Do you know who I hate? EA. Yeah, I know, preaching to the choir, broken record, etc. I’m talking about a few specific things they’ve done to the RTS genre that really ticked me off. They purchase Westwood Studios, the genre’s creators, then hand the Command and Conquer franchise to EA LA and dissolve the studio. Command and Conquer 3 renews interest in the brand then they kill the franchise with the indecipherable Command and Conquer 4. They announce Command and Conquer: Generals II, excite the entire fanbase, then scrap that in favour of a free-to-play multiplayer title that no one wanted and when they finally found out that no one wanted it they scrapped that too. Well, fortunately a load of ex-Westwood devs formed Petroglyph to continue the Command and Conquer spirit. After Star Wars: Empire At War impressed but their second title Universe At War and their Kickstarter fizzled out they’re back with the far more fan-pleasing Grey Goo. Yes, that is the title, and yes it’ll probably cost them sales.
Grey Goo is indeed an RTS in the more Command & Conquer style, which is very welcome in the CONTINUED ABSENCE OF THAT SERIES THANK YOU EA. In other words, a little bit more fun and fast-paced, with a reliance on base building, resource gathering, then creating a massive force to destroy your enemy. Your Total Wars and your Company of Heroess may offer deeper actual strategy, but sometimes you can’t beat a tank rush. Grey Goo features three factions going up against each other for the domination of a planet: the alien Beta, the robot-focused Humans, and the nanoswarm that is the titular Grey Goo.
The story is simple but well-realised. The alien race called the Beta are living peacefully on a planet covered in a powerful resource called the Catalyst, but they live in fear of the return of a species they call the Silent Ones. When their attempts to open a wormhole result in an attack from an outside invader they assume their enemy has returned and strike back, but eventually they discover that they are facing not one but two forces - the Humans and a truly alien monstrosity called the Goo. The story and mission briefings are told with really beautiful CGI cutscenes that are almost Blizzard level, and while the story isn’t complicated the unique aspects of each faction make the future world Petroglyph have created quite interesting indeed. It’s a neat twist for example that the Beta are the first species we’re introduced to and it’s actually the Humans who are the alien invaders.
I think that Refinery's had it
The Beta have the more traditional C&C-style setup, with separate buildings for everything and straightforward recognisable units, although it did take me ages to realise the Guardian unit was actually for base defence - at first I mounted Tank mechs on walls and so I really struggled at the start. Feel free to share crucial information like this please, Petroglyph. The Humans are all robot-based (there’s only actually two humans in the entire game) and so their structures need to be connected with Conduits running power from the main base to supply electricity. The Grey Goo are the weirdest. You start as one big blob of Goo, roll straight over a resource point, and as you absorb Catalyst you can split off into smaller blobs that can reform into units of various types. While the Beta and Humans are stuck in their bases the Goo don’t have one and can literally go anywhere, so they’re very hard to defend against and fight.
While all get access to their own spins of straightforward units like Tanks, Anti-Air fighters etc, each faction has a unique Epic unit that can decimate the battlefield, such as the Beta which get the Hand of Ruk, a giant floating battle-fortress that also acts as a mobile factory. These Epic units can quickly turn the tide in your favour, if you can survive long enough to get one together. It’s a little disappointing though that individual units don’t level up, so you never get any attachment to them and they remain literal cannon fodder for the entirety of play.
The cutscenes and mission briefings are very impressive stuff, almost Blizzard quality
One other disappointment in the single-player of Grey Goo is that there is just one campaign, with fifteen missions divided into five for each faction that you play in turn. I would much rather have had separate campaigns with perhaps seven missions each, as it’s a little boring to just play the same faction for several hours without the ability to chose another for a change. Nevertheless it’s a decent-sized campaign, although not gigantic - you can probably expect to clock it in around 15-20 hours, depending on what difficulty you play in.
Ah yes, my one real sore point with Grey Goo. It is just too ridiculously hard on Normal difficulty. On the second mission alone (the first is a tutorial) I was massacred within five minutes because I dared to not know the systems intimately and didn’t realise that I needed to spam out a load of basic units, put up walls on all sides and man them with Guardians, put down two Refineries, Factories, attachments, upgrades, watch for enemies hiding in the foliage or being hit from all sides, all within that five minutes. Of course I didn’t know to do all that, I only just started playing half an hour ago! You just gave me a tutorial pop-up on what a wall is! Petroglyph simply doesn’t give you any chance at all, there is no learning curve, you learn by defeat and restarting or you get out. If you’re not a professional Starcraft eSports player you’ll want to play on Easy at first, that feels much more what a ‘Normal’ difficulty should be, and once you get the idea you can try out Normal. I can’t even imagine Hard.
Destroy the Goo! It's not like what we are, so it must die!
Graphically Grey Goo is very nice. Not quite as colourful and vibrant as a Blizzard title or Red Alert 3 but certainly with its own charm, and the Goo in particular looks really cool and, er, blobby. The audio is also excellent despite the odd South African accents on the Beta. Voice acting is otherwise good, the barks from all the units are satisfying, and I like the weird synthetic noises the Goo units make. The music is very good too, composed as it is by Westwood veteran Frank Klepacki who did most of the Command & Conquer and Dune games and all of Petroglyph’s stuff including Star Wars: Empire At War.
Rounding out the package we have the typical Skirmish option and Multiplayer, both of which are straight 1v1, 2v2 or Free-For-All battles. Skirmishes are actually interesting because without additional objectives and with both teams on an even footing Normal AI is actually quite reasonable. If you watched the Live Stream we did you saw my first attempt at playing the Goo, and I actually managed victory against a Normal opponent. Multiplayer is generally fun but is suffering two problems right now - people playing Humans and doing the “Trident Rush” where they quickly make hundreds of low-cost Tridents and rush the enemy base, and the fact that there are very few people playing online on an open match. That the game is region locked clearly isn’t helping this problem since no one from Europe can play America, immediately limiting the games available.
GREY GOO VERDICT
The biggest problem Grey Goo has is that it’s far too hard for what it is, which is a fun Command and Conquer-style RTS. I’ve played lots of this type of RTS and I’ve rarely encountered one with such a non-existent learning curve - you either know everything immediately or you die. Which is a shame, because everything else on display here is really good fun. The factions are all unique, enjoyable to play, and mostly balanced despite being so radically different, along with all that Trident Rush nonsense in multiplayer. That the campaign is only 15 missions and you have to play each faction in turn is a little annoying, but it’s not a game-killer. The cutscenes are all very impressive, as is the graphics and audio, and I found myself simply drawn in by it all. Probably Petroglyph’s best game (especially if you’re not a Star Wars fan), it won’t steal the RTS crown from Blizzard or Creative Assembly but if you want a straight fun strategy you won’t regret being absorbed by Grey Goo. It’s still a stupid title, though.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Building an Epic unit and laying waste to your enemies.
A very fun C&C-style RTS, very entertaining for the more old-school base-building-then-attack enthusiast.
Factions are all unique, pretty well balanced, and very satisfying to control.
Far too hard for what it is.
Campaign could do with breaking up, not just play three sides one after the other with five meagre missions.