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Dark Colony is a real-time strategy game released in the year 1997 by Strategic Simulations Incorporated (or SSI for short). Released around the time that Starcraft came out, it arguably never stood a chance in that respect, but it's definitely a worthy RTS in its own right.
This game, like many RTS games back in the day, boasted an impressive two races, the Humans and the Grays (these being the stereotypical aliens you might see on television, but gray instead of green). Both races are virtually identical, having only minute differences to differentiate them. For example, the Human infantry unit is the Trooper and the Gray infantry unit is the Gray (yes, they're called by their race name. :P). Troopers have more armor but Grays hit harder. In practice, the differences in stats don't really make much a difference.
Dark Colony Cover Art
The game's storyline is more or less the following: Humans have arrived on Mars and have seen a possibility to spread their presence in the universe. However, the current conditions on Mars prevent human life from existing without life support systems, so the humans start an aggressive terraforming program to change the conditions on Mars to those on Earth. They quickly realize that there is already an indigenous race on the planet, the Grays. Of course, as you can imagine, coexistence is out of the question. The Grays see the Terraformers (the buildings, not the human race, but it matters not in practice) as vile edifices and attempt to destroy them, as the humans defend themselves.
That, in a nutshell, is the start of the campaign, which can be played from either side. The story isn't spectacular, but the missions themselves and how they play out works so well that it doesn't really matter in the end.
This game gets many props from me. The '90s saw a wide range of RTS games, and frankly (in my opinion) a great number of them were bad. Terrible even. However, this game is pretty easy to learn and enjoy, and has several innovations which set it apart from conventional RTS games even today.
In a normal game (non-campaign) you will start with one structure, your Commander and an infantry unit. The structure is the Exo Center if you're Human or the Hive Mind if you're Gray. You need this main building to create harvester units, that gather resources for you from vents located around the map. Unlike most other RTS games that force you to make several workers for each mine/resource location, here you only need one harvester per vent. Once you send the harvester to the vent, it will deploy itself, gaining an armor boost and gathering resources for your side.
Your Commander is a boosted version of your race's infantry unit and has two abilities (the second one only if he is Rank 2 or higher). The first ability, which can be used more frequently, inspires your troops to fight harder, doing more damage (and possibly suffering less damage, but don't take my word on that part). The second ability, unavailable to Rank 1 commanders, is the Drop Ship. It reinforces your position with 2-4 units (2 at Rank 2, 3 at Rank 3 and 4 at Rank 4), but has a long cooldown time after use, so you may not be able to use it more than once or twice per game.
Another departure from most RTS games of the day is the centralized base. I mentioned before that you start with one structure. Well, said structure is on top of what I call a base site. Any buildings you construct will be placed on top of said site. Also, you cannot expand and make new bases, so one's all you get. Similar to Command and Conquer, in this game you make units from one main menu, listing any units and buildings you can create at that point in time. You would think that this limits your ability to do much of anything, and you'd be wrong. :P
You see, you can make units instantly as long as you have the funds. This does have the nasty effect of creating some very brutal wars in the late-game, but it does have the convenience that if you keep some money banked, you will always be able to create units to defend yourself.
By the time you max out your tech tree, you will have:
- A harvester unit
- A basic infantry unit
- A unit that can burrow into the ground, becoming a landmine.
- A flying unit that attacks ground units.
- A heavy ground unit that can only attack other ground units.
- A unit that can root itself into a position and become a turret (this game's equivalent of the RTS defensive tower.)
- An artillery unit (has high range, but poor health and defense.)
- A top-level unit that can hit air and ground, has the highest range in the game after artillery, but average health. They can also be upgraded to use an ability that does area-effect damage.
- A flying, healing unit that cannot attack.
You'd be surprised how gripping battles can be with such few units. Quality over quantity! ;)
So, that's about it for this review of an old, but nice game. Certain parts of it have not aged well over time, and the interface is rather archaic as compared to more modern RTS games, but if you're a fan of the genre, then I don't see why you wouldn't give this game a test run.
Until the next time, take care and have fun! ;)