And, unfortunately, the gameplay doesn't live up to the concept any more than the graphics and sound effects do. While it's got some novel ideas, Empire of the Ants
never quite gets off the ground in terms of gameplay, with bland environments and a control scheme that leaves a lot to be desired. It's a shame, too, because there was a lot of potential with this decidedly non-standard take on real time strategy games.
The concept of the game is intriguing. You head a group of russet ants, part of an empire that has spanned millenia. It's up to you to make sure that your group survives and prospers, venturing out into uncharted territories and fighting the foes within. The core concepts of the game come from Bernard Werber's book of the same title. Think of it as a chitinous version of Watership Down and you'll get the idea.
At first blush the game looks like a fairly standard real-time strategy game, although the view is zoomed in a great deal for obvious reasons. A little tinkering, however, will reveal a number of differences in the way the game controls and plays from your standard game.
For example, there are 'zones' of resources throughout any given map. These zones have to be discovered; once they've been found, a little icon appears in them that's crossed through. Clicking on the icon 'activates' the zone, and your worker ants will now go there to get some of the stuff they need. There are two basic types of resources--food and construction materials--but any given zone may have a different type of resource. Better resources mean that you don't have to waste time and space getting lesser materials.
One thing that you have to get used to is that you don't command around anyone other than your combat ants. The rest are fully automated. This smacks of Settlers and the more recent The Nations, but both of those games concentrate on an economic structure, whereas this game has a more traditional RTS flavour despite the setting.
Unfortunately, that ends up being Empire of the Ants' downfall. Despite the innovative features that the game has--setting priorities by moving around tiles on a big list, the egg-laying cycle of the queen for gaining new workers and units, and the coming of winter where you have to hole up in the anthill before you freeze to death--the game ends up playing like a rather standard RTS once you get around its various differences. There's the shock troop ants, the ranged-fire ants, and the burly tank ants, just like you'd expect in any other RTS. You build your anthill like you build most game's bases, although there are a lot less options for structures in the game (and the interface is more clumsy than most). In the end, you're going to amass large numbers of units and charge your enemies, marching them across the map in an attempt to swarm their hill and become victor. It's the same thing as most older RTS games, only on a different scale.
Adding insult to injury is the absolutely atrocious tutorial. It's slow, long, inconsistent, and the inside-the-hill one locked up on me after I sat around for a while waiting for stuff to happen. Whee. There are a number of weird spellings and typos in the game; it seems like it could have used a little more spit and polish before the final release. There's multiplayer support, which is nice, and three single-player campaigns, although you have to unlock the second and third before you can play them.