Monday, December 20, 2010

Greed Corp review

It’s not often that strategy games make it to the console market before their natural habitat, but that’s the case with Greed Corp.  Xbox 360 and PS3 owners have had their mitts on the game since the start of the year, and now it’s finally made the jump, entirely intact, to the PC. This first effort from W!Games is certainly worth a try, but it may be a little too shallow for some.

There’s a story here of sorts – four greedy corporations have exploited the resources of their planet so much so that its literally begun to crumble apart, leading, through inevitable videogame logic, to a conflict that causes even more death and destruction. There are a few attempts to shoehorn some extra narrative in, but for the most part, this back story does nothing but inform the art style and the gameplay.

Then again that’s all it needs to do. You’ll be checking this game out for the quirky, intriguing strategy that’s quite unlike anything else out there. Playing on a series of hex-grid maps, anywhere from two to four teams take it in turns to construct buildings and units in order to take over their enemy’s territory. However, in order to gain resources, players must build harvesters which pummel the ground until it collapses, creating a very interesting tactical situation where players must seize ground only to destroy it. By the end of a match most of the map will have disappeared, leaving only a few lone hexes wobbling precariously above the abyss.
There are only a few buildings and units to take care of, but these produce a surprising amount of variety. The only moveable unit is the walker, which is used to seize enemy territory and defeat other walkers. The rules are fixed with no probability or chance involved – walkers are one-shot weapons that are used up in destroying a single foe. So, three walkers can defeat two, but will lose two of their own. Equal numbers means total destruction for both sides, but the attacker gains control of the contested hex. These simple rules make Greed Corp more like a board game or a chess match, where thinking ahead is everything.

Aside from the harvester there’s only one other building, the walker-building armoury. The last options left are the carrier which can transport walkers anywhere on the map in one move (useful at the end-game when most territory has been destroyed), and the cannon. This fixed weapon can blast walkers apart, but more importantly it can damage the terrain, possibly causing a chain reaction that can crumble numerous tiles. It’s great fun to back your opponent into a corner before using a well-placed shell to destroy his little fortress.

W!Games have done very well to create such an interesting game with such a small amount of options, but it’s not perfect. Getting to grips with the game is fun and scoring that perfect win with every move planned in advance is highly rewarding, but after completing a few missions the effect starts to wear off. The opening moves of a match change game-on-game, but too often these moves result in matches of attrition, with teams gradually wearing down each other’s supplies until one finally overwhelms the other. It’s certainly not always the case, especially in matches with more than two teams, but the irony of the game is that its main mechanic, the destruction of territory, leeches the strategy out of many situations.
The single-player game features one campaign for each of the four teams: the Freemen, the Cartel, the Pirates and the Empire. The difficulty is progressively upped along the way, but given that the only difference between the teams is their appearance, the single-player mode gets old fairly quickly. Multiplayer options help to flesh out the game and improve its longevity, since human unpredictability nearly always helps to improve strategy games.

It helps that the game looks and sounds great. The visuals are well designed, particularly with regard to the look of each team. From the grey, armour-clad Empire to the rustic wooden Freemen who are depicted as hippy tree-huggers, but yet still smash the land apart – story, bah! The soundtrack is also a pleasant surprise, with scratchy gramophone-jazz tunes accompanying the quirky destruction. It’s a shame that the gaps between tracks are so long, but that is hardly worth moaning about.

By all means grab a demo and give Greed Corp a go. It’s a very interesting take on turn-based strategy that will really appeal to some. W!Games have devised an intriguing system and done a really good job embellishing it with cracking visuals and sound. It’s a very accomplished product for its price, though whether it’ll keep players in for the long run is questionable.

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