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Grey Goo PC Review

The Command & Conquer (C&C) series has some of my favourite entries in the Real-time Strategy (RTS) genre. While there are some new quality RTS games available, there are few that I feel uphold that same production style and gameplay as Command & Conquer (we don’t talk about the mediocre Command & Conquer 4 around here). I was bummed when the latest frostbite powered C&C game was cancelled by EA, leaving me looking around for alternatives.

Petroglyph Games has come to help cover that void with their latest RTS game for PC titled Grey Goo. Not exactly the greatest name for a game, but don’t let that silly title fool you; Grey Goo is a great RTS game that channels some of that C&C nature that I adored about Westwood’s classics, and it makes sense that it does, since the studio is made up of former C&C developers who left after Westwood Pacific was turned into EA Los Angeles.

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Set hundreds of years into the future, the story takes place on the planet Ecosystem 9, where an alien species known as Beta live as the last remaining survivors of their race, hiding from a dangerous enemy only known as “The Silent Ones” that have been causing the Beta heartache and destruction. Trying to get themselves back into the space game, the Beta open a wormhole that will hopefully get them travelling across the stars, unfortunately, what happens is that the portal has opened up a way for people to get to the planet, those people are Humans, who end up going to war with the Beta, but while this is all going on the Goo slip in, an artificially created pathfinder tool that has evolved past its programmed schematics and into an organism that wants to survive at all costs, meaning death for any human or beta that stand in its way.

Each mission opens up with some great looking computer generated shorts, similar to how C&C would offer scenes to progress the story before each mission, but unlike that series where the characters were real-life actors, the characters in Grey Goo are fully animated. As for the story itself, it’s mostly standard stuff that won’t be remembered for being great, but it is pretty to look at. I do wish the story offered more insights into the races, as the three races of Beta, Humans and Goo are only given five missions each in the campaign, granting a total of 15 missions. Five does seem like a short amount for each faction, and there is a nice selection of objectives to do, but I would have liked to see the teams given chances to participate more. One thing to note is that the game doesn’t waste time offering one or two new units per mission, instead, getting you well on your way to building a solid base and unit count by the second mission of each faction’s five. Tutorial messages pop up, but don’t expect to be given space to breath to learn, as concentration needs to be on the battlefield at all times.

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The structure of the campaign means that there is no faction selection. The game tells its story by giving you the Beta as the first race to play, showcasing their struggle against the incoming Humans. It then moves the action onto the Humans, which centres on the Beta and Humans attacking the Goo. The Goo gets the last of the missions, as you use them to complete their one and only task – to survive at all costs. Having the Goo last makes sense, because they are one of the oddest factions to play as – completely different to the other two races.

Beginning the game with Beta is offering the player the most traditional RTS team. They need to build hubs that act as building blocks for attachments. These hubs come in various sizes, two, four or six, allowing the same amount of modules to be attached.  Refineries are used to send out trucks to collect energy from energy pools that are spread over the map and convert it into currency. Factories build units, starting with weak soldiers and vehicles, and then producing advance units that are accessible by attaching different module types (tank, artillery, air and stealth). Hubs can be built in any location that is visible and isn’t close to an enemy base, giving the aliens a chance to scatter units around the map after removing the fog of war. As there is no power resource in the game, the hubs act as the device to power buildings. If the hub is destroyed, then any module attached will be disabled until a new hub is built.  The final major feature of the Beta race is using walls as protection. These can be built around a base, offering positions on top for certain units to lock themselves in for garrison defence, with one unit specifically made for such a role.

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Humans are similar to the Beta, with changes to their base building. The HQ for humans is the central power source and anything built needs to be attached to it, which is done by building lines of power conduits on the ground. Humans can build turrets, such as cannons and artillery, for base defence, and a neat little trick they have is that buildings can be transitioned to any part of the power conduit, offering the player a chance to move defence to points where needed. The only problem is that these power conduits die easily, often disrupting the flow of defence, as losing a line of turrets because an enemy cut part of the conduit can happen often if not protected well. Resources and unit upgrades are done in the same way as the Beta race, and while the Beta have hubs to space out construction, they still have a main HQ that needs protecting, making these two easy to understand after playing one of them before the other.

The Goo on the other hand is completely left field – they don’t even have a main base. The Goo start with a Mother Goo, the primary production of the Goo race, which uses itself to suck resources, units or buildings, and use them to charge itself up. Once it hits past a certain point it can produce offspring that can then be spawned into units whenever desired. These proteans can attack by devouring units it comes into contact with and draining them of health over a period of time, then at a click of a button can be spawned into units. Mother Goos can also create more Mother Goos, up to 12 can be alive at one time, and since the Goo aren’t defeated until all the Mother Goos are destroyed, you can hide a Mother Goo somewhere on the map and let the rest of the Mother Goos go about their destruction. This is havoc for any none Goo player, as I discovered trying to finishing the last Human campaign mission and spent around 10 minutes just looking for the last bit of Goo on the map to finish it. This is a very unique race that takes some time getting used to, but once you grasp their workings, you can use them to space over the map and really give hell to any other race.

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Across all races are the same concepts for units. There’s bulky tanks, anti-air, artillery, scouts and so forth. Each race also has one power unit called an Epic. The Beta’s is a mobile base missile launching machine that can build units and stock its six walls with garrison units, Humans build a giant floating robot that shoots people with its eye laser beam and the Goo create a giant pool of goo that can dig tentacles underground and come out under a unit to ravage them in tentacle destruction. All three units take a while to build, and are frustratingly slow, but that makes it up for the health and power they bring to the battlefield. I found the Beta’s Epic unit to be the best and most useful of the three. It’s easy to use, while offering the chance to adapt it as a mobile base with awe-inspiring weaponry.

Learning each race is vital, because even on normal the game can give you a challenge in the campaign. A 10 hour game turned into a 15 hour game because of the retries. The AI can at times feel it has “cheated” over you, as it pushes and pounds your weakest points, forcing you to fight against the pressure and react fast to protect your base. Even in the earlier missions of a new faction, the game doesn’t care and won’t pull punches to give you an easy ride. Grey Goo is certainly one of the harder RTS games to play against the AI for any new people introduced to the genre, and moving it up to hard can offer serious challenge, especially for anyone who is slow at working on production and unit combat at the same time. This game is all about that strategy.

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Skirmish and Multiplayer are available, sharing the same modes of play. You can set up team battles, such as 2v2, or have four people fighting free-for-all. Stats are tracked through ranked matches, and unranked matches can be done if you don’t want to hurt your ranked record. The game only has eight maps, but hopefully more will be added through patches. The maps available are great, but like anything over time, the limited amount will become tiresome, especially if you play one specific game type, such as four players. It’s hard to tell if the game is balanced, as the few multiplayer games I participated in felt fair, but only time will tell if some of these teams include imbalances as more people play against each other. One thing to note is that currently the multiplayer is region locked, an awful thing to do, but it seems the developers have seen the error of their ways , as a patch is coming in the future to open multiplayer across regions.

Cranking all the settings up means Grey Goo is quite the looker, even if the colours are a little on the dark side. The game doesn’t run perfect, as performance issues seem random. I was easily hitting past the 60fps mark, but during some stressful battles the frame rate would plummet down to mid-30s. There seems to be some optimisation issues going on that causes these problems. The CG looks fantastic and each race has a very distinctive look. The soundtrack is brilliant, with Frank Klepacki bringing his wonderful Command & Conquer composing skills to Grey Goo to offer a soundtrack that builds on different musical themes for the game’s races. Yes, even the love it or hate it dubstep makes a soft appearance to represent the Goo.

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Grey Goo is a wonderful title that brings together interesting races and intelligent gameplay styles that offer unique ways to play a team, while conveying the feeling of the good old days of entertaining resource gathering-based strategy on top of high quality production values. Grey Goo is perfect for fans of 90s real-time strategy games and is one of the best RTS games in recent memory not to be called StarCraft II.

8 out of 10