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If a game is going to draw inspiration from another game or games, it might as well draw its inspiration from the best. In the case of Related Design’s No Man’s Land, you’ll find a gracefully constructed RTS that is heavily influenced by some of the gold standard games in the genre.
Explore the semi-historical world of early North America through the usual array of RTS gameplay options. Starting with the Spanish colonization of the new world, the three available campaigns, featuring six factions, cover 300 years of North American conflict. Each faction requires different play styles, so you can definitely have fun exploring each and every one of them in the single player and multiplayer maps.
Aesthetically speaking, No Man’s Land definitely makes an attempt to present storylines that actually make you care about the endless base-building and forest-crawl missions. There are several high quality CG movie clips throughout the game that are nicely directed. In addition, there are many more short scenes rendered using the in-game graphics to help further the various plots.
The in-game environments are pleasing to the eye. They are not the best graphics in an RTS game by a long shot, but they are far from bad. The creepy, benighted woods of some levels, coupled with the ambient sounds of howling wolves are very well realized. Water is represented fairly well in those missions that contain naval combat.
There are, however, a few aspects of No Man’s Land that are not as refined. Unit pathfinding is downright frustrating, and the AI in general is questionable. Units routinely get hung up on buildings, shrubs and sometimes each other. There are a variety of attitudes that you can be set for your military units: defend, attack, hold position, etc. However, I found that there really wasn’t a default mode. There were far too many instances of units standing about while they’re being hacked to pieces or shot full of musket balls. I see no reason why a unit should have any AI routine that prevents it from defending itself or even moving while it’s being attacked. There are some elite units with a stealth ability where this comes into play, but why would even these units stand about and take it up the chute if they have been discovered?
Unfortunately, the quirky AI makes it difficult to attack opponents in an efficient and organized way. After a very short time, if you have a superior force, you’ll just let your units run wild. It’s easier than trying to control them.
These frustrating incidents are not, once you learn to accept and work around them, enough to make you turn off the game and relegate it to the trade-in pile, for you will actually care enough to push past these annoyances and finish the game. The story sequences help to keep you engaged, and when you consider the big picture, this is a pretty solid, old school RTS with some sloppy AI that could be remedied in the future.
Following one of the hotter trends in the genre, factions in No Man’s Land contain several hero units along with a rudimentary RPG system for leveling up those heroes. While this adds a little flavor to the gameplay, experience earned does not carry over to the next mission in the campaign. Within the framework of a particular mission, a hero will accrue experience and attain higher levels, resulting in more hit points, etc, but those new stats will not follow him to the next mission.
Special abilities can be researched for these elite units as well. These enhancements are not tied to experience points, so the only prerequisites for obtaining these abilities are the availability of that research facility in the mission and the cost of researching that skill. In the end, the hero feature feels like an afterthought.
Some positives are the subtle differences between the various factions. No Man’s Land places you in the boots, or moccasins, of Spaniards, Englishmen, Woodland and Prairie Indians, Settlers and Patriots. These aren’t just the same units with different names and character models. For example, the Woodland Indians can all swim. This attention to detail and diversity increases the re-playability factor.
Multiplayer is available via LAN and online with Gamespy Arcade, so if you really feel the need, you can install that insidious application and take on human opponents. Of course, this allows you to talk smack, and in my case, drop the science about REAL American history while I’m getting my ass kicked.
It seems like a new RTS game is born every minute these days. In order to compete, a strategy title must offer more than a flashy cover. No Man’s Land attempts to stake its claim with above-average production values, RPG elements and six significantly unique factions, but hardcore RTS gamers are not very forgiving of sloppy execution. Questionable unit AI prevents No Man’s Land from swimming in the same pool as the big boys. Even though it draws heavily from games such as Warcraft III and Age of Mythology, No Man’s Land just lacks a level of refinement and polish that is necessary to be one of the best in the RTS niche, although it still offers quite a few hours of gameplay to RTS players.