The Bitmap Brothers' light-hearted robot-themed real-time strategy game Z: Steel Soldiers relaunches on PC today.
It unlocks on Steam this evening.
Digital publishers Kiss and Kavcom say they've enhanced the controls and rebooted the graphics for the latest version. You can see it in action in the video below.
The Bitmap Brothers' light-hearted robot-themed real-time strategy game Z launches on Steam this week.
Those of our readers with a long memory and a few grey hairs may
remember the original Z, which was released way back in 1996.
Although it was a real-time strategy game, Z replaced the now
traditional harvesting and mining of games like Warcraft and
Command & Conquer with a resource system based on occupying
The Bitmap Brothers
Pentium II 266 or equivalent
8Mb Direct3D graphics card
650Mb hard drive space
Back Once Again
The newly released sequel Z : Steel Soldiers is much the same, with
each map split into several territories and players battling to
reach the flags which control them. The more territories you
control the more rapidly you will gain credits to spend on new
units and buildings, and every battle therefore tends to begin with
a mad dash to touch as many flags as possible, shortly followed by
a chaotic mid-field scrum as the two sides clash and try to hang on
to the territory that they have already grabbed.
Once things have quietened down a bit you might find time to build
up your base, change your army from a disorganised rabble into a
well-honed fighting machine, and start indulging in some actual
tactics instead of just throwing troops into the grinder. Z is not
going to appeal to the more sedate and thoughtful strategy gamers
out there - if you sit back and expand slowly the enemy will be
swarming into your base with hordes of robots and tanks before you
know what hit you. The only way to win the game is to hit hard and
hit fast, then desperately try to regain control of the situation
once the initial tank rush is over.
At the heart of Z is a single player campaign featuring a linear
progression of thirty missions, linked by comic book style
cutscenes which look good but are mostly deeply unamusing. Someone
must have surgically removed the Bitmap Brothers' sense of humour
since 1996, because the jokes in the game usually fall fairly flat.
Mission objectives vary from rescuing prisoners of war and
escorting your commander through enemy territory to ambushing
convoys and capturing enemy buildings. This keeps the story moving
along nicely, with your commander Zod managing to break a
cease-fire between TransGlobal Industries and the MegaCom
Corporation, just when it looked like five centuries of war was
about to end. The good news is that he may have uncovered a
conspiracy in the process. As with most real-time strategy games
though this is all fairly irrelevant once the shooting starts.
Because of the way the resource system works you will have to grab
as much land as you can just to stop the enemy from building up too
much of an advantage, whatever it is that you are supposed
to be doing. The AI is bloodthirsty if a little uncoordinated, and
if you let it get the upper hand it will keep throwing troops at
you until it breaks through.
Your own units on the other hand are apparently a bunch of
pacifists. Even on the "aggressive" behaviour setting they will
often ignore enemies, even when the tank next to them is getting
pelted with rockets. This forces you to keep an eye on all of your
troops to make sure that none of them are being picked off by enemy
artillery or helicopters, which makes things even more chaotic.
There are also some irritating features, like the unstoppable air
raids which infect your buildings with a virus that causes guns to
fire randomly (often blowing each other up in the process) and
cancels factory build queues, forcing you to waste time setting
everything up again once the virus wears off. The game is already
pretty frantic at times, and the last thing you need is to be
forced to babysit your units and mess around giving the same orders
over and over again.
Unfortunately this isn't helped by the game's interface, which is
primitive at the best of times. Thankfully a few more hot keys have
been added in the latest patch, but even with the new found ability
to remove units from a group (ooh!) and select every unit of
the highlighted kind currently on the screen (ooooh!), it is still
clumsy and requires far more effort than should really be necessary
in a fast-paced strategy game.
Z seems to be lacking polish, and it was rather worrying when we
opened our boxed copy to discover a little leaflet warning that
there was a problem with starting the game up under Windows 2000,
and suggesting you download a patch from the
official website. Even
more worrying was that at the time of writing the latest patch
wasn't available there - you have to go and
download it from
FilePlanet instead - and
that even after patching the game still sometimes crashes without
In fact, the supposed Windows 2000 problem also effects other
operating systems, and it's hard to see how the beta testers could
have missed it. When you start the game the anti-piracy CD check
system doesn't shut down properly and leaves the game itself in a
background window. Unless you click on the greyed out pane to bring
it back to the front, the game just sits there without ever
loading. Whoops. The new patch more or less fixes this rather
obvious flaw, as well as solving an issue with the pathfinding code
freezing the game up for a second or two when you give your troops
a complex movement order, and curing various other annoying little
bugs and gameplay issues which afflicted the out-of-the-box version
of the game.
One area where Z has been suitably polished though is the graphics,
which are nicely detailed from the rolling terrain to the chunky
tanks and helicopters and the satisfying explosions they produce
when they get blown up. Artillery shells arc gracefully through the
sky while bullets rip past you and smoke and flames rise from
damaged vehicles and buildings.
The game's thirty missions are spread across six worlds, including
the seemingly inevitable ice, desert and lava worlds as well as
lush forests dotted with Mayan ruins. The terrain isn't just there
to look pretty though - taking the high ground will give you a
tactical advantage over your enemy, although you have to balance
that against the need to carry on expanding to capture more
territory and so earn more resources.
Most maps also include one or more bridges which can be repeatedly
blown up and repaired, and these often act as chokepoints between
opposite sides of a river, allowing you to hold off tanks and
infantry by destroying or defending them. Amphibious APCs can be
used to carry robots across rivers or lakes, but there are usually
only certain areas where you can drive in and out of the water.
There is plenty of room for tactics here, but due to the fast pace
of combat and the clumsy interface you will have to be quick and
patient to achieve anything much more sophisticated than a tank
rush, especially during the anarchic opening stages of the game.
Steel Soldiers does a reasonable job of bringing the novel gameplay
of Z to a modern audience, but it's far from perfect and could
probably have used a few more weeks of fine tuning. Even after
installing the patch it's still a bit awkward to control, and lacks
many of the interface niceties we have come to expect as standard
in our strategy games since 1996. On the bright side the lengthy
single player campaign should keep you busy for quite a while, and
there are also a few maps available for multiplayer and AI skirmish
games, which can be fairly entertaining as well.
If you like your real-time strategy fast and furious and don't mind
a few rough edges, this could be just what you were looking for.