Ground Control is not only one of the best-looking tactical combat games to date, but also one that's suitably challenging and rewarding.
Swedish developer Massive Entertainment's Ground Control is a 3D real-time tactical combat game that puts you in command of squads of high-tech military vehicles and powerful infantry squads. Despite its few shortcomings and frustrating design issues, you'll find that Ground Control is not only one of the best-looking games to date but also one that's suitably challenging and rewarding.
Ground Control looks absolutely awesome. The game's fully 3D engine renders each of the game's realistically animated military units with lots of detail, even when you view them up close. The game's texture maps are clean and seamless, and the scenery is fully realized: You can see dunes in the sand, and bugs buzzing around in dense patches of tropical foliage. You can also see shell casings pouring out of your infantry's automatic weapons, dirt kicking up in the wake of your treaded vehicles, and crackling energy emanating from your beam weapons. You can even see the pilots sitting in the cockpits of some of your vehicles. Ground Control also features exceptionally good special effects, from the muzzle flash and tracers of your tanks' weapons to the bright, radiant explosions that ensue when their targets are struck. In addition, realistic lighting effects distinguish battles taking place at different times of day. The game's artillery weapons are especially impressive - they launch volleys of devastating projectiles high into the air in a deadly arc. Ground Control's flying units also make spectacular swoops and dives above the battlefield. You really get a good sense of the scale and intensity of battle when you play Ground Control - thanks in part to the game's dynamic sound. When your camera view is zoomed out, you hear the general tumult of warfare; closer in, you'll be able to distinguish the sounds of the specific units that are closest to you. The effect is well done, even though the game's sound effects themselves aren't especially noteworthy.
In spite of the superb quality of Ground Control's graphics and presentation, the unit detail is not as evident when you're concentrating on controlling your forces, because you'll have to view the game from a raised, isometric perspective that fits a couple of dozen units comfortably onscreen. From this angle, it becomes harder to distinguish different types of units, even at higher resolutions. In addition, as with many 3D real-time strategy games, Ground Control's interface takes some getting used to. Fortunately, it works pretty well once you figure it out. You use the mouse to rotate and tilt your view, but the controls for scrolling and zooming your perspective are on the keyboard. Small onscreen buttons that are difficult to click on in the heat of battle represent your various squads' special abilities, but they can be mapped to keyboard hotkeys to make their functions easier to use. Ground Control's step-by-step in-game tutorial does a good job of getting you accustomed to the camera and unit controls.
When you select a unit in Ground Control, you give orders to its entire squad. At first it may seem disorienting when you order a marine to use his mortar and his entire squad lets loose with its deadly special weapons. So while all your individual units behave and fire independently in combat, and can get split up and individually damaged and destroyed, essentially you only have control over the squad as a whole. Squads range from eight-man infantry teams to small platoons of four or even just two tanks. And artillery squads comprise only a single vehicle. The squad-level control means that while you'll need to pay close attention to your individual units' health, you'll usually be occupied with keeping track of the entire squad's status. This can get frustrating, as you'll be inclined to retreat individual units that are taking the brunt of the enemy's fire, but you won't be able to do so without retreating the entire squad. You'll watch individual tanks be destroyed all the time because you can't micromanage their squads. And sometimes they'll even be destroyed before you know it, because the game's colored selection indicators use the same color as the units' little health meters. As such, it's difficult to tell how much damage a unit has sustained, except from the more evident onscreen indications when the unit itself catches fire and starts smoking.
Furthermore, the game's minimap, which shows a top-down overview of the battlefield and your forces, doesn't clearly indicate what's happening and where your camera is centered. Ground Control also doesn't let you adjust the speed of the gameplay. You can imagine that situations may heat up and become overwhelming very quickly if you're not prepared for them.