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Graphics: In a word…unremarkable. First of all, I thought the terrain was pretty poor. I certainly didn’t feel like there was that much detail and it was a fairly unexciting “playing field.” The units were kind of interesting and the detail was decent but not exceptional. I played with the zoom to try and fix things but I never found a setting that managed to appease me. The fog of war looked really awkward because of the rather still and blocky way it was used, instead of the standard smoothed edges that make it look like, well, fog. The cutscenes between missions were pretty average at best and I thought the quality was rather lacking as everything looked really fuzzy to me. In general, the graphics certainly didn’t compare to any of the better RTS games currently out on the market. Another disappointing aspect was the lack of drama in the battles. The explosions weren’t spectacular, and the weapons fire didn’t excite. The occasional puffs of smoke coming up from where an errant shot hit the ground were amusing, but otherwise I found myself waiting to be pulled into the game by the graphics and it never happened. Maybe it sounds like I’m being a little harsh here, but I honestly expected more. Certainly the screenshots I’d seen made the game look good. But when I actually played the game I couldn’t get juiced about anything I saw.
Interface: Some of the command and control functions in Extreme Tactics were great. I really liked the ability to customize the AI of each unit at a level that I felt was adequate. I didn’t think it was quite the same as Dark Reign, but it certainly helped the gameplay a lot and was a nice touch. I also thought the concept of having groups of units was brilliant. I loved being able to design my own units, place them into groups, and then have the entire group built whenever I wanted. I mean, whenever I play games like TA or Starcraft, that’s all I really do anyway, so why not make it a game option? Kudos to the developers on that one. I thought perhaps there was a little too much information on the screen at any one time. I didn’t need to have the buttons for AI, Options, etc. on my screen all the time. Perhaps they could have downsized this a little and gone with a few less buttons and the mini-map. Just a thought.
There were a couple of other things I thought could have been better. In general I thought the buttons and displays were too large and bulky looking. It reminded me of those kids’ software programs I see with the extra large buttons so it’s easy for kids to click on them. I also thought it was silly that when I tried to drag-select a group of units, the screen wouldn’t scroll so that I could add additional units (that weren’t on the screen) to the pre-existing group. I would have liked a few more unit-specific commands in addition to the ones that were given. In general I thought some of the ideas that were presented were really great while others simply followed in the footsteps of other games or missed in a few places. With a few refinements I thought the interface could easily garner four stars. I was pleasantly surprised.
Gameplay: I wrote that Extreme Tactics was “similar to” Cyberstorm 2 because it shares some of those same customization features, where I could create and save different vehicle designs. However, from a gameplay standpoint, Extreme Tactics is really like every other RTS game you’ve played before. There are two resources to collect (surprise!). It features that central construction unit that is also heavily armed (TA anyone?). The campaigns and missions are fairly straightforward and seem reminiscent of Warcraft 2 in the type of things you had to do to win. In fact, all throughout my playing experience I kept having that feeling of déjà vu (all over again).
From a “fun” standpoint I thought Extreme Tactics was par for the course. While the implementation was pretty much boilerplate RTS stuff, I liked some of the customization features, the fact that it wasn’t a structure-heavy game, and some of the other features. The stuff I mentioned in the Interface section helped increase my enjoyment of the title somewhat as well. Having said that, I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that the game started to wear old after a handful of missions in both campaigns. I play so many RTS titles week in and week out that a game has to offer me something different to really keep my attention for any length of time. I had fun, but it didn’t last through the whole game. Overall, Extreme Tactics offered an average gameplay experience.
Sound FX: This ended up being one of my two least favorite parts of the game. All I can really say is that the quality wasn’t that great and the FX largely sounded fake. Weapons fire sounded pretty lame, like something you might hear from a 1980s coin-op game. Needless to say that with the sub-par explosions and sounds of gun firing, battles really fell with a thud. And not one of those realistic thuds like when a 300-pound mafia informant hits the dirt after a tumble from a 14th floor apartment. Like the rest of the game’s FX, it was a fake thud, like someone trying to reproduce the aforementioned sound by pounding their fist on a desk. The voice-overs for the FMV sequences between missions were of slightly better quality, but the voice acting wasn’t all that great. I thought it was a rather forgettable effort in this area.
Musical Score: Unfortunately it was obvious that the music was not going to be called upon to save the FX. First, the quality was no better than that of the sound effects. If I stopped and listened to the music, I could easily detect multiple places where I could hear distortions. The soundtrack was composed of pretty basic synthesizer music that tried to do that “techno pop/rock” thing that sort of covers all bases. However, the scores weren’t all that original and the music didn’t add anything to the action in the game. I ended up turning it off fairly early on in the game when I decided it was only detracting from my playing experience.
Intelligence & Difficulty: I liked all the AI options for my own units. I thought that added a nice element to the game. The biggest problem I had with my own units was that I found the pathfinding AI to be rather poor. Countless times I would click on a location with multiple units and half would make it while the other half got stuck somewhere on the map or wandered off alone only to be slaughtered by the enemy. It was a bit frustrating at times. I didn’t think the enemy AI was all that great on an individual level. Solo units would walk right into the middle of all my units where they would be quickly slaughtered, instead of at least hanging on the fringe and increasing the chance that more units might miss so they could do some damage before being destroyed. Frequently I noticed that I would find one unit attacking one of my groups, followed by another after the first was destroyed. This was sometimes repeated multiple times, and I couldn’t figure out why they all didn’t just attack at once and have a bigger impact.
From a difficulty standpoint I thought the missions could have been a little tougher and a bit more varied than they were. I found the missions to be a little repetitive and therefore the approach to winning each one was never all that different. It took me a fair amount of time to finish some of the higher number missions in each campaign, so it definitely wasn’t a cakewalk. However, I think most gamers will find that Extreme Tactics offers an average challenge compared to other titles on the market, and will feel the AI could probably use some help.
Overall: I felt sort of indifferent about Extreme Tactics when it came time to write this up. I didn’t dislike the game, but at the same time I really felt I had played more than I wanted to. The poor audio component didn’t help and the nice aspects of the interface couldn’t overcome some of the “been there, done that” aspects of the gameplay. Comparing it to other RTS titles, I think it would be fair to say that Extreme Tactics fell slightly below the average point, mostly because the originality shown in one or two areas didn’t spread to the others. If you are thinking about this title I highly recommend taking the demo for a test drive before plunking down your cash. You may find Extreme Tactics to your liking but for many it may not have the staying power it needs to keep your attention for long periods of time.
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