Title Earth 2140 Game Type Management Sim Publisher Topware Interactive (Amiga version by Pagan Games) Players 1 (multi-player available on mission disk) Compatibility Graphics card only, 68060 or PPC, 24MB RAM HD Installable Yes (CD required) Submission Eric Haines Review Since the realtime strategy genre can be considered to have started on the Amiga with Dune II, it's appropriate that even in these lean times, we would be blessed with not one but two of these games, released at nearly the same time (namely, around the beginning of 2001). They were Exodus: The Last War and Earth 2140. While Exodus was an Amiga original, Earth 2140 is a port from the PC world, which has since had a sequel, Earth 2150. It's a technically demanding port at that, so how does it measure up? First off, unless your Amiga is expanded to the max, don't even bother. No AGA here; you've got to have a graphics card that does 16-bit color. You can choose between 640x480 or 800x600 resolutions; naturally the latter is better since you can see more of the action. The minimum processor required is a 68060, but you'd be a lot better off with a PPC board. Like Exodus, Earth 2140 starts off with a lengthy animation. Exodus used this to set up the story, but Earth 2140 goes for depicting a battle sequence that might happen in the game. As far as eye-candy goes, it's quite impressive and Hollywood-esque. There isn't much to the story anyway--it's a bleak future, with two sides fighting over what few resources are left. You're then presented with an option screen. Some of the options aren't obvious though, since you have to scroll the screen left or right to get at them. (And not just a standard everyday scroll, but a perspective-mapped scroll, subtly impressive but a little slow.) You can review stats for all the units and buildings in the game, which is helpful but can take some time since there are a lot of them. Probably it's best to play the game for a while and then come back to this for the details. You can start a multi-player game over the internet here, or you would be able to, except this option isn't implemented. You'll have to buy the expansion disk for that, which as of this writing (July 8, 2001) should be released any day now. That leaves the single player game. As usual, you start by picking which side you want to control. You're then presented with a map of the world (again with the perspective scrolling), which isn't too useful at first since you only get to pick one area. Later, after completing several missions, the game branches out and you can choose from three areas of combat. You still have to play all the missions, though, since when you've conquered all three areas, you have access to the final area. When that's completed, you've won the game. As usual with RTS games, you start with the basic units and get more of them the further into the game you get. The branching missions scheme does interfere with this progression, since you'll have all but the most powerful units once you've completed one of the three areas, only to start over again, technology-wise, when you start another area. While this doesn't make a great deal of sense, I actually liked it, since it gives the game more variety. As I mentioned, there are quite a few units, especially since there isn't much duplication between the two sides, except in terms of general power. One side has a mech theme, with large walking robots, and the other side is more traditionally tank-oriented. Missile-firing helicopters vs. bombers. Standard boats vs. submarines that are invisible until they attack. (One side has large, expensive battleships, with nothing on the other side to match it.) If you capture an enemy production center, you'll be able to produce the enemy's units for your own use, though since the technologies differ between the two sides you'll be limited in what you can produce this way. (Fortunately the color of the units differs so things don't get too confusing.) Buildings, except for looks, are mostly identical for both sides. Instead of placing buildings directly on the map, the structures start off as slow but heavily armored vehicles, which you can send anywhere you want and then order them to transform into buildings. For the sake of defense, though, you're still better off grouping them together as much as possible, although remotely-placed defense towers can be strategically useful. Often you start off with one or more buildings already in place, and sometimes you start with none, in which case you have to capture an enemy production center if you want to get anywhere. Like other RTS games, you have to mine resources and turn them into cash. Unlike the others, there's no obvious indication of where these are. You have to rely on the small radar map; if one of your units is near a likely spot, it will show up on the radar. This makes resource-hunting all the more challenging, especially on large maps when you have to squint at the radar to see the tiny colored blob that indicates a good place to put a mine. At least you can toggle the background off on the radar to make that tiny colored blob easier to see. The graphics for all of these units and buildings are all very nicely done and detailed, as you might expect from 800x600 16-bit color. There are lots of explosions and fires, little bits of debris flying everywhere and smoke drifting in the breeze. The building explosions, though detailed, aren't as satisfying as those in Exodus, which has massive clouds of flame, big chunks flying around, and a floor-shaking boom. The reactor explosions in Earth 2140 come closest, with big mushroom clouds (and lethal radioactivity left behind--make sure your soldier units don't get too close to the resulting crater for the next 10,000 years). The terrain graphics are also second-best compared to Exodus, or even Napalm. They go the traditional RTS route of a few terrain types (grass, desert, snow, none of which affect gameplay at all), with standard building blocks making up each map. By contrast, every single map in Exodus has a different look, and almost seems like a single huge gorgeous bitmap picture; you've got to look hard to see any repetition. Earth 2140 does have more maps though, and bigger ones at that. Bigger isn't necessarily better however, and this leads to a couple of problems. Most of the maps use a lot of plateaus and valleys, which can make getting your units around rather challenging. Fortunately the AI pathfinding routines are quite good and the units will find their way through the most twisty of mazes...except sometimes the maps are so big, and there get to be so many units, that the AI conks out and the units can barely figure out how to go in a straight line without getting stuck. Good thing you can set waypoints to manually get around this to some degree, but the only real solution is to destroy enough enemy units (which you want to do anyway) so the AI eventually kicks back in. The other problem with such huge maps (aside from the slower units taking a LONG time to get anywhere) is that when you do finally get close to winning, there will inevitably be a few enemy units scattered about that you can't find, and thus can't finish. The only real way to save a lot of aggravation here is to cheat and turn the fog of war off, and also toggle the radar so units show up better. Sonically, the game is about average. The sound effects serve well enough, although the mech side has a disadvantage here, since the mechs make noise when walking around and the tanks are silent. So you can tell when there are mechs nearby even if you can't see them. The CD music generally is decent, though there are a couple of tracks that sound ridiculously out of place in a heavy-metal, war-torn scenario like Earth 2140. The overall playability is reasonably high, with few problems. As I mentioned, the two sides have different units, but they are generally balanced well. The air units are useful and sometimes necessary, but they're also easily destroyed so they don't dominate like the air units do in Exodus. Defense towers are likewise easily destroyed by heavy fire-power, so you can't just build a row of them and expect them to take care of all your defense for you, like you can in Napalm and Exodus. (Also they're harder to replace, since you can't just instantly plop down more when one gets destroyed, because of the "mobile units which turn into buildings" scheme.) When starting the game, you can pick from three difficulty levels, though I found the hardest level to be easier than either Napalm or Exodus. Not that there's no challenge, but I never suffered the "restart for the 50th time" syndrome that plagued a few Exodus and Napalm missions.) While most of the missions fall under the "wipe 'em all out" category, there is enough variation (capture a building here, rescue a damaged unit there) to keep monotony at bay. One of the problems has to do with one of the units you can eventually build for one side; namely, the stealth unit. This makes all units nearby invisible...or should I say, invincible (to everything except mines), since the enemy doesn't even try to return fire. It would have been better, I think, if the invisibility made the units just harder to hit, since realistically you would be able see where the missiles are coming from, and make a good guess where to aim. The player has an advantage here, since when playing the other side, you can do just that and target the ground where enemy fire is coming from, but the computer AI never bothers. I suppose it's a good thing, since when playing the side with the stealth unit, sometimes you're so outnumbered that the only hope is some invincible units that can wipe out hordes of enemies without a scratch. The only defenses are a (surprise!) anti-stealth unit, which jams the cloaking device (the computer makes poor use of this), mines, and defense towers, which also jam the stealth unit if it gets too close. Overall though, I thought the stealth unit detracted more from the game than it added to it. Also, I found the soldier units to be generally useless, except for capturing enemy buildings. Sure they're cheap, but they travel around all clumped together, so one missile can wipe out an entire squadron. You'd be better off spending that money on something that can take a few hits. This makes the soldier repair vehicle silly and useless, since soldiers have so little health they're basically either functioning or gone; it's less bother and more useful to just make new ones. Too bad there wasn't a "scatter" command or something, since a horde of soldiers surrounding the enemy, having to be picked off one by one, would be a lot more interesting. If you're not of the opinion that "progress is its own reward," you might find the game disappointing, since winning or losing a mission results in a simple "Mission accomplished" or "Mission failed," no fancy victory screens, no "# of enemy units demolished" tallies, you're simply on to the next mission. Or not, if you've beaten the game, in which case you just get another (very short) animation. Then there are the bugs, one of which I've already covered (the disappearing pathfinding AI). Each group of missions has a short animation, but a couple of these are missing sound. The final game-winning animation plays during the last group of missions when you quit to the option screen, so if you want any sort of reward you'd better skip it until you've actually won. I was stuck on one level for a while, since several enemy units were kept "off the map," and they could fire at me but I couldn't hit them, so I couldn't complete the mission. (Eventually I discovered that removing some resources from the edge allowed the units to enter the map, so I could finally blow them up.) There was even a fatal bug that occurred when I ordered a battleship to fire on buildings--this caused the game to consistently crash with a WarpOS exception. Later on, after I'd wiped out most of the enemy, this didn't happen. The only way around this was to save the game, run the 68K version, attack buildings with the battleships, then save the game and load the PPC version again. And trust me, you do want to run the PPC version. The 68060 version works well in 640x480 mode with the smallest maps, but as the maps get bigger the game gets slower, to the point of being nearly unplayable with the huge maps. The PPC version ranges from too fast with the small maps to just right with the big ones. There is a speed control, but unfortunately it makes the game jerkier rather than just slower. So, unless these bugs are also present in the PC version, I'd have to say Pagan has a little ways to go before they can match the perfect job that Hyperion has been doing with their ports. Still, Earth 2140 is good most of the time and is a decent RTS game overall despite some flaws. It will have a big advantage over the others when the mission disk is released, because then it will have internet play which should liven things up compared to the computer AI (which is okay but not as good as some would claim). If you're interested in RTS games but only want one, I'd have to recommend Exodus over Earth 2140. It's got much better terrain graphics despite only being 8 bit color, massive explosions, better music, and though it has fewer units and perhaps some less balanced gameplay, is somehow a little more fun, and it's also more rewarding. Not bad considering it probably had less than 1/10th the budget of Earth 2140, if that. Not to mention that it has lower hardware requirements. Still, if you've already played Exodus, want more, need another reason to use your PPC board, and are tired of waiting for the sequel to Napalm, Earth 2140 is a good way to pass the time. Especially with the mission disk, which is supposed to have 80(!) extra missions, a few new units and buildings, and of course internet play, which could be the deciding factor if you're into that type of gaming.