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Dark Reign | 2 | review | game | Lollipop
Dark Reign 2
(Activision for the PC)
by Eric Johnson
The ultraslick dystopian future that serves as setting for Dark Reign 2 may be attractive, but it's hardly adequate to distinguish this well-crafted but rather typical real-time strategy game from an army of predecessors. Exploring local terrain, collecting resources, building up your manufacturing facilities from scratch, researching new weapons systems, and assembling your increasingly powerful forces for a final assault on your opponents compound are the familiar elements of a classic formula, those from which Dark Reign 2 makes no attempt to deviate. The story is standard issue video game science fiction: a tale of armed conflict between the bougois Jovian Detention Authority and the proletariat Sprawlers, two rival factions fighting a war without end over the remains of a shattered Earth. Realizing that excellence of execution is an acceptable substitute for originality, the developers of this game made a gallant attempt to tighten up some nagging genre shortcomings.
Other than the dynamic and awe-inspiring but tactically useless camera, innovation in Dark Reign 2 generally tweaks rather than invents. Most of the unique features found in the game are modifications of existing strategic elements, but they do it well and the resulting game should be looked upon favorably by fans of the genre. Resources are far tighter than those found in most strategy titles, and no combat unit available is without major shortcomings; as a result, a varied force is prerequisite for victory. The balance of power has been tipped in favor of the defender, so assaults must be well coordinated and properly timed. Timing is especially crucial as the game progresses because day and night are differentiated, several virtual days may elapse over the course of a mission, and your defensive structures as well as your radar systems are powered by solar energy. At night, impenetrable electric defenses power down, and assault raids are hampered by a lack of information outside of visual range. It's a kick ass feature and one which should be hyped far above the free-roaming camera the developers are so proud of.
The Camera: your point of view in Dark Reign 2 is free-roaming, so you can zoom right in on the fighting or pull back to see the battlefield from several virtual miles above the action. This feature gives you a good chance to get up close and personal with the attractive, but stylistically overslick graphics. It breaks the static overhead viewpoint found in virtually all classic real-time strategy games, and would be quite impressive were it not for two things... First of all, Ground Control (an absolutely amazing, tactically-oriented strategy game with superior camera control and superior graphics) was released several months earlier. So Dark Reign 2's claim to be "The first strategy title to put you in the trenches" is incorrect. Second, the camera controls are cramped, frustrating, and almost completely useless. You can't zoom in and keep the overhead perspective, so you're either too far away or fighting to keep up with the battles as they progress. This is a serious problem and one which, when combined with the equally cramped control layout, seriously reduces the overall quality of this title. Ironically, the feature the game tries to sell itself with is its final undoing. I spent the first few hours playing this game just trying to see if the point of view would begin to make sense. It's an insurmountable flaw and keeps an otherwise good game from receiving a positive recommendation.