Ground Control II: Operation Exodus PC CD-ROM Official Website
by Vivendi Universal Games
Developed by Massive Entertainment
Released - Out Now
Price : £29.99
When Ground Control was first released most RTS games consisted of combat and resource management. For some gamers this was a bit of a put-off as they solely wanted to concentrate on the combat side of things. Ground Control was one of the first RTS games to give gamers of this persuasion their wish, and allowed them to concentrate solely on combat and it proved to be a big success. To further add to it's wow factor it was graphically impressive, especially if you had a decent graphics card and this helped to attract gamers because at that stage 3D strategy games didn't look that good. In fact in a lot of ways Ground Control was refreshing. If you have never played Ground Control you'll be pleased to learn that it's available for free (click here for details). Of course those that did play Ground Control will have been waiting patiently for the sequel to arrive and that's exactly what we are looking at today.
Ground Control II: Operation Exodus is set far in the future, the 28th Century to be exact. The game's campaigns tells the tale of the battle between the NSA (Northern Star Alliance), the Virons and the Terran Empire. The game begins with the majority of the NSA's territory having been taken by the Terran Empire under the leadership of Imperator Vlaana. The NSA are fighting for their very existence which is just the situation you need for some combat heavy RTS gaming. As well as the tutorials you'll play a campaign as the NSA and a campaign as the Virons with 12 missions in each campaign. Experienced RTS gamers will be pleased to know that the campaign missions are actually very challenging and even on normal difficulty, I had to have several attempts at certain missions. Thankfully the campaign missions are enjoyable and varied which is great particularly as they can be played in co-operative mode. This feature alone should make it very popular for network and Internet games. Single and multiplayer skirmish games are also possible and thanks to the included map editor we should see plenty of maps appearing on the Internet, which is always a good thing.
Another impressive feature of the original Ground Control was it's use of the terrain. Where you attacked from was crucial and could mean the difference between success and failure. Ground Control II is no different in this respect and again using your environment wisely is the key to success. Infantry units can be sent into buildings to give them protection as well as an elevation advantage. Even the weather in the game has an impact with rain, for instance, having an effect on weapon range. The tutorial drums into you the advantage of using forests to protect your inventory as well as other important tips that will help you attain success in the campaigns. Units can also be assigned into formations and they gain experience too, so it's wise to look after them. Of course since Ground Control there have been a few games such as World War II Frontline Command that also make great use of the environment and this maybe takes some of the shine away from Ground Control II but it's important to remember that these other games were probably influenced by the game play in the original Ground Control.
Like the original Ground Control, Ground Control II doesn't have a traditional resource management/base building element to the game. New units can be purchased but you won't have to keep an eye on production chains which could distract you from the dramatic battles. Units, support weapons and dropship upgrades are purchased with acquisition points. Acquisition points are earned by controlling Victory Locations (VL). To receive your purchases though you'll also need a Landing Zone (LZ) for your Dropship to offload them. The missions you'll play in Ground Control II have numerous VL's and LZ's and making sure you protect those you own is just as important as taking the enemies' away from them. Should you lose all the LZ's you own you'll have no way of receiving reinforcements or upgrades and if you lose all of the VL's you'll have no way of paying for reinforcements or upgrades. As you can see keeping your VL's and LZ's and depriving the enemy of theirs is a fundamental part of the game play in Ground Control II.
Graphically Ground Control II doesn't quite have the same wow factor that Ground Control had. This isn't a negative comment by any means as Ground Control II looks very good. When Ground Control was released 3D strategy titles were not as good as they could have been but over the last few years the standard of 3D RTS games has steadily increased to the point where most of them look good. In terms of graphical quality Ground Control II offers a solid improvement over the original game and looks good when zoomed in or out. The water effects and unit animations are particularly impressive as is the fact that you don't need a high end PC to run the game in it's full graphical glory. You have the option of using two methods of camera control. The default option is the classic RTS camera where you move the mouse to the edge of the screen to scroll around. You can also choose to switch to the original Ground Control camera where you use the cursor keys to scroll around and move the mouse to change your point of view (you also get to appreciate the high detailed skies that are on offer with this method). Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages but both are equally usable.
Ground Control II is fine for deaf gamers. Subtitles can be enabled for both the main game and the cutscenes so you'll be able to follow the story. The game's tutorials are also fully subtitled too. We reviewed the game with the first patch installed. One of the features of this patch is that it allows you to take away the rather large interface controls at the bottom of the screen. This is great for adding to the immersive quality of the game but it does have one side effect for deaf gamers in that subtitles do not appear as they would with the interface showing so in effect it's not really an option for deaf gamers to play the game without the full interface being shown. Mission objectives are shown in text and can be recalled either by pressing the 'N' key or clicking on the mission objectives button. Unit confirmations (the verbal response you receive from your units when you've issued them an order) are not subtitled but this isn't a problem. I was impressed to see that you can also change the size of the text within the game and I think it's the first time I've seen such a feature. The game manual is also very good and covers the fundamentals of the game play as well as backstory to the game.
Ground Control came along and introduced plenty of innovations to the RTS genre. Ground Control II can't claim to do the same but it's a great game nevertheless. Most will appreciate the quality of the campaigns and the inclusion of the co-operative mode which allows gamers to play through the campaigns together. It would have been great to have seen some additional and more innovative multiplayer modes but what's on offer is enjoyable and I'm sure the inclusion of the map editor will ensure it becomes a popular game for LAN parties and Internet play. Until now 2004 hasn't been the greatest of years for RTS games but Ground Control II is certainly one to remember and fans of the genre should definitely put this on their wish list.
Game Rating: 8.9/10
A very impressive sequel to Ground Control that will please not only fans of the original game but also those who just like a quality RTS experience.
The game is subtitled although if you cut away the interface (after the installation of the patch) the subtitles also disappear.