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Grey Goo (PC) artwork

Grey Goo (PC) review

"Sticky all-consuming RTS nostalgia."

I got wiped out on Grey Goo. In the second campaign mission. On the Easy setting.

In between your pointing and laughing, I should explain. Grey Goo is a throwback RTS that will heavily remind people of an updated Starcraft or Command & Conquer. As such, I reverted to my old tried and true tactic of building a swarm of bases, greedily gobbling up resources and building a massive bloody army that will then be sent out to trample everything in its path upon completion. Only, I never really got that far. The second campaign sees you command an alien race on an alien planet that has suddenly been infiltrated by, well, aliens. Intel is low and the previous campaign was little more than a scuffle disguised as a tutorial on how to build bases. I guess I assumed the second stage would be too. I should have known better -- Iíve been stung before.

The mission premises is simple: there are three enemy encampments pumping out attack drones that need to be snuffed out. Along the way, as a secondary objective, there are three civilian farms that should be secured, as doing so opens up drop points for additional reinforcements. So, I got right to work; I built plants on resource points to give me the assets to deploy factories and start pumping out my troops.

With these particular aliens, you can build hardier and harder-hitting units should you spend time and resources tacking add-ons to your factory, allowing you to upgrade from chaingun-wielding commandos and small bipedal stalker robots. The hell with that: I skipped all that nonsense and tried instead to leap right up to missile-slinging mechs and long range battery units. It didnít end well. Almost from the start, unarmed scout ships had pinpointed my position. Before I was able to spit out a single advanced unit, a trickle of enemy forces had arrived to nibble away at my defenceless resource plant. I was immediately on the back foot; Iíd not bothered with constructing defences because, well, it was still the tutorial part at Stage 2 wasnít it? Shouldnít the enemy just sit at its base waiting for me to steamroll in?

Turns out no. By the time I had enough units to defend myself, I was no longer having to just worry about one point of attack, and enemies from each of the three bases had arrived to pelt me with unanswerable plasma. By the time I had swallowed my tactic and had started churning out cheaper units to try and get them on the battlefield faster, they were being slaughtered quicker than I could produce them. Enemy reinforcements kept trickling in, quashing any hopes I had of turning things around. Old school though Grey Goo is in its approach, you no longer have the time to sit around and amass unchallenged. If you want to stockpile a force, youíll need to carve out your own bubble of safety in which to do this in.

Often easier said than done. The consumable resource in this particular title is a substance known as Catalyst, and all three factions share the need to gobble it up in huge quantities. Itís no good finding one pool and building your entire forces around it; resources are finite and pools will be drained. They do eventually refill, but people sitting around letting their production lines rot while they twiddle their thumbs are doomed to fail. A lot of the times, Grey Goo can come down to a resource rush; if youíre controlling a Catalyst pool, then the enemy isnít. Lightly fortified production points can be taken out to really hurt your opponents -- likewise, letting one of yours go down easy could very well be the first step towards your demise.

The first race of aliens, the ones I commanded so poorly, are the Betas, a four-armed bipedal race sporting weird South African accents that control the nearest to a traditional RTS set up the game has. You pool resources, you build bases, you try not to end up in an embarrassing pile of fail like I did. Humans work in a similar manner, but instead of being able to construct stand-alone buildings dropped into orbit by construction robots, they rely on having a powerful central hub with power lines created to link it to every other building you want to stay active. Thereís subtle differences between the two factions, but they do play very similarly. For instance, the Humans can construct energy barriers to try and keep enemies out, whereas the Beta have to rely on weaker walls that can house artillery. Still, any tactic that you find works well with one of these will probably work just as well with the other. Oneís more mobile and the other specialises in building a huge fortified HQ, but thereís no big difference between the two that makes you shake up your mindset.

Thatís completely different with the third faction, the Nano-machine rich Goo. Undeterred by pedestrian concerns like terrain that dictate the paths available to the other two races, Goo can just slither over that nuisance and get right to work on absorbing enemy structures for kicks and giggles. Thereís no base building, and instead you control a massive blob of sentient slime, able to spit out smaller units to act as your army. Sit them atop a catalyst pool, and they swell in size until, eventually, they soak up enough mass to split in two like a massive megalomaniac amoeba, doubling your output or offering a huge power boast to your front lines. The Goo is completely alien to any RTS faction you might have dabbled in before, sharing some flavour with StracraftĎs Zerg, but even thatís not a fair comparison. The Goo has no fixed base you need to hunt down and destroy; itís a rolling mass of fluid death that can up camp and move if youĎre getting too close. Or maybe it will come looking for you, chewing up your forces or casually rolling down that huge mountain you thought would make a perfect natural defence.

Itís a novel take, even if itís more than a little fiddly to grasp at times, which makes mastering the Goo a fair bit of trial and error, but several things make up for this. For one, it has the best Epic unit of the three factions -- a massive overpowered behemoth that can change the tide of war. The Betas have a massive hover tank that serves as a mobile factory; the Humans construct a multi-storey robot that fires massive lasers from its face. Goo produces, well, a massive glob of goo that creeps slowly across the map, whipping enemies away with slimly tentacles. Itís also the most troll-worthy RTS faction around -- thereís nothing quite like knowing that youíre going to lose a game, then having your base up roots and leg it just to wind up your opponent.

Skirmishes and multiplayer, though, do tend to be somewhat limited. The available number of maps are currently rather lacking and having two of the three factions share such similar roles is unfortunate. The campaign mode often overshadows it with varied objectives and a coherent storyline broken up with surprisingly high-end cut scenes telling the story of the three racesĎ hold on the planet they share. As I learnt the hard way, the enemy AI will never leave you be, sending out a constant trickle of scouts and harassers to try and dent your progress.

Itís a reinvention of how RTS games used to be, looking back on that time when youíd send harvesters out to collect spice and hoped to hell a sandworm didn't eat the bloody thing, or when you geared up to take on that one bald guy from NOD. Just in this case, the production values have been ramped up, and it hates you just a little bit more.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 08, 2015)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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