Gamestock 2001: Hands-on: Sigma

We take Alex Garden's strange real-time strategy game out for a spin.

Relic's "streamlined" real-time strategy game is shaping up rather nicely. Microsoft showed off the latest build of the game at its Gamestock 2001 event in Seattle, and most of the game's core mechanics were in place.

The main draw in Sigma is its unit creation system. Using various combinations of the 40+ basic animals in the game, you can create around 300,000 different units. The list of animals range from electric eels and bats all the way up to gorillas, crocodiles, and rhinoceroses. You can select which parts of each creature are used to make up your unit--you can have a camel with the head of a spitting cobra, a giant ant with a polar bear tail, an electric eel that has bat wings, and so on. Each combination yields different attacks. Using a rhino's head, for instance, gives your unit the ability to gore other creatures with its massive horn. Chimps can pick up rocks and throw them at creatures. Eel-based creatures can shoot electricity out of their mouths.

Once you've created your army of genetic freaks, you can place any ten of them into a group, and take that group into the game. Further demonstrating the decision to streamline the RTS experience, Sigma focuses on units much more so than structures and developing your technology tree. While larger, more powerful units will require some research and resource expenditures before they can be built, you don't have a long list of structure requirements, beyond simple things like constructing an aviary before you can build airborne units, and so on. Resources and peons come into play in Sigma as well, as you build little humans to build electrical towers and collect corn, though the corn is merely a placeholder resource and is subject to change to scrap metal, generic food, or any other number of ideas that are currently on Relic's drawing board. Resources are also used for upgrades, allowing you to give stronger armor to your units or even make them larger in size.

The single-player game is still under heavy development, and wasn't shown at Gamestock. However, it will be mission-based, and the game's lead character, Rex Chance, will come into play in a fashion similar to Total Annihilation's commander unit, in that he must be protected at all times. The game will feature five different terrain types, according to Relic founder Alex Garden, and they are savanna, desert, jungle, tundra, and water. Multiplayer will contain a few different modes, including variations on standard themes such as capture-the-flag and king of the hill.

In the end, the game's heavy focus on building units and fighting it out almost immediately translates to multiplayer matches that are said to last no longer than 30 minutes. Microsoft also stated that the game was being developed with expansion packs and free unit downloads in mind, allowing for, say, an insect pack, or a fantasy animal pack, and so on. Sigma is scheduled to ship this fall, and it will be shown publicly once again at this year's E3.

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Jeff

Jeff Gerstmann

Jeff Gerstmann has been professionally covering the video game industry since 1994.
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