Sierra's MissionForce: Cyberstorm was a turn-based tactical sleeper, a fine game cursed to exist within the confines of a hideous green box and destined to a long life in the bargain bin. Packaging aside, the game's greatest shortcoming was its repetitive single-player campaign that, in spite of a strong back story, felt too similar from mission to mission. Because of Cyberstorm's strong framework, a sequel to the science fiction strategy game would have its work cut out for it. And indeed, Cyberstorm 2 takes its predecessor's compelling and sophisticated tactical engine and adds to it a much more complex campaign and a host of new features. But with the introduction of these features emerges a slew of new problems that collectively serve to keep Cyberstorm 2 from surpassing the original.
The biggest change from the original Cyberstorm's tactical combat engine is the incorporation of real-time play, an obvious attempt to attract the more common breed of strategy gamer. But the game moves far too quickly, and is far too complicated in general, to make it worth playing in real time. Fortunately, turn-based play remains an option, allowing you to take all the time you need to plan your attack, fire your weapons in proper sequence, and so forth. Meanwhile, the simultaneous turn-based play mode brings together the worst of both worlds rather than the best of them. It might have worked well for matches between two or more human opponents, but the multiplayer mode only supports turn-based play. Unfortunately, real-time elements occasionally permeate the preferable turn-based mode and bring it down. Often times you can march right up to the enemy, unload half a dozen weapons on it at point-blank range, and walk away behind cover - all in a single turn. Worse yet, you may begin a mission only to find the enemy bearing down upon you from the start, and you may quickly lose your best pilots and vehicles as you try desperately to move them to safety. Even when the enemy doesn't have the upper hand from the start, it is entirely predictable and will walk straight toward your forces as you hold position and wait for it to blunder into certain death. The computer opponent tends to use its weapons in an intelligent fashion and retreats when it's in bad shape, but lacks the discipline of a truly skilled opponent and doesn't make for much of a challenge.
In spite of its AI deficiencies, the depth and complexity of Cyberstorm 2 make it enjoyable. There is a huge range of vehicle types that you can purchase, modify, and deploy into battle. In addition to the traditional giant robot Hercs, you can also buy tanks and hover fighters. Hercs are the biggest and toughest of the bunch, tanks are fast on flat land, and hover fighters are the most maneuverable but the flimsiest. You can easily equip your custom squad with an incredible slew of weapons, and a great deal of strategy lies in arming your force according to the task at hand. Some weapons are incredibly effective at stripping away enemy energy shields. Others are near useless against shielding but will tear through the enemy's hull once its shields are down. Still other weapons are terrifically powerful but operate at a very limited range. And even after you're done arming your force, you're just getting warmed up; you still need to equip armor plating, energy shields, and sensors before your machine is ready for combat. You can further enhance your vehicles with targeting systems, land mine detectors, enhanced life support, nano-repair devices, cloaking fields, and much more. On top of all that, you need to genetically engineer a host of pilots to commandeer your combat machines and pair them with the vehicles they'll operate best. Your pilots can be hurt or killed in battle, and while they are replaceable through cloning, they grow more powerful with combat experience.
Choosing a mission is no simple matter in itself; certain types of planetary terrain lend themselves better to certain types of vehicles. Adverse weather conditions may weaken your energy weapons even as your cannons are rendered more potent for the same reason. You must also decide whether to slowly expand and maintain a defensive position by securing resource mines and patrolling your vicinity, or approach your objective more offensively and strike the enemy corporations at every opportunity. Special missions that reward you with new technology will become available periodically, and at other times you'll need to defend your base against the enemy, then repair it after the dust settles. In between missions, you can upgrade your facilities, allocate more funding to various research categories, and check your corporate e-mail for any pertinent news.
These exciting duties are made all the less exciting by Cyberstorm 2's old and worn-out look. While the battlefield terrain graphics are varied and colorful, the vehicles themselves mostly look boring. While you can zoom in and out of the battlefield as much as you like, everything starts to look ugly and pixelated unless you view the combat from the default perspective. The game sounds understated but pleasant enough, and both the weapon sound effects and the catchy techno music score suit it nicely. Your pilots' soft-spoken acknowledgments are all varied and different according to the pilots' appearances (the cyclopean brain doesn't talk anything like the cat man) and lend a healthy bit of personality to a game otherwise devoid of it. But ultimately, Cyberstorm 2's haggard appearance will repulse those who've grown accustomed to high-end graphics, even as it makes the real-time play mode feel that much more inappropriate in light of beautiful games like Starcraft and Total Annihilation.
What hurts Cyberstorm 2 most of all is how the game fails to pull itself together. While on the surface, the premise of the eight corporations battling it out for financial supremacy works well, the setting of the game isn't as pronounced as it should have been. The eight corporations all play differently, thus lending Cyberstorm 2 substantial replay value. But the inability to interact with opposing corporations, to trade with them, threaten them, ally with them, or anything of the kind, stifles any sense that you're dealing with profit-driven companies rather than just a generic host of enemy armies. The nonlinear campaign also seems like a good idea, but there are so many missions to choose from at first that you may well find yourself overwhelmed just trying to get started. And then you get the three half-baked modes of play, the poor enemy AI, and the bland graphics. Yet even in spite of these decidedly serious problems, Cyberstorm 2 remains a well-paced, lengthy, replayable, and, for the most part, enjoyable strategy game with plenty of detail and a great set of multiplayer features. But much like its predecessor, it comes so close to being outstanding that its shortcomings feel especially unfortunate.