“ Genre: Strategy „
After sorting through all of my old games and disks, I recently came across one that I recognised. Released in 1997 at the height of real time strategies' golden age, I remember this game getting great reviews but couldn't remember if I had enjoyed it or not. Hence after installing and running for fifteen minutes, I realised exactly why I hadn't played it in so long!
Well I know many people loved this game at the time, and some people I know still enjoy it today, I really didn't get the hype. Available these days for a couple of quid from the bargain bins of all good computer game stores, Dark Reign promises much but delivers very little. The good thing is that it will run on virtually all systems, however I have had a few compatibility issues with Windows 7, and would recommend running it using an emulator such as Dosbox, which will run the game perfectly quickly with no evident drop off in performance.
The story behind the game is one you will have heard a thousand times before of one side oppressing another; the second side isn't happy about this fact and starts a rebellion. The rebellion grows and a war to the death breaks out between the two sides. In this case the Imperium and the Freedom Guard are the two factions engaged in fisticuffs. An attempt at a unique plot twist here is that a third side, the Torgans are involved and this is the part that you play.
However the problem for me is that this attempted unique selling point simply doesn't really work, and the story becomes quite surreal and the point of the whole exercise is quite bizarre. As a survivor of the Torgan civilisation, you find a probe capable of time travel. However, the plan gives you only one chance to wipe out both sides in the war, but you must complete all levels of either the Imperium or the Freedom Guard as a training exercise, and once you have done this you can attempt the plan.
Now if this confuses you, good! That sums up the entire game. Practice war for goodness sake, it just isn't a story that works for me on any level I'm afraid, and the game suffers from the off for trying to be slightly too clever for its own good. The options in the game are the same as most other games of the genre and era with those being the campaign, a random map, multiplayer mode, (which is really bad) and a map creator, which is very difficult to use constructively.
The basic idea of the game itself is pretty standard fair, and that is resource collection and management. Here you need to collect two resources, taelon, which provides power and water, which provides money. This is very similar to all other games in the genre and doesn't sound too complicated, and to be fair it isn't. The gameplay during the levels themselves is reasonably OK to be fair, however the whole game falls foul of one gigantic problem in my opinion, and that is the darkness. Now I know it is called Dark Reign, and that darker levels can build up suspense, but this game really is ridiculous! If one of your units is under attack, or you just leave it alone for a while, it is really difficult to locate it in the darkness, and also the dense forest that covers most of the maps. This for me makes the rest of the game almost irrelevant as it loses the fun and enjoyment elements, and becomes overly annoying and frustrating trying to pin down where your units have gone, and just what is attacking you. The selection of units available to the player is to be fair on a par with the other titles around at the time.
The graphics on Dark Reign might be fantastic, but as I said earlier, you can't see most of them. The detail of the units when you do find them is of similar quality to the famous Command and Conquer series, and does an adequate job to be fair, however it is just so let down by the backgrounds. The sound quality on the other hand is actually very impressive with some nice classical sounds and to be brutally honest is actually much better than the game itself.
The multiplayer mode was pretty rubbish in its day, suffering from terrible slowdown when playing online. It's therefore not something that I spent a lot of time doing, and to be honest I doubt whether the game is still commonly played online. The final option of the game is map creator, which is actually a nice little touch and was one of the "In Things" with strategy games of the time. However for the same darkness reasons it feels slightly cumbersome to use, and takes a long time to create a decent map. On the other hand for those with the patience to play around with and tinker with a map until you are happy, it's a decent addition, and will slightly add to the shelf life of the game itself.
To sum Dark Reign up is really difficult to be honest. It called itself the next generation of real time strategy games on its release and was met with critical acclaim, and to be fair to it, the basics and fundamentals of a good strategy game are in place. A good array of units, interesting scenarios and the addition of the map editor are all positive, but these are hopelessly outweighed and made to look pointless when the gameplay is so poor, the story is incomprehensible and the multiplayer mode is just as bad. All in all a 'liquorice allsorts' sort of game, and for me all a bit of a disappointing mix, which I would not recommend to all but the hardest of hardcore strategy fans for games from this era.
Thanks for reading this review and it also appears on Ciao under my same username.
Released at the same time as Total annihilation. Christmas `97 in the computer gaming world was based on the battle between these two to be the acknowledged inheritor of Command and Conquers real time strategy crown. This game although good and in many ways similar to total annihilation was its poorer brother. This time the game came on just one CD but the essence was the same build, command, destroy... sounds a but familiar doesen`t it. Use the mouse to direct and command troops for ultimate power Once again it relied on 3D Generated maps as advancement. It includes sophisticated so called artificial intelligence on the part of the computer controlled opposition to make it more realistic to fight against and more varied in its response. Activision claims it is more like playing a human opponent as responses are directly changed each time you play. One of the better aspects of the game is a construction kit for designing missions and levels using the same machine that the designers used. Many ways to vary the game to make it beter and varied. The sad fact however for Dark reign was that it simply isn`t and wasn`t as playable as Total Annihilation or Command and Conquer: Red Alert for that matter. At the end of the day playability is the winning formula and despite all the extras and clear effort put into this game it lacks in that respect. Good game probably worth it on budget when the better strategies are finished until the next great leap but far from an industry pace setter.