It has been a great year thus far for fans of real-time strategy games with the release of not one, but two highly anticipated games: Supreme Commander and Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars. All this RTS goodness, and it's only April! Does this mean that the year is already over in terms of RTS games? No, there are plenty to look forward to—from World War III to alien invasions—and we've compiled a list of the major RTS games to keep an eye on this year.
Keep in mind that this list isn't necessarily exhaustive, and that it's possible for games to be have uncertain release dates (for instance, Halo Wars, the Xbox 360 RTS game based on the blockbuster Bungie franchise, has an undetermined release date that could very well be in 2008). That said, here are the RTS games that you should have on your road map for this year.
Supreme Commander was the first major real-time strategy game of the year. Essentially the unofficial sequel to 1997's Total Annihilation, which is often hailed as one of the greatest RTS games ever made, it offers a scale that's both breathtaking and challenging. With battlefields that are often 400 square kilometers or larger in size, the game gives you the room to be creative in terms of how, where, and when you attack the enemy. Now, you can rapidly transport huge armies to any corner of the battlefield to deliver a knockout blow from a surprise direction. At your disposal are futuristic armies, navies, and an air force. You also have mighty experimental units and nuclear weapons that can break a deadlock to turn the tide of battle.
As a multiplayer game, Supreme Commander is fast-paced and cutthroat. You have so much tactical freedom at your command that, really, anything goes. The wild nature of the battles alone makes Supreme Commander ideal for multiplayer, but developer Gas Powered Games also delivered an excellent multiplayer browser called GPGNet that not only makes finding games a snap, but also lets you watch replays of almost any battle ever played so you can take notes and watch the fireworks happen onscreen. Put together the game's substantial single-player campaign, compelling multiplayer, and the sheer size and scope that its battlefields offer, Supreme Commander is a game that RTS fans simply have to play.
In many ways, Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars is a state-of-the-art homage to 1995's classic Command & Conquer. Tiberium Wars captures all the elements of the original Command & Conquer—from the purposely cheesy live-action cutscenes to the fast-paced real-time strategy gameplay—but it updates the formula with HD-quality video and gorgeous 3D graphics. Fans of RTS games have a great deal of rich content to chew on in Tiberium Wars. The game's lengthy single-player campaign provides hours upon hours of gameplay. You control the armies of the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod, as well as a new, alien faction, known as the Scrin, which takes an even faster approach to getting deployed and into battle that expert players will appreciate.
Along with the single-player campaign and fast-paced multiplayer, the game packs in 90 minutes of HD live-action cutscenes--a tribute to the cinematic sequences from the original C&C games that featured the likes of Michael Biehn and James Earl Jones. These feature a cast that includes sci-fi icons such as Michael Ironside and Billy Dee Williams, Battlestar Galactica's Grace Park and Tricia Helfer, and Josh Holloway from Lost. In the end, Tiberium Wars is all about delivering a fun, old-school RTS experience with whiz-bang production values. If you spent countless hours of your youth cutting your teeth on the original Command & Conquer games and want to experience that feeling again, all you have to do is pick up Tiberium Wars.
Conquer-the-galaxy strategy games tend to be turn-based mainly because the act of galactic conquest usually takes a long time. Sins of a Solar Empire looks to buck tradition by offering a real-time space strategy experience that's unlike anything seen before. While Sins of a Solar Empire represents the debut game for startup developer Ironclad, the developers there have a strong background and worked on the memorable Homeworld series--real-time tactical games that let you control starships in combat. Sins looks to extend that idea further by letting you command fleets and dispatch them to conquer or defend planets. From what we can tell, the developer is bringing its experience with Homeworld to bear in this new game.
Because multiple battles can flare up all over the galactic map, managing all this mayhem is an interesting challenge, but Ironclad seems to have developed a fairly elegant interface for this. It also helps that the game looks sharp, with battles that feature huge, lumbering capital ships, swift escorts, and plenty of fighter craft zipping by, as well as explosions all around. However, you'll have to balance your faction's research with the need to pump out as many warships as possible. New technology will let you build better warships or churn out ships faster. Meanwhile, a deep diplomacy system should let you stab friends in the back when they least suspect it. Altogether, Sins of a Solar Empire looks like an intriguing and innovative game that explores a subject rarely covered in RTS games.
As far as expansion packs go, this is a big one. The Total War series has always featured a blend of turn-based strategy and real-time battles, but it's the latter that tends to get all the attention thanks to Creative Assembly's impressive graphics engine. Seeing thousands of warriors clashing on the battlefield can be pretty thrilling, after all. But it's the series' turn-based, strategic gameplay that always brings people back for more. With last year's Medieval II: Total War, Sega and Creative Assembly let you command any one of a number of medieval European kingdoms in the struggle for supremacy. In Medieval II: Total War Kingdoms, Creative Assembly will deliver not one, not two, not three, but four new epic campaigns, along with new factions, 150 new units, and much more.
Kingdoms will have a lot to offer. There's a Britannia campaign reminiscent of the Viking Invasion expansion for the original Medieval, where you'll play as one of five factions seeking dominion over the British Isles. The Teutonic campaign covers German history, as Christian and pagan factions battle for control. The Crusades campaign is set in the Holy Land, and you can play as either the crusaders or the Islamic defenders. And then, most intriguingly, there's an Americas campaign that introduces new Native American factions battling among themselves and against the newly arrived Spanish forces. All things considered, Kingdoms looks like a must-have expansion for an already excellent strategy game.
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World War II has been the setting of far too many real-time strategy games, but not World War III. Of course, that's because the Cold War--the titanic showdown between the US and Soviet Union--never went hot. Still, the idea of two massive, modern militaries throwing everything they have at one another is exciting. World in Conflict promises modern warfare on a scale rarely seen before, delivered with a cutting-edge graphics engine that brings the destruction to life. By the time battles are finished, once-pristine landscapes are wrecked and ruined. World in Conflict's developer is no stranger to tactical games, having created the acclaimed Ground Control games, which featured futuristic armies battling it out on alien worlds.
Back in the 1980s, the US and USSR had planned to use combined-arms warfare against each other: units with different capabilities working together--the same kind of tactics you'll find here. Like Ground Control, World in Conflict won't have the standard resource-gathering or base-building found in most RTS games. Instead, you'll focus on maneuvering and conserving your forces. To keep the action flowing, World in Conflict's node-based battlefields will force you to capture strategic points. This forces you to to be aggressive, and this way even minor skirmishes can quickly evolve into full-fledged battles, complete with tactical nuclear weapons.
Universe at War: Earth Assault is the newest game on this list because it was just announced in February. Still, it's not hard to be excited when you consider the designers' track record. Universe at War is the next game from Petroglyph, the Las Vegas studio formed by veterans of Westwood Studio's original Command & Conquer development teams. We're talking about developers who helped create and shape the real-time strategy genre as we know it. And Universe at War will be Petroglpyh's sophomore effort, following last year's excellent Star Wars: Empire at War, a game that proved Petroglyph could deliver something cool and uniquely original at the same time.
What we know about Universe at War so far is that the game is set in 2012. Multiple alien factions have arrived on Earth, and a war of the worlds has erupted. It won't be easy for humanity to survive, judging from what we've seen so far. For instance, the game's Hierarchy faction, an incredibly powerful alien nation, uses gigantic war machines known as walkers. These walkers can be customized with a vast array of weapons and technologies to make them slow, mobile fortresses that are also capable of churning out new units. On top of that, walkers emit radioactive goo that can be used as a weapon and that also contaminates the area around them. And, oh yes, Hierarchy units can also "phase" through solid objects, so they can walk right through walls and other defenses. Just the information on the Hierarchy alone has made us curious to see what the rest of the alien factions are like. This definitely isn't the last we've seen of Universe at War.
After selling more than a million copies between them, the Empire Earth games have carved out a fairly large fan base. But if you're expecting Empire Earth III to be nothing more than a follow-up to the first two games, think again. With Empire Earth III, developer Mad Doc has basically rebuilt the series from the ground up. This is because the designers felt that the gameplay had become cluttered with too many similar-looking units, factions, and technologies, and that all these choices and options overwhelmed the player. The core idea of Empire Earth remains the same: You guide a primitive tribe through centuries of history, eventually culminating in the future, where giant robotic war machines and genetically engineered creatures battle each other. However, a lot of the underlying rules and mechanics have changed.
This new Empire Earth III is sleeker than its predecessors, jettisoning much of the fat and replacing it with more focus. All aspects of the game were rethought with the idea of distilling them down to the core functions while keeping as much of the gameplay depth as possible. Meanwhile, interesting new features, such as a dynamic "world domination" campaign and the idea of the "events" quest system, should offer some welcome variety from the standard destroy-the-enemy gameplay found in most real-time strategy games. It doesn't hurt that the game will also roll out a new graphics engine, which was much overdue. Empire Earth II looked dated when it arrived in 2005, and from the get-go, its muddled look made it hard to distinguish what was happening onscreen. With that in mind, Mad Doc is looking to add a lot more character to the units. Objects on the maps will be stylized and oversized to convey critical information much more easily. And the application of fancy 3D shaders and textures also helps make the action pop off the screen. Ultimately, Empire Earth III represents a bold new direction for an established franchise.
Publisher THQ has announced an expansion pack for the game that GameSpot picked as its best PC game and best strategy game of 2006. Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts will return to World War II with new multiplayer modes and two new playable factions, the British 2nd Army and the German Panzer Elite squads. It will also provide two all-new single-player campaigns to liberate Caen, France, for the Allies and defend against an airborne assault known as the Axis.
The expansion will also offer improved artificial intelligence and better weather effects as part of an upgrade to Company of Heroes' Essence engine, and it should offer support for DirectX 10 graphics. Look for Opposing Fronts this holiday season.
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