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Graphics: The look of Gromada is not close to being state-of-the-art, but in its own way it is quite attractive, consistent in aesthetic appearance, and otherworldly in its aura. The use of a top-down perspective is quite appropriate and effective here, even though it means you cannot see very far around you (a zoom out feature would have been appreciated). The color scheme seems particularly partial to yellow-brown-green hues. If any designer has managed to succeed in conveying the sense of an alien environment, it is this one: not only do all the buildings and military vehicles look absolutely out of this world, but the animated plant life — for which this title ought to win a horticultural creativity award — is totally unnerving in its varied and bizarre appearance. Strange floating objects abound, many of which you have no idea what function they serve, and often the paths you traverse cross through fascinating environmental hazards such as bubbling ooze. Much of the environment, particularly the plant life, can be destroyed either by shooting it or running over it in your tank. The well-done special visual effects include shadowing and dynamic light sourcing, time-of-day lighting changes, and the use of fire and smoke in depicting explosive destruction and missiles moving toward their targets.
Gromada runs at 640×480 and 800×600 resolutions, and it does not utilize 3D hardware video acceleration. With very low minimum system requirements and a choice of high or low graphical detail, this release is far more able than most to run on virtually every gamer’s computer. In the heat of battle there are a ton of animation of numerous objects on the screen at once, and I never experienced the slightest hiccup, jerkiness, or sluggishness in frame rates.
Interface: Gromada utilizes a somewhat awkward combination of unchangeable mouse and keyboard controls, with the left mouse button controlling movement, the right mouse button firing your weapon, and keys “1″ to “4″ changing your weapon. Instead of pointing your tank in a particular direction and then hitting the accelerator to move, you click the mouse ahead to where you want to go. For me, this title cries out for gamepad support so that you can control everything from the same place; unlike first-person shooters and many other 3D action games, the variety of things you can do is not so multifaceted that it cannot be encapsulated in one input device. Moreover, having to click with the mouse in front of where you want your tank to go fosters more undesired collisions with objects than if you guided it directly.
The information panel on the play screen, activated by hitting the TAB key, is just too hard to read. It contains a message panel that provides information about the current weapon and objects you have picked up, the quantity of ammunition you have, your tank’s overall health, and a radar map. The crucial map / radar screen, which shows enemy ground objects, enemy air objects, mines, and other objects all in tiny differently colored dots, is not always perfectly visible against the colored backdrops of the scenery.
The menu screens are simple but effective, with a consistently ovoid appearance, and navigating them is really a breeze. It is unfortunate that you are not allowed to replay a level/mission you have already completed — the ones you have finished are marked with a cross. The only way to do that would be to start the game again as another player.
Gameplay: While the action in Gromada is as fast and frenzied as they come, you will lose if you just go around trying to blast everyone to smithereens. One example of this occurs during an ongoing battle is taking place between helicopters and rocket plants, where you should not initially destroy the helicopters because they inadvertently help you destroy a key adversary. Another example occurs when you encounter rocket plants that are shooting tanks, and once again you need to let them do the destruction for you. In yet another case, you must closely follow an enemy tank so that it can open an otherwise impenetrable energy gate for you. These predicaments exemplify why the gameplay is not too repetitive and why strategy plays a significant if minor role in your success.
Though you do need to keep moving to survive, you usually do not need to worry about time pressure. However, in one arena appropriately named “Slaughter,” you have to destroy a large number of enemy tanks in order to make it to any one of a ring of teleporters; if you do not accomplish this task within a few seconds, you have to commence your effort all over again. In other cases, you have to race through energy gates during brief windows of opportunity when they are open.
While your tank cannot zip around really fast, as of course it should not be able to do, you can elude missiles and shells shot at you in many circumstances if you are nimble enough. This feature makes Gromada really fun and gives you a chance of survival even if you seem to be facing overwhelming odds.
Sound FX: The sound effects are quite well done, even if there is not a ton of variety or much in the way of ambient environmental effects. The explosions sound just right, and the sound of the bubbling ooze that I mentioned earlier makes me feel as if I am sinking right into it. The noises of the different types of vehicles, such as helicopters, are also right on. The audio effects are extremely clear, and while there is no special support for 3D hardware sound capabilities, you can hear sound directionally.
Musical Score: There is no music during gameplay in Gromada.
Intelligence & Difficulty: There are two difficulty levels — easy and normal, allowing a wider range of players to take a shot at combat. Veterans of shooters will find themselves immediately at home with the kinds of “quick trigger-finger” obstacles presented, while those new to this genre will no doubt find themselves destroyed numerous times before they get the hang of the action.
Gromada is never a snap to win, from the very first mission onwards. The challenge gradually grows from very simple and short early missions to tricky and daunting ones later. However, one of the very nicest aspects of the artificial intelligence is that the difficulty of each successive mission is automatically adjusted based on your performance in previous missions. This is a great feature that I wish was present in other action titles. The artificial intelligence of the computer-controlled adversaries is not subtle or sophisticated but rather direct and effective — fleeing when under heavy attack and relentlessly advancing when detecting that you are wounded or vulnerable. Interestingly, the behavior of the military units varies considerably from mission to mission.
Overall: Though many reviewers would readily dismiss Gromada as being too shallow, just as the real-time strategy and action-oriented first-person shooter crowds would by and large find it beneath them, I took a shine to it right from the start. Taken in terms of its own aspirations, Gromada is not supposed to be a breakthrough product that startles the gaming world with its technological prowess, but rather a pleasant diversion that satisfies those who seek an absorbing arcade shooter with a few important strategic elements. I cannot stop playing it, as I really enjoy the fast-paced alien setting with all the fireworks, and it saddens me that it took this release so long to make it to the United States. Of course, Gromada has its limitations, such as the rigidity in its input system, but has no gaping flaws in any area. So if you want a break into an engrossing yet unearthly “road warrior” style world, buy this title.
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