It’s been over a month since my last post on here… business as usual, it seems. I changed the theme to something a bit more welcoming… lemme know what you guys think.
I finished Quake 4 an hour ago (it struck me as Quake II with better graphics), and thought I should at least put something up here. And so, while I think up something original, I present to you a review of one of my all-time favorite games. For last week’s assignment in Game Design class I had to review a game – Total Annihilation being the subject of the review.
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Title: Total Annihilation
Author, Publisher: Cavedog Entertainment, Atari
Description: A real-time strategy set in the far future, the universe has been ravaged by a war over the technology that could transfer human consciousness to machines. The game is rated T for animated violence and appeals to a broad age group – the action in the game does not lose its lethality for sake of appealing to a younger crowd, but does not become so lethal that only older players are drawn to it.
Hardware/Software requirements: PC, 1 GHz Processor (1.4 GHz recommended), 256MB RAM (512 recommended), 3D graphics card compatible with DirectX 7 (compatible with DirectX 9 recommended), Mouse, Keyboard; Single player and multiplayer capabilities.
Price Range: $5.99 from Good Old Games (best value and cheapest price)
Review of the game:
Directions – Total Annihilation is from a day and age where digital distribution was unheard of – 1997 wasn’t exactly the time to distribute a game nearing 1 GB in size – so in-game instructions are almost non-existent. (3)
Rules – Rules and game limitations are easily defined – Resources (Metal and Energy) are supplied in order to build structures. To gain more resources, collecting structures must be built. If you run out of resources, you must wait for them to re-accumulate at a set rate. This sets Total Annihilation apart from other RTS games of the time (Age of Empires, for instance) where often the game devolves into a resource grab. (5)
Goals – In Total Annihilation, the goal is simple – destroy the enemy forces. If proper strategies are applied to the battleground, victory is realistically achievable. In the Campaigns, goals may vary slightly. In one mission, it is your duty to lead a convoy through enemy-infested territory. In another, it is to aid a besieged outpost. No matter the goal, however, it is spelled out for you in the pre-mission briefing (and briefing in-game menu) in an easy-to-understand manner. (5)
Story – This is the game’s weakest point. A war began thousands of years before the game’s current time over the transference of consciousness from man to machine. Since then the universe has been destroyed and only fragments of the Arm and Core armies are left. It’s never fully explained what the motivations of each side are aside from “complete domination,” nor is the audience told which side is “good” or “bad.” Aside from your commander unit, there are no unique characters. This makes the overall plot and premise of the game forgettable. If you are looking for a gripping story with memorable characters, you would be well advised to look into Total Annihilation’s spiritual successor, Supreme Commander. (1)
Story Immersion – In lieu of the above, story immersion is pretty much nonexistent. As far as story immersion goes, since there are no characters and a lackluster storyline to begin with it is near impossible to become immersed in the story. (1)
Play – This is where total Annihilation truly shines. While the story is on par with that of many shovelware games, the gameplay was so groundbreaking (and is still unique) that it gained quite a following. The idea of resources that slowly refill over time is a concept that at first seems risky, but over time plays out much better than other games. I’ve played many LAN games of Age of Empires and Stronghold only to have the game boil down to which army had enough resources to scrape together a final muster. Total Annihilation does not have this problem – the winner of the game is who manages their forces and resources properly to gain the most efficient army in the shortest amount of time. This allows for large, fast-paced battles. Each unit has unique advantages and disadvantages, from the mighty, multi-story Krogoth to the simple Scout. The versatility in commands was phenomenal – one could set a troop of bombers to routinely bomb the enemy base, return to home base, and then return to the enemy base for a bombing run. Repair vehicles could be assigned to units – in event of damage, the repair units would automatically jump into action. At the time, few games had attempted this level of detail. (5)
Replay value – One does not revisit Total Annihilation for its campaign – that, to be blunt, is quite forgettable. Skirmish mode is what really has kept Total Annihilation alive all these years. While few people play Total Annihilation now, the fact that it has retained its notoriety after 13 years (an eternity in gaming) speaks volumes. (5)
Rewards – Total Annihilation was released in 1997. In accord with the times, achievements were unheard of. Simply conquering your opponent was an achievement enough. It hearkens back to a simpler time, when the ending victory screen was the greatest achievement of all. (3)
Termination Condition – There are several terminating conditions in Total Annihilation. Whether it is assassination of the commander unit or total annihilation of the opposing team (you knew it was coming), the terminating conditions are very clear. (5)
Challenges – Challenges vary widely from game to game, whether it is campaign or skirmish. (5)
Fairness – The AI may not seem fair at first for its ability to almost expertly utilize resources (even if can beat the AI in under ten minutes, it still wins the resources score), but once you get past the learning curve this is no problem at all. (4)
Ethical – Total Annihilation is one of the few games that I feel is devoid of ethics in the sense of the story. Most of the humanity in both armies is destroyed, left with only the remnant robot forces. Multiplayer, however, poses some interesting ethical quandaries. It is one of my gaming group’s house rules that no nuclear weapons will be used – if they were to be used, the game becomes an arms race. In order to force the players to utilize their full army, we place a ban on nuclear weapons. While we don’t explicitly ban the missiles from gameplay, we expect that ethical standard to be upheld. (3)
Originality – While the story is on the generic side, and it was overshadowed by the release of Starcraft, the gameplay and units of Total Annihilation are unique. (5)
Graphics – While many RTS games of the time used sprite-based graphics (Age of Empires for example), Total Annihilation used a models-based system. This allowed for a far more detailed world. Looking back 13 years later, the game can initially be an eyesore. Given time, the graphics begin to grow on you. Each unit and building is unique with a plethora of different locales to choose from – if you tire of one form of landscape, simply move to a different set of included maps. (5)
Camera Angles – The camera is presented from a top-down angle. This angle takes some getting used to over other games (even those from the time which used an angled camera view), but this can be corrected with fan-made mods. (3)
Sound Quality – Sound is top-notch. From Jeremy Soule’s sweeping score to the rumblings of the battlefield, everything is toned to perfection. (5)
Voice quality – There are no real voices in this game – merely the beep-boops of the robot forces. Each unit has a different “voice,” making each unit sound unique. (4)
Artificial Intelligence – The AI may at first seem hyper-intelligent, but after the player grows accustomed to the game’s style he can see flaws in the AI’s army development. The AI tends to rely on ground forces, while neglecting air force until far later in its army’s development. If the player is quick, he could scrap together an army of bombers and destroy the AI before it has time to set up a defense force. In the campaign, however, the AI is set to do its task well – whether it is to lay siege to your fortress or patrol the map, the AI will get it done. For this, the AI gets a score of 3 out of 5. (3)
Game controls – Controls are quite simple, involving primarily the mouse (using a one-button command scheme as opposed to many other RTS games’ two-button command scheme), and moderate use of the keyboard for display control and command shortcuts. As whole it does not diverge too wildly from other RTS games, past and current. (4)
Glitches – None that I am aware of at this time. This section receives a rating of 4, as I am not definite on the topic of glitches, but have never experienced one personally. (4)
Overall quality – Total Annihilation is a lost gem in the RTS genre. It was not widely marketed when released, and as such it has become somewhat of a niche in the RTS community. Pick this game up, give it a try, and I guarantee you’ll find something special even after all these years. (5)
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…so yeah, that’s that. On a side note, it has been literally forever since I played Total Annihilation’s campaign. When I did, I was not as appreciative of RTS games as I am now. In lieu of that, my remark on how forgettable the campaign was may not be entirely correct. Although, the fact that I remember next to none of it does say something.
Keep an eye out for more soon… hopefully it’ll be a bit faster than a month next time.