Grey Goo Review
Goo times! These are such goo times!
For such an unassuming and even silly sounding title, the concept is a horrifying one if you’re not familiar with it. The title refers to an apocalyptic scenario where self-replicating nanomachines created for benign purposes run amok consuming everything in their path, and although this topic has become a well-worn trope in sci-fi TV, developers Petroglyph have taken the next logical step and made the infinitesimal blighters the stars of their own game.
It’s an RTS in the classic mould, unsurprising as some of the dev team are responsible for Command & Conquer which was hugely responsible for popularising the genre. Although some newer RTS games have attempted to switch things up with a wider scope (Supreme Commander) or more of a focus on units and squads (Company Of Heroes), Grey Goo is most definitely a traditional, base-centric evolution of its predecessors, mixed with a healthy dose of streamlining and introduction of new ideas. For those who grew up with the C&C franchise, this is a most welcome turn of events.
We begin in media res on planet Ecosystem Nine where alien race the Betas have an unfriendly first encounter with a human exploratory expedition. The plot is gradually unveiled, from the Betas’ initial struggle to the first confrontation with the Goo itself. The linear campaign is split five missions each, with strong visuals and excellent voice acting throughout. The comical but revolutionary live FMV cutscene briefings of old have been replaced with impressive CGI facial models to deliver the exposition. The art style used and the world they’ve constructed with it is highly impressive, thanks to collaboration with Weta Workshop, digital artists most famous for their work on the Lord Of The Rings and Hobbit trilogies, but also with a fine grounding in sci-fi through work on Neil Blomkamp’s District 9 and Elysium. If anything the story is almost too compacted; it’s a rich setting that deserves to be further explored in a sequel or possibly some DLC.
I can't help falling in love with Goo.
Although the look and feel you recall from classic RTS games is present, the flow is much more constant. The resource cap is deliberately kept low to keep you building new units, which you’ll need as smallish maps combined with aerial recon units mean that the initial comfortable build phase once enjoyed has been drastically stripped back. From the get-go you better have your units out the door pronto because the Goo is coming for YOU. Huge factories can churn out three units at a time, and not having a standing army quickly mustered because you’ve gotten carried away with base expansion or tech research will cost you dearly. The addition of Age Of Empires-style walls with gates is a savvy inclusion, as is a handy economy meter which advises if you’re currently spending more than you’ve got coming in from refineries. Only one resource exists, a liquid chemical called Catalyst, and once a refinery and collection point have been placed the harvesters more or less look after themselves, leaving you to concentrate on the fighting instead of getting tied up with logistics.
In an ergonomic move clearly inspired by DOTA2, the build tree for all units and upgrades has been mapped to the QWERTY keys, so even while you’re directing units with the mouse you can simultaneously keep the factory line running back at base. All keys can be freely assigned for whichever position gives you least hand cramp. That said, the game mostly has you directing large groups of units and is blessedly free from the kind of finicky micromanagement that Starcraft II is known for. Pathfinding, something to always look out for in RTS games, seems pretty stable; only very seldom did I need to correct a unit’s course.
If Goo leave me now, Goo take away the biggest part of me.
The factions are where parallels will undoubtedly be drawn with Blizzard’s sci-fi strategy epic. Like the Protoss, the Betas have their own build style separate from the humans while still remaining humanoid and relatable, and the Goo may as well be the Zerg crossed with the T-1000, glistening with a silvery sheen yet morphing into oddly organic shapes. Beta bases are distinctly modular with multiple freely-placeable hubs, human bases are centred around a single command structure with power lines snaking out to satellite buildings, and the Goo don’t even have a base at all, spawning all their units from a massive but mobile protoplasmic blob called the Mother Goo. Several of these can be active at once, slinking over the landscape, ready to soak up resources and engulf unsuspecting patrols. Having such radically different playstyles for each faction can make for interesting matches, but a fair amount of time needs to be invested to get familiar with each one and how to counter strategies from the other two when using them. The Goo in particular are so different to command than pretty much any other faction in RTS history, it will be a fair amount of time before you’d be comfortable picking them in a ranked match.
Long games inevitably lead to an arms race for each side to build their barnstorming, earth-shattering super-unit. The Betas have the Hand Of Ruk, a lumbering artillery cannon doubling as a mobile factory, laden with turret emplacements. The humans have access to an imposing armoured battlesuit known as the Alpha, while the Goo rely on an enhanced, highly destructive version of the Mother known as the Purger. Even with the assistance of an epic unit, clinching the endgame in a prolonged battle with Goo can be an exercise in frustration; even though there’s no way for them to turn the tide, thanks to their mobility they can move around, hide and drag out an encounter far past its natural point of conclusion.
Humans to the left of me, Betas to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with Goo.
Multiplayer is well catered for, and while as previously stated a generous amount of learning time to get familiar with the factions is highly recommended, there’s plenty of fun to be had for old RTS veterans and newcomers alike. One sticking point is the current small number of maps available; thankfully a well-featured map editor has been included at launch for fans to create and submit their own. In addition to a fine RTS pedigree, a Petroglyph game also means a guaranteed incredible soundtrack by Frank Klepacki, and his unmistakable blend of heavy rock, synth and the orchestral - all readily apparent here, complementing the action with an adrenal jolt. After having previous project End Of Nations wrested away from them and eventually cancelled, things were looking dark for the Las Vegas-based dev house, but this is a confident return to form with one foot securely in the past and one striding forward to an assured future. They’re back doing what they do best, and that’s great news for RTS fans.