SunAge Review

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Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive
Developer: Vertex4

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC

Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 500 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB video card, 4x CD-ROM, 600 MB HD space, internet connection for online multiplayer, Windows 2000 or more recent operating system

The Sun is dying, and with it, the solar system. Our planet has wasted away, with the human Federacy battling over the planet's few remaining scraps with the Raak-Zun, a society of mutant outcasts. The balance changes when a gateway is created that gives humanity access to a living world, rich in resources, that also brings the mysterious, technological wonders called the Sentinel into the battle.

Kyle Ackerman

A few years ago, SunAge would have been a splendid real-time strategy game. Now, in the wake 2006 and 2007's amazing games that shook real-time strategy to its roots, SunAge seems like a throwback to a simpler era. It's a decent game that's simply outclassed by the competition. However, for gamers with older rigs that couldn't touch the like of a Supreme Commander or World in Conflict, SunAge is a decent option, especially given its $30 price.

A Sprite Too Far

SunAge is a throwback to the era when all units were 2D, there was no such thing as levels of zoom and AI couldn't cope with large bodies of water or open voids. Judged against the standards of bygone days, SunAge is decent, albeit still with its own flaws. There's even an illicit thrill to playing a 2D game at the obscenely high resolutions a modern rig can support. But it's still a generic, three-sided RTS set at the end of the world.

The plot is nearly incomprehensible, and it's hard to maintain focus on the plot when our only windows into the writers' souls are a few graphic-novel-style illustrations and voice acting that ranges from the mediocre to the abysmal. There's the Federacy – they're the militaristic remnants of humanity trying to survive on a desolate Earth. Fortunately for the Federacy, they have a maverick know-it-all soldier willing to save humanity despite all of our "scientists" (who you can just picture wearing boots, lab coats and speaking in that accent British actors use when trying to play Nazis in films). The other playable sides are the mutated Raak-Zun (who are something like orcs let loose on the set of a Mad Max film) and the enigmatic, mechanical sentinels.

Exploding Barrels Are Back

The single-player campaign takes you through a few maps with each of the playable sides, in the usual manner of RTS games – adding units incrementally until you are ready for a multiplayer match. Many of the single-player maps are gimmicky. Getting through them feels like you're thrown into the lead part in a play, in the middle of the stage, but no one has given you the lines or the blocking. For example, one simple puzzle required you to figure out that you needed to shoot explosive barrels at just the right distance as you quickly run by. This seems like a cop-out – it's more puzzle than tactics. It's as if the developers thought it would be easier to script the player than to script the AI. And you have to find the script by Braille. These puzzles often require trial-and-error to figure out.

Many levels are further plagued by a lack of clarity. I often found the objectives confusing, and I found myself clearing entire maps using my hero character (by carefully kiting small groups and then healing) before stumbling into my goal – usually triggering a scripted sequence. At times, I even found groups of allies waiting, deaf, dumb and mute for some plot point to occur. This was frustrating, and it felt like it was largely the product of a language barrier – something that the many spelling and grammatical errors in the game's text support. This got easier after a few missions, but rather than following clear instructions, I felt like I was beginning to get into the level designer's head.

Several Good Gimmicks

SunAge isn't all bad – the formula is venerable enough that the developers threw in a few quirks that make it easier and more fun to play (in some ways) than RTS games of yore. Every unit has an alternate mode that can be researched, adding a little more depth to the selection of units. For example, basic Federacy infantry can train to be snipers, making them terrific to use against soft targets at greater range.

I really appreciated that the cursor not only shows the formation and facing your troops will assume, it also shows their viable firing range from that point. That makes it much easier to position troops to the optimum tactical advantage. I also like the way SunAge will handily group like units into a bigger group (for example, putting ten infantry together with fifteen others when all are selected) and group those units with commanders for improved stats. Unfortunately, this is offset by the inability to group different types of units or large numbers, making a combined arms operation awkward and irritating.

An RTS Reprise

SunAge is the same RTS you've played before, but with a lack of polish that offsets the ability to run at really high resolutions (with tiny, tiny soldiers). That lack of polish is most obvious in the little details older RTS games worked so hard to get right. For example, soldiers don't board transports – they run up to transports and fade away instead of actually getting in. Occasional crashes don't make the game feel any more finished.

If you are eager to get back to gathering resources (SunAge has four different resources), and crawling around a map with little vertical depth, SunAge does have that three-sided RTS core to offer die-hard fans. But it's hard to imagine a fan of RTS games hard-core enough to want to play SunAge who isn't also devoted enough to somehow scrape together the cash to build a PC that can handle much newer games with robust multiplayer communities. SunAge inhabits a unique niche that can't be well populated.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on February 19, 2008 12:09 AM.

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