An RTS Covered In Goo: ‘Grey Goo’Filed inside: Reviews
Too long has the RTS world been dominated by the same players. Even as more and more players get involved in loosely related ventures (see: every MOBA ever), these games continue to pervade the strategic experience. It may be time to welcome a new player to that field, however, in the form of Grey Goo: an RTS return-to-roots that, against the odds, delivers a fresh face on familiar foundation.
The triple-faction style heralded by StarCraft returns in full force, with the Betas, the Silent Ones, and the Goo. It’s often been my complaint that the factions in older RTS games weren’t differentiated enough, allowing players to easily switch between them and employ a few unique strategies—but ultimately their gameplays are similar. Even one of my favorites, Supreme Commander, only gives some light specialization to its factions.
Grey Goo leaves that behind, utilizing a simple control scheme to make interacting with each separate faction simple, but offering completely different ways to play for each. You’re slowly introduced to each faction’s nuances throughout the relatively short (fifteen missions, five per faction) campaign, but it’s not terribly difficult to jump into skirmish matches and try to work out which one works for you on your own.
The Betas are the most traditional of the three. The (apparently Australian) honorable alien race can develop sprawling bases, as establishing outposts is as simple as dropping hubs of various sizes to attach important structures to. They’re easily the most defensive of the bunch, with more heavily armored buildings and units, as well as walls and some units that can be mounted by other units in order to stack firepower.
The Silent Ones (spoiler: They’re Humans) are the hyper-futuristic race. They’re also the most heavily structure-based faction of the batch and offer the more offensive slant to their units. Their primary defining characteristic is that all their structures must be connected by power conduits that run along the ground. This is somewhat problematic, as lots of environmental elements cannot be built over, which can severely limit expansion possibilities and as resources are consumed, you’ll find yourself running long escort chains to keep your economy flowing in. All buildings the Humans build can be teleported to available space along your grid, which can be used to confuse your opponents when they return after an assault only to find key targets in different locations and shuffled defensive turrets. Artillery units can cripple humans, however, as power conduits without redundancies built in can be easily destroyed to shut down buildings on the other end.
The titular Goo are the standout, however. As amorphous globs of nanomachines, the Goo flow across the map, sucking up resources merely by moving over them. As those resources build, you can split off different-sized globs to form different units (or another Mother Goo to act as an additional mobile base). Where the other factions require special attachments to their factories to unlock more advanced or specialized units, the Goo can pump them out with significantly less effort, which lends them to rush strategies. Similarly, several Goo units can surmount difficult terrain that is impossible for the other factions to move over. While they are simple at first, extended gameplay can render the Goo nearly impossible to control, as micromanaging eight Mothers can be not only tedious, but downright stressful.
In that regard, the Goo come as the most unique aspect of gameplay, as well as the one that is the source of the most evil laughs as enemies scramble to combat your ambushes. Where enemies can put up walls to stem assaults from particular angles or stall enemies, the Goo can simply climb over cliffs and spawn assault forces in an immensely short period of time. Need resources in an emergency? A Mother Goo can roll right over enemy units and structures and absorb them slowly to extract resources and cause damage. Traditional RTS rules simply don’t apply to the Goo, and they shine when you buck expectations and use them in radical ways.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the streamlined UI. Similar units and structures shared between the factions can be quickly queued up through a series of three button presses. All refineries, for instance, can be queued up by pressing “Q” three times, same with basic infantry units. The sacrifice here is that there aren’t many units to select for each faction.
The game functions on a floating economy, much like Total Annihilation and Supreme Commander, which means that resources are both gathered and spent incrementally on a per second basis, rather than spent all at once, like WarCraft. It’s a method I prefer, as I feel that your economy in games like these is something that demands just as much management as your armies. Rather than wait until you have enough gold to build that barracks, you instead need to make sure that you’ve got enough resources coming in to support your new expansions while also maintaining unit production. You don’t want to overharvest, either, or those excess resources go to waste.
Map design isn’t the most inspired, but everything is pretty much symmetrical and balanced in that regard. The game offers enough options that you can develop basic strategies, but it’s not as diverse as some other games you could play. Tech upgrades offer an easy way to tweak your units different categories, but you’re limited to one upgrade per category. The AI is designed to react to your interactions and try to counter you in specific ways, but I suspect this was just some jargon to make the AI sound more impressive (I imagine it simply counters your tech upgrades in particular ways, but could be wrong). This is mitigated by the option to deactivate an upgrade and research another. It’s inexpensive and quick enough to really turn a PvP match on its side when the majority of your army suddenly gains a new ability, for instance. Add to that minor environmental gimmicks you can utilize to your advantage (naturally occurring walls can limit enemy attack options and conveniently placed brush can conceal units for ambushes).
Gameplay is generally smooth and feels fairly quick, though in my experiences so far, if one side gains even a minor advantage early in one-on-one matches, it’s far too difficult to come back from. Similarly, it seems at initial glance that the factions aren’t super balanced. Play among newer players will almost certainly be dominated by Beta play, since it’s the easiest to acclimate to. Even if power conduits can be built quickly, it requires considerable planning to ensure your network as a Human isn’t completely trashed by a single stray artillery shell.
What surprised me the most about Petroglyph’s undertaking was the immensely high production value. Even if it wasn’t particularly action-packed, the cinematic cutscenes were impressive to say the least. The Betas ooze regal stature from body position all the way down to truly inspiring facial animations that can easily go toe-to-toe with modern-day AAA titles from larger studios. They’re not exactly indie, but it’s still awesome to see these sorts of advancements in presentation. The voice acting was also high-end, avoiding the oh-so-common pitfall of ear-gratingly poor acting.
My hardware isn’t the most advanced ever, but it’s a pretty powerful machine, and I still found framerate issues to be fairly prevalent before turning quite a few of the fancier in-game visual effects off. Even running at about half-strength, the visuals are pretty good. Textures stand up to scrutiny well enough, and models are small enough that simple animations do the job just fine. Environments are colorful and lush, with enough flora and fauna moving about to make the worlds seem alive before you start shelling the crap out of them.
All-in-all it was a surprisingly fun experience. Some technical hiccups aside, playing as the Goo is a breath of fresh air in an industry that seems entrenched in its ideals. The game bills itself as a return to form for RTS games, and I wouldn’t go so far as to confirm that. With that in mind, it’s an enjoyable game with strong enough production to justify its cost with ease. I recommend it to any fan of RTS games, but to the uninitiated it might be a little less accessible than the game’s more popular contemporaries.
Check it out on Steam for $49.99. Video below.