I'm a fan of real-time strategy games and have been for many years now. I've played the greats, and I've played ones I'd rather just not talk about. Grey Goo, coming from the minds of Petroglyph, falls into the former category. No strangers to the genre with many members being formerly of Westwood Studios and Command & Conquer fame, Grey Goo is a return to the genre in full force with some excellent results.
Set in the far future, Grey Goo follows a story between three primary races: Betas, Humans, and Goo. These three races spend their time duking it out for supremacy, taking potshots at each other in an attempt to gain the upper hand. Things always end up going wrong, however, and with the introduction of the all-consuming Goo, things change rapidly.
Grey Goo is similar to many well-known classic titles and follows many of the staples within the RTS genre. There are three races: the industrial focused Beta, , the the technologically advanced Humans, and lastly the highly mobile and capricious Goo, a race comprised entirely of nanomachines. Each faction is unique in their own right and your strategies will change depending on which you have chosen. Many will see the Beta and Human factions as being similar to races seem in other RTS titles, but the Goo is the standout, and perhaps the best one in the game.
After spending time with all three factions, I definitely felt the difference and never once said to myself "there just isn't much variety." Instead, I was stunned at just how different they can be. Humans are the ultimate "turtle" race, as they focus on building their advanced base defenses, interconnecting everything together. They may sacrifice the ability to easily expand and dominate the map, but having the ability to instantly reconfigure their base, allows them t stay flexible at the same time. Their units are wildly advanced, boosting firepower and a visual style that feels straight out of classic science fiction.
The Beta, on the other hand, are similar in scope to the Terrans of StarCraft, and will be the most familiar and traditional faction to play.. Their units look bulky and unwieldy, but they pack quite a punch and are more versatile than the more advanced Human units. Utilizing hubs, which come in three different sizes, they can easily expand their reach to any place on the map, making them a great choice for those that like to surround their foes. The key to victory will be from striking on multiple fronts.
The Goo in itself is a series of units without any real structure – units are spawned from the amorphous blobs as they collect resources. Even the blobs, or Mother Goo's, themselves are dangerous foes who quickly steamroll opposition. The ability to traverse terrain otherwise inaccessible to the other two factions gives them an element of surprise unseen in the genre before. I'll never forget seeing the Goo epic unit roll up the side of a cliff and create utter chaos in the middle of my base for the first time. Without any traditional base structures, the Goo are always on the move, collecting resources from the far reaches of the map.
The game also operates a bit different from previous RTS games I've played. Many games offer players the freedom to build their base as they see fit, but Grey Goo changes that tactic. Since the Humans must keep everything connected, it's not uncommon to see their buildings stacked on top of one another. Betas use the hardpoints on their hubs to expand their base – yes, these can be dropped anywhere, but there are still some limitations. Beta bases look like little clustered ant farms constantly spewing out the next wave of units. Don't even worry about building a base with the Goo, however, or doing much of any managing aside from resource and unit management. The Goo operates freely and has the run of the map, able to climb around obstacles and create many moving Mother Goo's at once. All races' units are quite unique, though I will admit there seemed to be a lack of variety here. It's not a major issue as it helps speed up matches, as you'll focus primarily on what units you're going for and/or need, but I love having ragtag armies with a huge mixture.
Epic units are massive creations capable of mass destruction, and more than make up for the lack of variety in units. Each race has their own, and each one is incredibly unique in its own way. Betas have the Hand of Ruk, a mobile factory with a nuclear arsenal; Humans have the towering Alpha, a large, robotic construct that fires a beam of annihilation; and the Goo have the Purger, a enormous blob capable of snaking tendrils through the ground and ripping foes apart. While all three require patience and a significant amount of resources and time to create, with supporting units the Epics can lay waste to enter bases.
Multiplayer so far has been the biggest draw for myself and the rest of the SelectButton team. The online feels familiar and easy to maneuver, and the load times are excellent. My only real complaint is a lack of map selection at launch, as I've only seen a couple 4-player maps and then a slew of 2-player maps. With the max unit count per player set to 200, I can see why Grey Goo limits the amount of players. I would however, like to see a 6-player or more option that lowers the max amount of units. Playing online was where I also noticed the most slowdown and lag, but I'll admit we did put a heavy strain on the game (each player had an Epic unit and max unit count).
Grey Goo is launching with a map editor, giving players the same tools that the developers used to build all of the maps for the game. The map editor wasn't made available prior to launch, so we can't speak to the ease of use.
One thing I've noticed within the game is the enemy itself. The AI in Grey Goo is top notch and I've found myself in bad predicaments a few times. An example of this occurred during a multiplayer game with Kevin and Mike. We had a four player free-for-all in progress with a Goo opponent on Normal AI settings. Within 5 minutes of the game starting, it proceeded to systematically wipe each of us off the map in succession without so much as a blink (do the Goo blink?). I know the game touts an AI that learns player habits and characteristics and adapts, but that was downright scary to lose that fast. To a Normal AI.
Grey Goo is a crowning achievement to the RTS genre, and a must-have for fans of strategy games. The narrative is excellent with stunning cinematics, and the gameplay either online or offline is certainly worth your time. This is a wonderful step back into the glory days of RTS games for myself, and for those wanting to try it for the first time, it will not disappoint.
Note: The Grey Goo review is based on a digital PC copy of the game, provided for review purposes.