Earth 2140



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.



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