Reviews July 1, 2010

SunAge

Kenneth Seward Jr

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SunAge
Reviewed by: Scott Parrino
System: PC
Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Rated: T
Players: 1 (2-8 online)
Release Date: 1/28/2008
Publisher: Lighthouse Interactive
Developer: Vertex4

Real-Time Strategy games all follow the basic concept of building a base, fighting a battle and building units all in real time. Generally you’ll set up your base, construct some defenses, build some troops and then go scouting around for your enemy or to complete the objectives handed down to you by your boss or general. At the very basic level, you select your units and click on them to shoot bullets of death at your enemy. SunAge itself somehow almost fails at this concept and trips and falls on its face along the way.

The premise of SunAge is that the Earth is losing all of her resources due to the war fought between the Federacy and the Raak-Zun. These two sides battle it out for the remaining resources and suddenly a third alien group intervenes, utilizing advanced weaponry. We have all heard this before and all clichés you’ve experienced from taking control of a rookie commander to uncovering wild and crazy plots are dropped on you. You progress through the storyline by taking command of each side ala Starcraft style. Majority of the cutscenes are shown in a comic book style, sometimes during the actual mission itself (which is quite annoying as it covers up the action on the screen).  While the storyline isn’t much to write home about, the gameplay is what should really put the game on its two feet. Unfortunately the gameplay is an icy sidewalk.
The gameplay is at best described as “the player vs. his units”. SunAge’s AI is such a problem that after two patches (at the time of this writing, 1.08) your units still need their hand held through every movement, every attack and every defense. Units can be grouped together into larger units, from small squad sizes to larger battalion sized, but you cannot mix units into one group. An example of this mechanic is that rifle units do not mix with rocket units. Traditional RTS players are used to drag-selecting their mass of units to group them; however in SunAge it is impossible. The units that you do drag-select however will stop what they are doing and move or disperse for no apparent reason. This can be remedied by just clicking on the groups, but this turns the gameplay into a massive click-fest as you must select each group and issue them their own orders. Some of the click-fest can be reduced by using keyboard commands, but some are spread out to the point of a mission becoming an arm exercise.

Building your base is akin to using telephone poles to bring “connections” to other buildings you create on the map. This feels a lot like the Zerg in Starcraft and on paper it is a good idea, as it promotes guarding your supply lines. Unfortunately it is easy to get caught up in figuring out where to place these “telephone poles” and you forget that your units are under attack. This leads me on to another negative; your only indication of units under attack is flashing icons on the minimap. Having your minimap off or paying too much attention on the screen can cost you some precious units on the field. The problematic AI starts to show its ugly face as units do not usually fire back or will not pursue units firing on them.
Graphically SunAge is not going to stress out your computer’s graphics card or processor. In fact SunAge is labeled as “laptop friendly” which can be a plus for those with older machines. If your computer could run Red Alert II with no problem then I’m sure you won’t have any issues with SunAge. This is actually a sad note for this troubled game as the isometric view coupled with sprites can present a rather detailed view, but the units don’t feel all that detailed and the animations are so minute or boring that you may think the units are statues. In this day of age I believe it would not hurt to make some 3-D models to liven up and perhaps improve the look of SunAge as computers nowadays are certainly up to the task.

Multiplayer is a mixed bag. I wasn’t able to find any games to speak of so playing against a human opponent wasn’t possible. I assume it would have been an easier and much more fun time than facing off against an omnipotent enemy AI in skirmish mode. The enemy AI isn’t bogged down by the goofy control interface and is able to micromanage itself into an advantageous situation that only luck and perhaps a deep understanding of the game would give the human player a chance. Even on easy the enemy AI was able to tear my base and army apart and pump out units on time without hesitation.

Sound isn’t much in SunAge. The soundtrack felt repeated and dull at times to the point where it’s best to mute it. The voice acting wasn’t too good either. When your voice actors sound bored and uninterested then you know it isn’t a good sign. Sound effects, like the soundtrack, get repetitive and lack certain oomph for a game set in the future with explosions and lasers.
Overall SunAge is at best an average RTS on paper. Actual gameplay can be frustrating and downright maddening. A player should not have to fight with his own units in order to accomplish an objective or even try to get them across the map. Goofy controls, a bored voice acting staff and seriously dated graphics don’t help SunAge along with its AI and gameplay. If you must stick to isometric 2-D sprite-based RTS games, there are others with fewer problems. I applaud SunAge for trying to be more strategic and tactical with itself, but in this case it still needs a heck of a lot of polish.


Gameplay: 5
The AI is handicapped by pathfinding problems and issues of trying to survive

Graphics: 5
Ten years ago SunAge would have been a beautiful game.

Sound: 5
The sound effects barely get the job done.

Whats New: 6
There are some diverse strategy and tactical elements but they are hampered severely by gameplay and AI elements.

Replay Value: 5
This may be more enjoyable if you can find others to play with.

Final score:

5.5