3D real-time strategy game. As such, itís a solid game, but it doesnít really bring much of anything new to the table. You start off by picking either the JDA or the Sprawlers, two factions in a minor war taking place on the Earthís surface. Bad Things have happened, and it looks like itís all going to end soon. Both factions have ten missions, which quickly ramp up in complexity and difficulty, before you beat the game. The plot itself is pretty interesting, but will probably only really intrigue those of us who played the original Dark Reign and care to see just how it all started.

The game itself is played in a pretty standard RTS method. You command your troops around, zooming around the map to see just whatís going on. As a true 3D game, youíre going to want to learn the controls quickly, as youíll need to swivel your map to get better views and whatnot. Function keys set your camera at preset levels, and a nifty add-on on the Pandemic website lets you get an even better view of the action. I really wish that the game had some sort of ďcontrol introduction,Ē though, like Ground Control did, as it would have made my page-flipping instruction book fest a little shorter. Once you get the hang of the controls, though, moving your camera to wherever you want to look becomes a piece of cake.

Youíll be constructing bases and building units, just like in every other RTS out there. Once of the nice things about DR2 is that the construction queues are always at the bottom of your screen, so you donít have to go back to the base to tell your factories to pump out more units. This is a very nice time-saving feature, and one that youíll be making use of a whole lot.

I also particularly like the energy walls in the game. Most of the stationary, one-square constructions -- guns, anti-air, and even posts designed for this sole use -- can make energy walls between each other, effectively protecting your base from a grunt rush. Of course, you can turn the walls off and on as needed, to let your troops pass, which is a very nice feature. Youíll need to keep the posts in top condition, though, if you want a chance to actually survive said grunt rushes.

The game itself is usually quite interesting, with each mission really consisting of two or three different goals -- get to a location, perhaps, then protect it, then blow something up, then protect something else. This also means that the missions tend to be long -- so save often, and save carefully. They really never get tiring, though, although the ďpuzzleĒ missions are irritating as always.

Dark Reign 2 also offers multiplayer abilities, with scads of options and play modes (King of the Hill! Woo!). If you canít find anyone to play with online, you can always do an ďInstant ActionĒ mission which throws you against a configurable number of computer players in any deathmatch map. You can also throw computer players into unoccupied slots in the multiplayer games. And if you get tired of all of that, you can go to Pandemicís site and download DarkRain, which is basically Tetris in the DR2 engine. I have a feeling that they were inspired by the UWindow Tetris put out a while back for Unreal Tournament, and I must say that Iím impressed -- these sort of useless danglies are the kind of thing that make me like a game.

DR2 has its problems, however. The path-finding in the game is absolutely horrible, and itís depressing to watch a line of your troops bump into each other constantly, wending their way across a vast open plane single-file at a quarter of the speed that theyíd manage if they spread out a little. Urgh. And for all its fun, DR2 is decidedly standard. It doesnít offer much more to the RTS community than it hands out, build queues aside. Even when youíre having fun, deep in the middle of a battle, youíll find yourself overcome by a feeling of dťjŗ vu. Yes, you have done it before -- in many, many games. Good thing Dark Reign 2 does it well enough for you to not mind too terribly much.


Difficulty:

The levels in Dark Reign 2 get hard fast, and some of them even have quite difficult timed events. Practice, however, and you will easily overcome the foe. For example, after getting completely trounced by an air attack in the third Sprawler mission, I reloaded and built anti-air towers all around their target before triggering the event. Cheap, yes, but imagine my satisfaction when the shrapnel started flying. A little perseverance will see you through to the end of the game.

Of course, in multiplayer, itís all about the people youíre playing against, isnít it?


Game Mechanics:

Itís easy to move your troops around on the map, although they rarely get there in any sort of time. Building new base structures couldnít be simpler, and the camera controls are intuitive once youíve learned how to use them. Get tired of the 3D angles, and you can always set your camera to look straight down, playing the game like a standard 2D strategy game. You wonít see the slopes as well, but itís still quite playable.

The fact that you can already download a few new maps and some really nice enhancements (I particularly love the Preview enhancement, which shows you the stats of any unit before you build them, so you can pick the right one for the job) shows that Dark Reign 2 has the ability to be extended far beyond what came with the game.

Dark Reign 2 is a rather enjoyable romp through a time-honored genre. It doesnít stray too far from its roots in Dune 2, and that hurts the game -- a little more originality and a little more differentiation between the two groups would have made the game more enjoyable -- but in the end, if you like real-time strategy, you really canít go wrong with Dark Reign 2. If the path-finding gets fixed in the upcoming patch, there really wonít be anything wrong with the game. Sure, itís not the most original one out there, but itís quite a ride nonetheless.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



Win9x, P2 233, 64MB RAM, 650MB HD space, DX-compatible 2D/3D card(s), DX-compatible 16-bit sound card, 4X CD-ROM, Mouse, Keyboard
 

Test System:



K6-III 450, 256MB RAM, ATI Rage IIc, SB Live!

Sony PSOne Star Trek: Invasion Sony PSOne World Destruction League: Thunder Tanks

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated