3D strategy game previewed
As in the classic sci-fi movie "The Day The Earth Caught Fire", Earth 2150 sees the planet knocked from its orbit and sent spiralling into the sun by man's weapons of mass destruction.
This being 2150 though, there is a chance of escape. The problem is that there aren't enough resources left on Earth to build enough ships to evacuate everybody, and so the three main political factions resort to fighting over the scraps.
And this is where you come in, taking control of a small base of operations and striking out into hostile territory to gather the resources your commanders need to get you off the planet before it burns up.
I'll Take Your Brain To Another Dimension
The game itself is a real time strategy affair, powered by a 3D rotatey-spinny™ graphics engine which lets you view the action from almost any angle, from a standard top down view to almost ground level.
The terrain over which you are fighting is made up of rugged mountains, rolling hills, twisting canyons, and swelling seas. The landscape is dotted with trees, bridges, and even Mayan temples in some missions. Your units and buildings are represented by highly detailed and beautifully animated models.
The graphics are gorgeous, with all the explosions and coloured lighting effects you would expect. There is a full day and night cycle, with shadows gradually moving as the day passes. Then as night falls everything goes dark, only for lights to fire up on your buildings and vehicles, turning the world around your base into a spray of technicolour.
Seeing a tank bumping over the hills in the dark with its headlights flashing over the terrain believably as it moves is quite a sight... You can even turn your lights off to sneak up on your enemy amongst the shadows, and knocking out the enemy's power supply will plunge their base into darkness.
So it not only looks pretty, it also adds another possible strategy to the game.
I Got It One Piece At A Time
In fact, the game has an almost endless range of possibilities, with a wide choice of land, air and sea vehicles to research and build, each with their own strengths and weaknesses.
Best of all, you can design your own units. Take a basic chassis, add a weapon or piece of specialist equipment to it, and then save your design. Now your factories can build your homebrew unit, and as your research progresses it constantly opens up more possibilities.
Your units need resupplying, and to do this you need a supply depot and some helicopters to fly the ammunition out to your troops in the field. Again, it opens up another strategy, as you can leave enemy units helpless by taking out their supply system and then waiting for them to run out of ammunition.
Defensive systems are well catered for as well, with a range of sentry towers, trenches, and walls on offer. With a little effort you can turn your base into the gaming equivalent of Fort Knox.
I'm Going Deeper Underground
Of course, if you are having problems moving around on the surface you can always take the underground...
Earth 2150 allows you to build extensive tunnel systems beneath the surface of the map, and all you need is an access point on the surface at each end. Some of the missions require you to go underground, and in others you can use tunnels to take a short cut under mountains or other obstructions.
And as if handling the war on the surface, in the air, and underground wasn't enough, you also retain control of your main base throughout the game, able to switch backwards and forwards between the battlefield and home base to exchange resources and units.
And because it is possible to transfer any units you have left at the end of a mission back to your base of operations, you can then use them again in the next mission as soon as you have built a landing zone at your desired destination.
Units gain experience as the game progresses, so re-using vehicles from one mission to the next can help the war effort, especially once you manage to research the "repair" function, which allows you to build vehicles which can repair their damaged comrades.
That's Why I'm Easy
Luckily the game interface is fairly intuitive and straightforward, and the 3D camera is simply controlled by your mouse.
Some of the menus involve rather a lot of mouse clicking, but they are all logically laid out and easy to use. Even in the heat of battle the game isn't difficult to control, and despite the range of options available it never becomes totally overwhelming.
As long as you are comfortable using the standard mouse and keyboard combination you shouldn't have any major problems, and you can reconfigure most of the keyboard shortcuts if you're not happy with the defaults.
Earth 2150 is due for release in the UK in May 2000, and looks like it should be able to stand up to the might of Activision's Dark Reign II and Sierra's Ground Control as the 3D strategy war hots up later in the year.
With a wealth of options and possible strategies, new technologies to research, a non-linear mission structure and three single player campaigns to keep you busy, as well as full multiplayer support, this game is certainly one to watch out for this summer...