Overall: EarthSiege 2 is First Person Perspective, real time, combat simulator sequel to EarthSiege that can be played as a campaign game or with instant action. Not only do you pilot the 30 to 80 ton humanoid Herculean robots, called Hercs, loaded with weapons, but you command a squad of up to four Hercs in a battle for the earth itself through 55 missions with 8 classes of weaponry in over 3 types of terrain. Closest thing to this type of game is a combat flight simulator. The game is a heck of a lot of fun, so letís go blow things up.
EarthSiege 1 and 2 is Sierraís version of the Battletech Mechwarrior universe and almost a dead ringer for the Activision games which follow the FASA plot lines. In some ways EarthSiege is closest to the 1989 smash hit Mechwarrior game from Activision which died and went to online heaven as the massive Kesmaiís Multiplayer Battletech on Genie, other online services, and now the internet at www.kesmai.com, played daily by thousands throughout the world. This game also spawned several Battletech centers where grown men meet to bash it out 4 to 4 in arena action.
Like a flight or driving simulator the game elements involve control systems, such as joysticks, keyboards, throttle controls, and foot pedals, pilot views, right, front, left, rear, and weapon views, commands to squad mates, such as attack my target, in addition to the normal elements of interface, graphics, enemy artificial intelligence, and other factors. These simulators, and EarthSiege 2 is no exception, have the power to draw you into the computer and make you feel like you are really battling the opposition at the helm of these machines of destruction.
The plot line of the story is that we are in the far future of earth. The earth has created artificial intelligences, called AIs, to fight their wars. The AIs developed sentience, began to reason, and one of their first conscious thoughts was that mankind was their natural enemy and must be destroyed. Mankind fought back captured some Herculean robots, built on the technology and put up a fight. After the first success of the first EarthSiege, the robots wanted a rematch, and now we are in a battle fighting for the very life of our planet.
Promethius, the leader of the AIs, has fled to the moon for a secure headquarters from which to attack the Earth. The battles span five theaters of battle, including the moon and four continents, North America, South America, China, and Antarctica. Each theater has at least ten missions which are comprised of defense of single or multiple targets, assaults on enemy bases, intercept enemy robots before or as they are attacking, escorts and rescue of allied units, and capture of enemy units. Other than driving this large monstrous vehicle that has more weapons than a modern jet airplane, EarthSiege is primarily infantry squad warfare.
All in battle commands can be executed by mouse or entirely by keyboard commands, for views, team member commands, movement of the Herc, targeting. Weapons, and maps. The piloting and targeting commands were most similar to the 1989 Mechwarrior game with the joystick or cursor pad controlling the throttle in the y-axis and the turning of the body of the Herc with the x-axis. Hercs turn right and left by moving their entire body and moving at the waste similar to the way a tank moves its turret. The difference is that the range of movement at the waist is limited to that seen with a bipedal human, while many tank turrets can turn 360 degrees.
The targeting system is controlled by the I, M, J, and K keys. The movement keys and targeting keys resemble those of the original Mechwarrior. The game supports Thrustmaster FCS, Microsoft Sidewinder, Rudder Pedals, trackballs for the turret, and CH products joysticks. Force feedback joysticks can only be used as regular joysticks, since the force feedback option is not supported.
One of the nice features of EarthSiege 2 is the ability to target the legs and shoot off descrete parts of the Herc anatomy. Shooting legs is most effective, as it was with the original Mechwarrior. Once the leg is severed the Herc often falls over and damages itself more on impact. Several of my amputated leg Hercs exploded when they hit the ground after a satisfying and resounding crunch.
Auto turret tracking (T-key) was somewhat of a disappointment in the game since it targeted the torso of the oncoming Hercs, not their legs. Later when the targeting pod was developed and equipped, it was quicker and more precise, but never seemed to do what it was intended for. The targeting pod supposedly would allow you to target specific regions of the oncoming Herc such as the right leg. There was no real confirmation that the legs were being targeted, since by the time you got close enough to confirm this targeting on the enemy damage MFD (multi-function display), the enemy was toast.
The over 40 missions include uploading viruses and downloading databases from enemy communications posts, assaults, defense, interception, and escort, which make the game very similar to a flight simulator. The thirteen team commands include disengage, attack enemy, defend position, patrol gridpint, attack my target, and ignore my target. This group of commands gives you full control of your team to use them like a sharp knife to carve a decisive victory out of unbeatable odds.
Team members can attain for different levels of competence in the campaign game: rookie, regular, veteran, and elite. Team members can die, and when they do die, just like in real life, their replacements are less effective until they catch up. In fact, one team member in particular died every time I ran the campaign game, at about the same point in the game. Nah, that was probably just a coincidence?
You can now walk over top of mountains and obstacles, except for buildings and Herc rubble. It would seem that an 80 ton Herc could walk through a building easily, like a tank through masonry, but not in this game. Perhaps future games will give debris and structures a strength rating instead of demolishing buildings, Cybrids, and Hercs into indestructible and impassable three dimensional polygon rubble.
Graphics are 640 x 480, light-sourced, and texture-mapped which gives you a good feeling down to the unit designations painted on objects. The terrain is a little less satisfying in detail and should have been worked on a bit more to add trees and other real objects to the environment. The lack of clouds in the sky and weather features is noticeable, but it is suspected that many of these things were scrapped to increase the frame rate.
The most interesting of all the new Hercs that appear in the game to be piloted, is the new Razor aircraft that is a great flying Herc, but a poor substitute for the controls and views seen in a state of the art flight simulator like Originís Advanced Tactical Fighters or even Spectrum Holobyteís Top Gun. The CH flightstick top hat was used as combined throttle and rudder, with no other views save through the front, left, and right of the plane.
All 9 Hercs from 27 to 84 tons are fully customizable with a five special pods and 21 weapons systems, including five missiles and four launchers, and five lasers. Each weapon and equipment pod and all eleven enemy Cybrids from 26 to 100 tons each have their own characteristics to study and master. Some weapons remove shields while others only damage machinery, so they must be used accordingly.
The artificial intelligence of opposing Cybrids seems to be pretty standard without any wrinkles. They can be set to attack structures, and can have an overriding command to attack any Hercs within range. The difficulty of missions is made easy or impossibly difficult by simply adding more and more enemies coming at you and your defense charges from a wide number of directions.
Preferences allow you to change terrain and other details to make the game play with less frame rate glitches. There is no sophisticated difficulty matrix, save on boot up where you can choose from rookie, regular, veteran, or elite. Once selected this difficulty cannot be changed in subsequent missions. Most respectable flight simulators have a complex difficulty matrix that allows the game player to adjust the game difficulty to fit his exact game playing style. The ability to change difficulty and adjust it to increasing proficiency is another requirement for a combat simulator to be on the cutting edge of technology. A complex changeable difficulty matrix adjusts the game for you changing needs and increases playability and accessibility of the game.
The original music score by Loudmouth Productions is futuristic with the hard driving sounds of combat mixed with the otherworldly sounds of alien places. The sound effects and music are particularly nice on a 3D sound system with sub woofer that allows the repetitive striking of the ground by little Herc feet to really resound and reverberate. Explosions also literally rock you with the sub woofer aftershock.
EarthSiege 2 is a game that I would love to play both competitively and cooperatively with my son and friends, but alas this will have to wait until Sierra brings out the next EarthSiege version. EarthSiege 2 has no multiplayer options for cooperative or competitive play. Unfortunately, there are only ten save games allowed, which seems woefully inadequate in this world of massive storage space multi GB hard disk drives.
Another downer is the online manual, which leaves much to be desired when you want to take the manual with you to read while you wait somewhere, since the online cyber manual will not slip easily and unobtrusively into a pocket as a paper manual would. Admittedly the manual will print, but it does so with almost unreadable washed-out grey text with no contrasting background. The best for a display is not always the best format to print, as most internet surfers know well.
Conclusion: This monster humanoid robot combat simulator offers some advantages over the Activision Mechwarrior format, while retaining most of its major advantages. There are some minor fixable drawbacks, such as the control system and the online manual that could be corrected in subsequent releases which are not only inevitable but waited for by enthusiasts with bated breathl. Recommended for Mech and Herc nuts alike.
Alan Roberts, InterAction, summer, 1996, pg. 86-87
PC Multimedia and Entertainment