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  Dominant Species
..........The Hive was supposedly well protected by Light Spitters and Ram Beasts. The sun over Mur started its slow rise over the horizon. What the Mindlord didn't realize was that the humans had something up their sleeve. An attack at dawn with no warning at all. While the main group of warriors was situated up north at the end of a windy road, the base was assaulted by overwhelming odds. And it doesn't look good................
Preamble.....

Dominant Species (DS) is Redstorm’s real-time strategy (RTS) game that has 3D maps as well as 3D units. This means that the detail is very good but a hog for processor power. Though the min. req. system is a 166MMXwith 3D graphics card, a PII is recommended for smooth gameplay. To overcome the performance issue that my 166MMX has, I did the full install (approx. 250Mbs) and tweaked the options so that the game played better with minimal visual impact. The strange thing that happened during the install is that it put DirectX5.2 overtop of my DirectX6 before I could stop it (I was reading the manual). There was no warning before it went ahead and did the dirty deed. But no harm done as I re-installed version 6 without a hitch. If you play DS with everything turned on, using a PII and a 3D card, you will be in for a real treat. The animation is superb though you must get pretty darn close to a unit to see the actual animation in all its glory. Watching a Human Invader scatter for the hills after you demolish his vehicle is quite comical though they are pretty small. You can zoom in but with the fast action, images are very fleeting. The whole world of Mur is pretty much like that in Activision's BattleZone or Bungie's Myth-pretty but drab too. Adding the detail would likely boost the minimum system requirements though and that is an issue that many people have to deal with when buying new games. You can change your viewpoint on the fly from free-floating to chasecam to terraincam and sky cam.

The intro movie is very similar to what you will see when you actually play which is very encouraging. I have seen my share of games that had an excellent movie but failed to deliver that same heart-pounding feeling during the game. In the case of DS, that is hardly true. When battle is joined, things get pretty darn hectic and you will find yourself running about to make sure that nothing goes seriously wrong. But I get ahead of myself.

Companyline.....

Welcome to the world of Dominant Species! In this 3D-strategy game, you take the role of a powerful alien intelligence, a Mindlord, engaged in a constant and deadly conflict with other hives on your home world, Mur. Your struggle is over the possession of Anima, the precious substance that sustains all life in your world. However, unwelcome visitors have arrived on Mur and threaten to upset the balance of conflict that has raged for countless millennia.

Humans. Yuck.

Using their ridiculous steel and plastic contraptions, these disgusting barbarians are attempting to take the priceless Anima and use it to create immortality drugs for themselves. The stage is set, and an epic battle for survival of the fittest must surely ensue.

You are one of the brightest of the Young Mindlords, and must pit your wits against the ape-like marauding aliens. Your task will not be easy, for you must succeed in driving humans from Mur by manipulating the strange and powerful biological force the Anima has over the native inhabitants. However, you must also protect your hive from other rival hives, who seek to gain control over both the humans and other hives and become ultimate rulers of the planet.

Having proved yourself in the single player game, you may then test your skills against other live Mindlords in multi-player Internet games, developing complex tactics and strategies in order to triumph over the opposition and emerge as the dominant hive on the planet.



Gameplay.....

Playing DS is a pretty simple affair. You get thrown into battle without really going through the typical training scenarios. This is because Redstorm has chosen to make the first three missions a pseudo-tutorial that still immerses you in the story. DS follows a typical RTS evolutionary game pattern where you must gather a resource, upgrade buildings and units. The perspective is from the view of the Mind Hive inhabitants of Mur. Humans are the aliens and the human unit names suggest the same. This makes perfect sense because in our past, we named things in the New World based more on what the explorer could relate to rather than using aboriginal terms. And so the inhabitants of Mur have done the same. Humans have names like Invader Mothership and Invader Firespitter but look like Space transports and laser turrets belong to a space corporation intent on devouring the resources on the planet Mur. This also suggests that if DS II arrives, it will be played from the human point of view. The scenarios are a slow buildup to the finale where all the big guns arrive (there are some 27 different units to choose from). In fact, the later scenarios bogged my system down pretty well though still *hiccup* playable. That is the price we play with the game industry embracing 3D 32bit technology. The thought and effort that went into the plot and storyline are wonderful though not entirely original. The various sound bites that identify each of the members of your hive are great. The Gauph made me laugh with its squeals and growls. I got annoyed with his tendency to chase any humans in range when I was trying to build up my base. The only remark about sound that there isn't really much for ambient sounds-sea swells and such.

Using the mouse and keyboard to control your view along with the Graphic User Interface are awkward at first but once you get the hang of it, it's time to have fun. Amongst the mayhem, you must formulate some form of strategy. Defensive Light Spitters and their relatives planted around the base with some Rambeasts and a 'healing' Gauph are a good bunch to keep around to watch for those nosy humans. Offense depends on what you meet up with. Your initial units can only do damage in close combat (whacking humans with claws and spikes for the most part). Later, you will obtain napalm-capable, lightning striking, acid throwing, mental power blasting critters to mention a few. And you will need them all. You can group together several types to make up a 'combined arms' force that will fare better in battle. The mix generally depends on what you encounter. I did notice that where paths were narrow and curving, my critters sometimes fell off and became injured. Since you can set formations to your need, I often made them travel in single file but they still would fall off. Is this a game feature or a bug? My guess if people dislike that happening, they will let Redstorm know and maybe it will be patched. Overall, that was the only problem I had with DS which means a lot if you ever played a supposed 'great' game that will simply not run on your computer. Believe me, as a game reviewer, it is a big issue.

Another thing I did notice was that though units did improve during a scenario, they were not carried over to the next scenario. Being in campaign mode, I find this strange and makes a player a little more careless when you don't have to nurse a powerful unit that has been injured through a 'level' so that you may have it to use in the next one. The afore mentioned anima comes in three flavors-green, blue and red. The green is pretty common and the next two are less so. This impacts what units you may build so you must first discover where the fountains are and set up camp. This is where things get hairy because everyone else wants these fountains and well, you better be armed to the teeth. You may also find shards that are like 'power-ups' that can give you unique abilities (like increasing attack speed to terrifying your enemy plus a myriad more) or have the hive make more.

The GUI has a lot to offer and being familiar with it is essential. Check map overviews, creature status, chat log, and current mission status on demand. Want to use a particular unit? Either browse for it through the GUI or click on it in the window or click on it in map mode. That is what liked about DS because RTS' seem to fail at proper control of resources and DS seems to have a good handle on it.

The Editor......

Though the editor is unsupported, it is a good decision to add to DS. I found that since my current system is so borderline on requirements, that changing some of the items in scenarios made the game playable. Being a Windows App, this editor is pretty simple to use and has a Wizard to help you create a scenario. You will have to spend some time with the help file to understand what is what but it's worth it. A smart move for Red Storm to add to DS. If you edit the campaign scenarios, you must turn off the 'read only' in Win Explorer in order to save your edits.

In the End.....

Strange thing that I noticed is that DS is being offered for the cheap, cheap price of $9.95 (U.S. I imagine) on their website. Why a game that was released just this past fall is going for such a low price is beyond me. That is almost giving it away. And it makes it much more desirable because you can hardly buy anything that is of the same quality as DS for that kind of money. Downside is that DS is limited to Campaign or Multiplayer and single player scenarios don't seem to be (I looked). Not including the "quickfix jump right in and play a scenario" is a bad move in my opinion and will affect replayability of DE. The superb graphics and sound are a big plus in this game though alongside the game stability. The ability to change cameras to follow a unit or take the god's view or just lurk where ever you like (my favorite), you are not limited by terrain blocking or wrong angle on a battle. The DS Editor is something that quality game companies are doing. This increases replayability immeasurably and was a smart addition on the part of Redstorm. In the long run, DS is a fun game but isn't really a new experience- more like a Red Alert meets Battle Zone meets Myth with some great views thrown in. If you like RTS', I definitely recommend DS but if you're looking for that brand new experience, keep your eye on what 1999 is sure to provide. The bottomline is that Redstorm has to beat the drum on this game and let people know it's out there and a good deal!

Review ID Number: 184
  Product Details
Red Storm
Review Date: 2001-04-20
Reviewer: Nick Sardy
Rating: 8 out of 10
 
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