Thursday, March 18, 2010

Game Review: Greed Corp

greed-corp-685x300 Only the most avid of PC enthusiasts could disagree with me on this point: the PC has become mostly irrelevant as a gaming platform.

That’s not to say that high-profile games aren’t released on the PC (they are), or that they don’t sell on the PC, or that the PC does not have its adherents. It’s just to say that, when games are released on the PC, they often come later than their console counterparts, they come saddled with ridiculous Draconian DRM, and they’re as buggy as all hell. In terms of major releases by major studios, the PC just doesn’t see many high-profile exclusives, and the console versions of these games nearly always present a better and more stable overall package.

For all that, there are some genres of game where the PC reigns supreme – strategy games have tried to make a splash on the console, in the form of bore-fests like Halo Wars or well-meaning oddities like Tom Clancy’s EndWar, but they’ve always fallen somewhat flat.

That’s not going to keep developer W!Games’ Greed Corp from trying, though. They were kind enough to hook us up with a review copy of Greed Corp, their maiden voyage into the strategy genre, and while it falls prey to many of the shortcomings of a console strategy game, it’s also a surprisingly satisfying bit of software.

greed_corp_profilelarge A note, lest the Halo Wars/EndWar analogy above mislead you: while those games tried to bring a full-on real-time strategy experience to the console, Greed Corp is a turn-based strategy game,which puts it into a category that has done surprisingly well in the age of the online console, the board game.

Greed Corp strikes a balance between typical strategy game resource collection and typical strategy game destruction and bedlam. The object of the game is to survive – its only game mode requires you simply to outlast all of your opponents. This is made difficult by the fact that collecting the resources you need to crush your enemies makes the ground collapse beneath you.

Part of Greed Corp’s fun is its simplicity. Each round begins with you and your opponents placed on a grid of hexagonal platforms. You only have a few different units at your disposal – the Walker, the game’s infantry unit used to claim neutral tiles and take occupied tiles from their occupiers, the Armory, which is used to build Walkers, the Cannon, which is used to fire at distant tiles, the Carrier, which is used to airlift Walkers to distant tiles, and the Harvester, which nets you extra gold at the beginning of each round but slowly and inexorably eats the ground from beneath your feet. That’s it. No upgrades, no special units for different teams, no anything.

In Greed Corp’s single-player mode, you take control of the game’s Freeman faction, which apparently doesn’t want to harvest and thus destroy the land’s bounty as does the game’s Evil Corporation faction. Unfortunately for the Freemen, the only way to fight off their enemies is to use their own tactics against them. The story is, in a word, completely inconsequential – the game’s narrative is clearly an afterthought, and is ancillary to the gameplay in each and every possible way.

Yes, gameplay is this game’s heart, and luckily for W!Games they’ve put together a pretty convincing package. The limited number of units you have to work with and the Harvesters’ effect on the surrounding landscape really make you consider your strategy, and the timed rounds and the fact that the map is literally crumbling all around you heightens the intensity. Nearly every game ends on a map laid waste by your efforts, and no turn can be squandered.

The focused nature of Greed Corp is something of a double-edged sword – while the game is satisfyingly and addictively immediate, the fact is that a single mistake can be the difference between winning and losing a match, and once you’ve moved or built a unit there’s no way to undo that decision.

That fact, when coupled with the fact that no console strategy game has yet figured out how to use a gamepad productively, means that rounds are often lost for stupid reasons. I lost just as many rounds of Greed Corp. to fumble-fingers as I did to the game’s aggressive AI, which I can’t help but classify as a shortcoming.

This generally good core gameplay is backed by clean but workmanlike graphics which are nothing to write home about – the engine is only a hindrance because it sometimes difficult to differentiate one enemy unit from another at a glance. Viewing your enemies’ activities is also a problem at times, since the camera doesn’t always follow their activity during their turns – this is especially troublesome on maps where the same enemy occupies multiple sections of map.

What’s more impressive is the game’s music, which is a wonderful old-timey collection of 1920s-era swing and big band music that perfectly complements the game’s hectic pace.

There’s not much else to say. Greed Corp has its problems, namely a clunky control scheme and an unforgiving assumption that your every input will be free of mistakes. Luckily for it, the game manages to get past this stuff to present an experience that’s both fun and addictive, and even when you lose you’ll almost always want to give it just one more try before throwing in the towel.

W!Games’ Greed Corp is available for $10 on Xbox Live Arcade and the Playstation Network. A PC release is planned. Charge Shot!!! was given a free review copy of the Xbox 360 version for review.