By: Kurt Knudsen

Earth 2150 is arguably both a great videogame and a classic representation of the RTS genre. Its lauded sequel hits retail shelves in mid-September of 2005, and fans of the genre are eagerly awaiting its arrival—and, based on the following, it is not difficult to see why.

The graphics on display in Earth 2160 are easily some of the best to grace the RTS genre, and the game’s performance when sporting this level of eye candy is truly astounding. Obviously graphics are not the key ingredient when it comes to making a good game, and certainly not an RTS title. Thankfully, the story and gameplay are both solid. The maps are fairly linear, but that’s not such a bad thing because they are fairly expansive, and finding your way to an enemy base could quickly become boring if there were too many paths.

Everything in Earth 2160 is highly detailed. The buildings look incredible, as do the specific units; their graphic details holding fast even when zoomed in to maximum. If you want to, you can zoom to almost a first-person perspective and watch assigned units battle for glory within a spectacular show of special effects and gorgeous explosions. The particle effect system used in Earth 2160 for its explosions and collapsing buildings is probably the best this (p)reviewer has ever seen. Overall, the effects look so realistic and lushly detailed that, in the case of Earth 2160 seeing is truly believing.

The preview build played contained 2 campaigns and a few skirmish maps. During these it was possible to play as either the ED (Eurasian Dynasty), or the LC (Lunar Corporation). Each of these factions has their own advantages and disadvantages as well as specific heroes. Each faction also has a unique way of building and, personally speaking, it took a little time to get used to—as I haven’t often come across something like this. The ED faction allows you to build a main base and then set buildings within its accessible connection areas; they must be in a position to connect to the main base in order to be built. You can also construct buildings away from the main base, like in any other RTS, but in order to build infantry and vehicles you need to have the main base set before you can construct anything else. On the other hand, the LC faction requires you to erect your buildings vertically and almost all structures require this base building. The problem with the LC faction’s building design is that if a middle section of a constructed building is destroyed then the entire thing could crumble to the ground. When a building does go down, the infantry working there come out and fight against attacking forces.

The next thing to talk about is researching. You can upgrade your vehicle weapons with a more deadly array, and you can also research new wheels, chassis, and weapons, amongst other things. Your units can also be researched to unlock rocket units, or a more advanced, deadlier type of unit. Some units and vehicles can only attack via air or ground, and others can attack using both. The options in the game seem limitless and the deadly army you can create verges on the incomprehensible.

During the missions your specific hero units must survive in order for you to win. Sometimes there is more than one hero for you to handle but, either way, there is always at least one in your force. These heroes can inflict far greater attack damage and also regenerate health much faster than other units. They can also pick up new weapons and other items and switch them against that which they’re already carrying. For instance, a hero can replace his default armor with discarded stealth armor that he’s able to pick up. The stealth armor activates whenever he should stop moving, and certainly comes in handy should he wish to ambush a patrolling enemy unit. The heroes offer up valuable assets not available through the standard issue units.

The last notable point that needs coverage on Earth 2160 is its resource gathering. Each faction requires two different resources, and there are three different resources in all. Metal, water, and crystal are all needed in order to build units, research new parts, and complete mission objectives. All three are readily available on every map and your faction won’t harvest any unnecessary resource. Each faction harvests differently; for instance, the ED faction sends out aerial units to pick it up and fly back to base, whereas the LC faction constructs mining facilities that gather resources within a defined radius. They can gather either one or both resources, the player can select which mine gathers which resource.

Based upon the knowledge and impression gathered while playing this build of the game, any genuine fan of the real-time strategy genre is urged to seek out Earth 2160. Quite simply, it will knock your RTS-lovin’ socks off. Rise of Nations, Star Wars: Empire at War, Joint Task Force, and Age of Empires III all have another decent competitor to contend with. It seems 2005 could well become the year of the RTS.