Another World Completely
The mutated but quasi-sexy gal hefting a badass double spear on the box for WorldShift is an ironically fitting image representing the gameplay found inside. It may be tempting at first glance, though it’s hard to shake the distinct feeling that something just isn’t quite right. There’s a lot of cool stuff found in WorldShift’s sci-fi fantasy world. Magic and tribalism is married with high-tech warfare in a real-time strategy conquest that should be somewhat satisfying based on its premise alone. But, for everything that truly works about the game, you’ll find something that’ll get under your skin.
From the moment you start it up, it’s evident this is a game with a lot of potential. The action-packed intro scene featuring the aforementioned tribal alien gal slashing the crap out of heavily armored soldiers as she bounds through the forest is beautifully done and piqued our interest from the get-go. The fact it all takes place in a warped futuristic world that’s hardly recognizable as our own is also a big plus for sci-fi fans. Three different playable factions – tech-laden humans, spear and wizardry-wielding tribal mutants, and a mysterious shape-shifting cult – hint at some excellent opportunities for varied strategy. Despite this, the game only succeeds on some levels.
Long ago, a large plague-ridden asteroid was detected in orbit near Pluto. Attempts were made to study it, and scientists soon discovered this destructive hunk of rock was headed straight towards Earth. The cataclysmic event unleashed when it crashed into Earth, decimating human civilization on the planet. Remnants of humanity did live on, as the colonization of other areas of the solar system had begun prior to the incident. The story in WorldShift picks up thousands of years after that cataclysmic event. Pockets of human colonists have returned to the planet, though it’s also inhabited by tribal mutants and other beings. The game’s main campaign drops you right into the midst of a major conflict unfolding between the different factions.
Unlike the vast majority of real-time strategy games, WorldShift draws the focus away from micromanaging resources and building infrastructure. Instead, you get to carefully manage the hand you’re dealt. Most missions give you a handful of different units to work with and send you on your merry way to tackle the dangerous obstacles woven into the level ahead. Hero units play important roles, since they can unleash much more powerful attacks, hamper enemy troops in different ways, and even provide healing support for your main force. Factions can be customized with items culled from artifacts obtained by playing through the campaign missions and engaging in online battles. These items can be plugged into an ability grid for each of the three factions to open various specializations and boost your powers.
Combat during the campaign missions is a tricky and often stressful thing because the consequences for even the most minor slipup are pretty dire. Though checkpoints are scattered very sparingly, there’s no way to manually save your progress once you begin your mission. Expect to get stuck replaying more than a few missions in their entirety as a result. Some levels only give you a very meager force to start with, and require you to sneak around pockets of dangerous adversaries. This doesn’t work so well, since there’s little explanation on how to really avoid them. The difficulty also fluctuates wildly from mission-to-mission, and between different objectives within a single level.
Hero units present a bit of a catch 22. They can quickly turn the tide of battle with their unique attack and support powers, but losing any of them causes you to fail instantly. The main problem is they’ll often be front-and-center in a battle, and it can be tough to keep them alive in the moments where you turn a corner and the fog lifts to reveal a swarm of powerful opponents right on top of you. High-tailing it back to a safe distance doesn’t even always work in such instances. This is extremely frustrating when it happens within sight of the final objective for the lengthy level you’ve just spent a lot of time muscling through. The other issue is it takes an excruciatingly long time for a heroes’ ability-powering mana points to recharge. Spend them all in one battle and you just might have to park your forces in a safe zone of the map corner and sit around for 10 minutes or more twiddling your thumbs while it recharges.
All-told, the campaign has a few interesting moments, but it certainly isn’t the real star of the show. WorldShift clearly has a strong multiplayer focus and was designed with online battles in mind. You can’t even play the main game without logging into the main server and setting up an online profile. Multiplayer matches give you more control over picking your starting units, and you can capture a sole mineral resource that lets you deploy additional troops from you main headquarters. There are some fun options to explore here, including tackling co-op missions.
A large chunk of the strategic options at your disposal in these online matches are voided by just how easy it is to quickly create a small swarm of weak units and just charge down your opponents before they know what hit them. More powerful units may be mightier, but they require a lot of resources and time to create – time that you’ll never get to see because you’ve just been trounced by a squadron of low-level ankle biters. The online multiplayer is also diminished by the fact there’s just not a lot of people playing the game. Sure, you might find a match if you wait around a while, but it’s pretty slim pickings.
All of this is such a shame, because WorldShift is really a beautiful game with an intriguing premise. The levels are packed with interesting scenery, and the lighting and special effects are truly impressive. With a little better balance and some additional tweaking, this could have been a really memorable real-time strategy title.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
Excellent cutscenes and well done level accoutrements. 3.7 Control
The mouse-heavy controls are simple to pick up. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Some of the voice work is on the awkward side. 2.8 Play Value
Multiplayer focus is decent but there aren’t many players online. The main campaign has some major flaws in balance and pacing. 3.3 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.