One of the main factors in a great RTS experience is look and feel and Ground Control II: Operation Exodus has stunning graphics and sounds amazing too. The maps are huge and covered with detail. Vast forests spread across the land; water shimmers and reflects the sky to great effect the bases and drop-zones are beautifully detailed and so are the units themselves. The battles are a pleasure to watch with the action being suitably epic as you see opposing sides light up the field with missiles and streams of tracer fire. Artillery is especially impressive, shells arc high overhead before crashing down to bring total destruction upon there targets.
Sound-wise the battle has an ambient soundtrack which sounds weird but works really well. When setting up for an attack or when waiting for the enemy troops to reach your base the ambience adds to the suspension and can ramp up the tension well without any typical war music. Once battle commences the ambience fades away and is replaced by screaming missiles, guns and troops letting you know what is happening on the ground. The NSA miniguns sound particularly good when they go into fully automatic mode, pouring out a shower of rounds. You'll also receive constant reports on the battlefield about various positions that are being attacked and overrun. These reports help keep the mood tense as you the battle flows between victory and defeat. About the only aspect bringing the game's audio down a bit would be the voice acting. There's a lot of it, as characters interact extensively before, during, and after missions, but some may find Captain Angelus' thick British accent a little cheesy or even farcical. His compatriot, Lieutenant LaCroix, also sports a seemingly forced French accent.
Unlike the majority of RTS titles Ground Control II: Operation Exodus doesn't revolve around you constructing buildings at your base which means you don't have to manage your money to buy buildings you will need to hold at least one drop zone per map as this is the given method for getting more troops to your frontline. What is offered as an alternative is an acquisition points system which will buy you troops, vehicles, upgrades for your drop-ship and weapons.
The environment plays a big role in Ground Control II's tactics and stratagies. Units on elevated ground gain the advantage of height. Infantry can take up positions in buildings such as guard towers and bunkers for a defensive advantage; the game even allows you to pick which side of the building the infantry will defend. Infantry are also able to go into forests, which is where they can hide out of line of sight and also gain defensive bonuses.
Gun emplacements are also scattered around the maps. Some of these like the flamethrowers and large cannons which between them can deal with both foot soldiers and vehicles. You can use engineer units to repair any damaged emplacements you find, and you can have any one of your infantry man the turret. These emplacements cannot be fully destroyed in the game but concentrated fire can wipe out any infantry hiding inside.
The amount of detail taken into consideration by the games AI while in battle mode is staggering. The game models the armor thickness of your vehicles you can do much more damage to a vehicle from the side or behind. Your units also gain experience through combat, reflected in stripe and star symbols that you can see above each unit when selected. Experienced units are more effective than new ones, so it pays to keep your new boys at the back. In skirmish and multiplayer modes, you even have the option of calling in air strikes, which you pay for with acquisition points.
The multiplayer side of Ground Control II uses a player matching service called MassGate. It features basic functions like chat, a friends list, and a list of available games and servers to join. There's also a ladder which will allow players to track their record and rank. Online games feel smooth depending on the connection and PC specification. Because you don't need to worry about an economy or resource gathering, matches generally full on death frenzies.
Overall, Ground Control II makes for an intense RTS experience, with killer graphics, a long and varied single-player campaign plus multiplayer and online action too. It is entertaining and consuming and must be one of the best RTS titles out this year. If you are an RTS veteran this title is a refreshing update of the genre, if you are new to RTS games then you could do much worse than grab a copy of Ground Control II: Operation Exodus .
8 out of 10
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