Earth 2160 is Reality Pump’s continuation of the Earth RTS series. The game runs best on a fairly high-end system as they use an advanced graphics engine that is different than what most other RTS games are running.

In 2160 Earth no longer exists due to it being thrown out of orbit by the mega hostilities and wars between the Eurasian Dynasty (ED) and the United Civilized States (UCS). The remaining population and armies of each side evacuated and headed out to Mars.  The UCS boarded a gigantic evacuation ship named the Phoenix (how original) but were never heard from again.

The Lunar Corporation (LC), the other of the three factions, tried to avoid conflict on Earth by creating moon bases and a city just outside the moon, named Orbital I. Later on they expanded to Mars. LC was originally a company trying to run NASA and space exploration and were considered peaceful. Now on Mars they research biological weapons.

Hostilities immediately started between the Lunar Corporation and the Eurasian Dynasty due to the lack of resources and poor living conditions. The fate of each side depended on who controlled Mars.

Aliens are discovered due to the extensive mining operations on the Red Planet. However, due to a Sol Protection Act being written, which states that speaking about aliens will be considered treason, many survivors find themselves in a tight spot. The Aliens were imprisoned and put into suspended animation on Mars and awoken by the rumble and earth shaking of the evacuation craft landings.

If that wasn’t enough these people had to worry about there was also extensive infighting to contend with. Many military and scientific leaders are jockeying for positions while they fight to survive and obtain resources.

You continue this story initially as Michael R. Falkner, Special Forces officer for the Eurasian Dynasty or Ariah D. F., one of the Captains of the Rapid Reaction Forces of the LC. Choosing ED first is highly recommended as this is the faction that contains the game’s tutorial.

Earth 2160 uses the latest cutting-edge pixel and vertex shaders. (1.3 support is needed and a Radeon X series or 6600/6800 nVidia board is highly recommended) (My test machine has a 6800 GT OC) The game does look great especially when you zoom in on any troops or machines. Buildings are very detailed as well.

Many of the weapons have very cool particle effects and/or smoke and flame effects. Rockets actually whoosh off shoulder-mounted infantry and vehicles. You can actually see the detail of the rockets as they home in on their targets. Pulse weapons show off their electrical and gas smoke rings which replace the muzzle flashes of traditional weaponry.

The detail of the individual soldiers and heroes is very extensive. They definitely put some time into showing different areas of padding and plated armor and it varies depending on which type of unit you are looking at. Your hero can actually change armor and weapons, and they also have a bevy of different techno items at their disposal like cloaking devices, which looks awesome when activated.

You can also go into VR mode by “jumping in” to one of the units. This gives you an even more impressive glance at the wondrous beauty the developers created, and helps to show off all the particle effects. The one thing I hated about this was the gigantic HUD that took up the screen while in VR mode.

The smoke and explosions in this game are absolutely incredible. I have to say that when I saw the plume of thick black smoke spewing from active volcanoes I was very impressed. Explosions are equally astonishing and you get to view them quite often. They are scaled in intensity and volume based upon which type of unit or building exploded.

Background scenery can be a little blasé, but then again Mars and some of the moons are just giant chunks of rock devoid of any type of vegetation. Once you get past the ED and LC campaigns, there are some very lush environments to be seen. I didn’t like the way the lava looked. It looked fake compared to the rest of the scenery especially when compared to the gas clouds over some of the mining pockets.

There are many cutscenes in this game, and they are not designed very well. For instance the mouths are not synced up with the actual speech, and the mouths do a funky up and down movement more resembling chewing than speech. There is a special launch command you need to use if you have certain processors like Intel’s Hyper-Threading models so that the voice syncs up better, but why didn’t they have that in the code. It could have easily been detected in an auto-config program.

The dialogue was just flat out hammy and not true to the storyline. The dialogue should have been much more harsh considering everything that was going on and what they just went through. The actors seemed more like they were working on an afternoon special for network TV than a hardcore RTS video game. One example is this line; “I just got my hair done, and I am not going to ruin it by putting my helmet on!” Is that something a hardened survivor would say? Granted the LC is a Matriarchal society, but when do they have time to get their hair done while gripping onto survival by a thread?

Now it’s a good thing you can turn off the unit speech in the options menu because it flat out drove me nuts. Hearing “I’m being hit” or “I’m Ready” every five seconds is quite annoying. Granted I like audio queues when something happens but it was just way too frequent. Not to mention that it annoyed the crap out of my wife.

Background music would kick in when a good fight was going to start, but it would often abruptly end instead of fading out or finishing up like a typical song would. You had a feeling like something just went wrong with your sound system every time it occurred.

One of the redeeming qualities to all this was the spectacular weapons fire and explosions that shook and rocked the battlefield. These sound effects worked very harmoniously with the spectacular graphics to truly bring the battles to life.

One of the coolest control features I have seen in an RTS to date was the PiP (Picture-in-Picture) that Reality Pump included in Earth 2160. You used the Picture-in-Picture feature to keep an eye on one spot or units in the game while the main screen showed another. It is completely customizable as you can choose what you want in the view window or you can turn it off all together. I typically used mine to watch as units traveled to their destinations.

The menu system is very extensive with the ability to hide and pop out windows. Many of the “F” keys were set to open different config or build screens, and all your units could be assembled into squads via the typical RTS fashion of using “ctrl” and a number. So much of the features were already intelligently setup as defaults that I did not find myself needing to change anything. You could also assign a squad number during the build process. This was a great feature as you never needed to do it by hand.

Holding down your right mouse button and moving the mouse controlled the camera, but you could configure the controls to do it another way if you wished. It worked fine for me. There were also many different icons used to help identify all the different and available actions at your disposal.

Finally, the game offers a very large list of options that can be configured and changed to suit even the most finicky of players. Again, I especially like being able to turn off unit chatter.

While the graphics and control features were superior, I found the gameplay rather challenging but occasionally boring. There were a couple of cool ideas thrown into the strategy that I felt was pretty cool. The initial tutorial, although somewhat helpful, could have had more to it. Having to wait for your slow moving units to switch back across the terrain was the boring part.

Earth 2160 included a surprise that I haven’t seen in other RTS titles, the ability to use the environment to cause damage to enemy forces. One example would be the boulders that existed on some of the volcanic mountains. Many of the bases were set into the valleys of these ranges, and you could shoot the rocks at certain angles so as to deflect them and start them rolling towards the enemy energy gates and perimeter defenses.

The game definitely brings the word strategy back into RTS. The biggest key into either being smashed like a baby seal or kicking the crap out of the enemy forces was learning how to use the custom construction builder to get an advantage, and how to use your heroes effectively. The custom builder allowed you to choose a blank template and then you add what kind of armor, engines, and weapons you wanted. After that you name your new unit, and add anything else like lights, which had a cool look in the game.

The building system offered some variety as well. The ED has a system of building by connecting by slots. You could also use two-way and four-way connector tubes to expand your base in interesting ways. This was extremely helpful when trying to build your bases around terrain barriers. The LC employed a different mechanism for base building, stacking. You start with your construction module and then build upward. The base defense modules were very effective at using “Tesla” type guns to wipe out enemy troops in a heartbeat. I found that using artillery units worked pretty well against those units otherwise you were toast, literally.

Later on you discover that the Phoenix’s on board computer viewed all the UCD as a threat, hmm, that sounds familiar, and wiped out the entire crew and survivors. The computers then created huge mechanical war machines, very similar to Mechs, to do their bidding.

The campaigns can be lengthy, because you need to learn what will be most effective by trial and error, and your attack waves are more like chipping away at the stone. Sometimes it can take a few minutes of travel time to get your slower moving units into the battle. Luckily, Reality Pump works around that by offering an automated save feature, which will temporarily bog the game down, and a manual save feature. You can set the auto save duration into longer increments if you wish. Hey, who cares if the battles are long if you have a save feature. You can also save during multiplayer games!

Earth 2160 definitely offers hours of challenging and varying gameplay with 7 campaigns for each faction including the aliens. All these campaigns create an over-arching storyline, which reminded me off how the original Ground Control game played out.

There is an enormous amount of quality put into this game, with added features such as the in-depth instruction manual and the poster sized technology chart for all four factions. Researching technology and customizing your units is the mainstay of this game.

Skirmish mode allows you to play up to three computer opponents at the same time on any of the games maps. This can be extremely challenging. The Campaign mode offers three levels of difficulty, and I found that even the easy level offered a challenge.

The game fell short in the multiplayer area however. It does offer LAN possibilities, but each computer will need to run it’s own licensed copy. The game uses what I consider a good form of copy protection that makes you activate it much like the activation process for Windows XP. It was very easy to do, and you get a link sent to you that offers a 10 MB download for additional multiplayer maps.

When I tried to use the online EarthNet service, I found only 6 players in the room and they all spoke German. So I quickly said, “Auf Wiedersehen” to that.