Total Annihilation: Battle Tactics Review

Anyone who's still playing Total Annihilation presumably knows the ropes by now. While Battle Tactics is certainly a strong product by typical standards, it is disappointing in light of Total Annihilation's ambitious history.

The success of Total Annihilation, Cavedog's 3D real-time strategy game, must be attributed in part to its sheer size. With well over 100 units and two long single-player campaigns, Total Annihilation offered so much more than its competition that it compelled gamers to take a closer look, where they found a game whose quality matched its scope. But even in the face of a major hit, Cavedog didn't rest on its laurels: It offered new units for download on a weekly basis, more multiplayer maps, and an editor, all to help fans maintain interest. Meanwhile, the first official Total Annihilation add-on, The Core Contingency, offered a whopping 75 new units, and much more single- and multiplayer action, and was heralded as being among the all-time best supplements for a real-time strategy game. Unfortunately, the second add-on isn't much of an encore. Its problem isn't as specific as it is fundamental. Between its late arrival and its proclaimed purpose as an instructional tool, Battle Tactics won't appeal or impress. Anyone who's still playing Total Annihilation presumably knows the ropes by now. While Battle Tactics is certainly a strong product by typical standards, it is disappointing in light of Total Annihilation's ambitious history.

Like the original half-hearted add-ons for Command & Conquer and Red Alert, Battle Tactics is primarily composed of a series of disconnected single-player missions. The difference, in true Cavedog fashion, is that while the old Command & Conquer add-ons offered a little over a dozen missions, Battle Tactics presents a hundred. These missions are categorized by length from very short to long and divided in half between the warring Arm and Core factions. Many of these missions are purely tactical and are designed to force you to make do with what you're given and not worry so much about building your base and managing resources as in a typical game of Total Annihilation. Mission briefings, meanwhile, are chock-full of useful tips and strategies. The idea, apparently, was that these various tactical situations would be perfectly suited for the novice looking to become a real pro; otherwise, they'd satisfy the veteran's fix for instant action. But Battle Tactics only marginally succeeds at these intentions.

The key to Total Annihilation is learning to balance construction and resource management with maintaining an ever-growing military. Battle Tactics essentially eliminates the construction and often the resource management aspects, leaving you in charge of the military elements exclusively. Sure, it's fun to start off with around a hundred tanks of all shape and form, or a hundred ships or planes, and to send these massive armies forward to decimate the enemy. It's not often feasible to build forces of that size in a typical game of Total Annihilation, so Battle Tactics certainly presents an opportunity to coordinate battles on a much larger scale, which can be fun for a while. However, in consequence of this design model, Battle Tactics falls short of its goal as a teaching device. It may coach you on how best to command and defend a fleet of Warlord-class battleships, but it doesn't tell you how to maintain a supply of metal and energy to create an armada like that in the first place. Like some useless two-week self-defense course, Battle Tactics teaches you how to handle any number of too-specific situations, none of which you would ever actually encounter.

Another side effect of Battle Tactics is that, in trying to make the game feel faster and more action-packed, it ends up feeling emptier and less fulfilling - and at its worst, boring. The fact is, Total Annihilation is not a tactical game. This add-on attempts to turn it into one by stripping away the start-up process on most missions, but in doing so it merely eliminates half the reason why Total Annihilation is fun in the first place.

Battle Tactics includes all the downloadable units previously made available from Cavedog, some of the units and new map types from The Core Contingency, and a mere handful of its own unique additions. Furthermore, it's hard to deny that the game's graphics are starting to look a little old, and even the spectacular soundtrack is starting to wear thin. Battle Tactics doesn't change any aesthetic elements; its only real asset is its abundance of single-player missions. And while most of them are both cleverly designed and well-balanced across all three difficulty settings, after you win a few you'll quickly realize that they're no replacement for a good multiplayer battle. After all, if you remain a hard-core Total Annihilation player, it's more than likely that you've moved on from the single-player game altogether, in which case Battle Tactics has little to offer. Total Annihilation's strength never has been in its single-player game, and with the reduction of the thinking and planning stage, Battle Tactics reveals that shortcoming in an all-new light.

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Total Annihilation

First Released Sep 27, 1997
  • Macintosh
  • PC

Cavedog has done a commendable job of taking the basic mechanics of real-time strategy and using them to create something new.


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Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
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