Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy is the official expansion to Swedish developer Massive Entertainment's graphically stunning real-time tactical combat game, which was released about six months earlier. Created by American studio High Voltage Software, Dark Conspiracy is a fully featured expansion that introduces an all-new faction of futuristic units for you to command, as well as a new campaign containing 15 successive single-player scenarios. The game also has several new multiplayer maps designed by the original Ground Control team. Yet despite all its additions, Dark Conspiracy makes no significant changes to the way the original game plays. Therefore, it may remind you of some of the frustrations you encountered with the original, even though Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy fundamentally remains the same great strategy game as its predecessor. Nevertheless, since the expansion is available for just a nominal shipping cost to players who already own Ground Control, its problems will seem mostly trivial.
Ground Control boasted some of the best graphics of any PC game released in 2000. As in many fully 3D real-time strategy games, Ground Control gives you the ability to freely adjust the camera perspective so that you can pan, rotate, and zoom your view to suit the situation. The game's incredibly detailed combat units, realistic terrain, and impressive special effects look great regardless of how close or how far away you prefer to view them. Dark Conspiracy looks as good as Ground Control did, for the most part. The new playable faction, the Phoenix Mercenaries, comprises a fairly interesting set of units that seem like a cross between Ground Control's original factions, the imposing forces of the Crayven Corporation and the sleek technology of the Order of the New Dawn. Dark Conspiracy also features some new environments in which you'll battle. Unfortunately these are unremarkable compared with those in the original game. Their topography consists mostly of the same sort of rolling hills as in Ground Control, only the environments themselves don't look as good because of the lower-quality textures that are used to depict the ground and the sky.
Dark Conspiracy also recycles most of the sounds from Ground Control, which were effective in the original game and remain so in the expansion. As in the original, in Dark Conspiracy it's impressive how the sound effects realistically grow much louder and more distinct as you zoom in closer to the action. And the new Phoenix mercenary units sound quite good, although their spoken lines do get repetitive. Also, because the expansion is story-driven and picks up soon after the original campaign's conclusion, there tends to be a lot of dialogue during, before, and after the single-player missions. This speech is generally convincing and helps the story along.
Since Dark Conspiracy's campaign assumes that you've finished the 30 missions in Ground Control, it also assumes that you're quite experienced with how the game plays. Most of the missions in Dark Conspiracy give you access to around a dozen squads of units, which you'll have to command simultaneously against superior enemy odds. As in Ground Control, in Dark Conspiracy you'll generally be stuck with whichever units you initially deploy into battle. As in Ground Control, in Dark Conspiracy you can't save your progress during a mission, nor can you adjust the speed of the action. And so, as in Ground Control, since the Dark Conspiracy missions are fairly long and specifically scripted, you'll find yourself having to retry them multiple times. This can be quite frustrating, but fortunately the game itself still plays well and equally rewards quick reaction times and tactical shrewdness on your part. Besides the inability to save during missions, you might also be frustrated that many of the missions demand the use of squads of flying units. While these flying units look great as they spiral through the air, they're difficult to control as precisely as the ground units, and they're extremely vulnerable to antiair fire, so they're much more of a liability than most of your other forces. In addition, although the expansion campaign does have a new story and lets you control the new faction, the Phoenix units are mostly quite similar to those of the other two sides. But you'll still be interested in learning their nuances, just as you'll want to experiment with the handful of new units granted to the original Ground Control factions.
Ground Control: Dark Conspiracy still makes a fast-paced, exciting, yet often chaotic multiplayer game. It's easy to get started over a network or the Internet, and the several new multiplayer maps give the multiplayer mode still more variety. Unfortunately there's still no dedicated skirmish mode available that lets you play against the computer, though there is one single-player-focused skirmish map that lets you take on an endless drove of enemies.
Dedicated Ground Control players will appreciate Dark Conspiracy the most, since they're already used to the controls, the quick pacing, and the problems of the original game, all of which carry over into the expansion. Experienced Ground Control players will be entertained with many of the new units, such as the Phoenix flamethrowing hover tank and foot soldiers. They'll also like being able to get the expansion at a very low price (though all they get is the game CD, which contains an online version of the Dark Conspiracy manual). Otherwise, if you're new to Ground Control, Dark Conspiracy is a great additional value if you haven't yet decided to try out what was one of the most intense strategy games released last year.