Z: Steel Soldiers
by Eon Digital Entertainment
Designed by The Bitmap Brothers
Platform: PC CDROM
Price £29.99 Released: Friday 8th June
Pentium 2 266 (Pentium 3 600 and above recommended)
64MB of RAM (at least 128MB recommended)
8MB graphics/video card (32MB recommended)
Soldiers is a follow up to the aged RTS Z. The Bitmap Brothers were legends
back in the days of the Amiga and it was a little disappointing to find their
first venture into the PC RTS resulted in a less than classic game. The difficulty
level was far too hard and many people simply refused to put the time in to
appreciate the game in it's entirety. Z:SS attempts to put right what went wrong
with the original and it is a fair comment to say that it succeeds.
Here at Deaf Gamers we were expecting an instant classic. PC magazines have lavished 90% scores on the game and our anticipation was high. On starting the first mission though disaster struck. The intro cutscene had no subtitles, it did have a brilliant cartoon, comic book style to it but no subtitles. This was a disaster, well almost one, the text for the intro can be found on page 10 of the manual. Although this is a partial solution for the deaf gamer it is not the ideal one and it can never replace onscreen subtitles. The graphic requirements for the game are sky high. We reviewed the game on a Athlon Thunderbird 900 with a Radeon 32MB and found that only by turning the anti-aliasing off was the frame rate acceptable at the 800x600 resolution (the framerate jumped from 18fps to 81fps) so bear this in mind if you find the game slow going.
The game includes a single player story that is played out over 30 levels which are spread over six worlds. The story around the game revolves around Captain Zod and the animosity between the MegaCom Corporation and TransGlobal empires. The primary complaint with Z:SS is that cutscenes are used to relay the story to the player. As the cutscenes are unsubtitled, for deaf gamers the story doesn't really come across and you lose some of the flavour of the game that the hearing gamer enjoys. There is also a skirmish mode and a multiplayer mode. The multiplayer game has a handful of various modes but it doesn't really play well over a modem so unless you have a broadband connection you're in for a laggy experience.
The single player mode has been well thought out and the variety in the missions is very good. The frustration factor of the original game has gone and gameplay is simple, fast and fun. The game map is split into zones and each zone contains the all important flag (more like a small tower really but it's called a flag). Z:SS contains no resource management as such and the credits you need to build robots/vehicles/weapons come automatically from the zones. The real killer feature here is that each zone's flag has a number on it, ranging from 1-5. The number 2 on a flag means that ownership of that zone yields twice as much credits as normal and 5 on a flag means five times as many credits. It is clear to see that this adds strategic importance to the higher valued zones as well as being a superb gameplay enhancing feature. The primary goal in a skirmish game is to destroy the opponents HQ but in the missions other objectives such as rescues or destruction of a specific building is sometimes the way to victory.
The interface of the game is OK but again the deaf gamer loses out on some detail. You are told verbally if say group 1 is under attack but textually you get a very small message in the status panel (all of these status panels are too small and cannot be increased in size) saying that a unit is under attack. This point sums up Z:SS for deaf gamers; the game is good but it's not as good as the one the hearing gamer is experiencing.
The game is full of interesting structures and units. Units such as the spy, can cloak and weapons such as viruses can be used. There is even a building that can change the environmental conditions as well as teleport facilities. Some nice innovations include unclaimed structures that you can claim when you seize control of a zone. This helps give you a boost especially when you come across one early in a mission. The method of research is also refreshing. Instead of having to have prerequisite materials and other such nonsense, your 'tech level' rises as you advance through the game and in the usual manner allows access to stronger units and more sophisticated vehicles. This is just another example of how the game removes the baggage that usually comes with a RTS.
Z: Steel Soldiers is a classic for the hearing gamer. However we are only interested in it's relevance for a deaf gamer and from this standpoint the game is simply not an outstanding experience. That said though the game is still a good RTS and the skirmish games do not have the vocal feedback that the missions have. If you like your RTS then Z:SS will probably appeal to you, just be warned that you will be missing some info and you will not be able to fully appreciate the story behind missions.
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Overall Game Rating: 7/10 The lack of subtitles and correct text feedback of verbal comments has crippled what is otherwise a great RTS game.
Quality of text: 3/10 No subtitles in cutscenes and the test is too small in the status panels. Verbal messages in the missions are not relayed in text.
Graphics: 8/10 A nice 3D engine but units are a little bland.
Interface: 8/10 Different but effective and status panels can be moved and the colours can be changed.
Gameplay: 9/10 Simple, fast and most important of all fun.