A Note On Ground Control Being On GoG

By Jim Rossignol on July 14th, 2009 at 7:24 pm.


Update: cheaper Ground Control bundle here, but only for Britons.

Quite a few people sent in comments about classic, resource-free, 3D real time strategy Ground Control being on GoG.com. It’s interesting to see the game up there for a number of reasons, not least because the original game was actually freely distributed by Vivendi for quite some time. Of course with Vivendi disappearing into the ActiBlizzard merger there’s all kinds of funny things going on with the ownership of their games, their distribution and so on. Rebellion – the chaps who are making the new AvP game – now own Evil Genius, Ground Control, Empire Earth and Lords Of The Realm, and they’re distributing them via that aforementioned digital download service. I suspect a few of you will have something to say about all those games, but Ground Control was a particular love of mine, and I wanted to say a few things about the GoG bundle, and why it might actually still be worth a few dollars.

I’ve spoken at length about the original game in the past, and you can check out my retrospective from eighteen months ago just here. The game has not aged well technically – the highest res is, I think, 1024×768, and it now looks crude, although it still boasts a certain minimalist sheen, and a beautiful toned-down aesthetic. Few games even seem to attempt this kind of anti-interface now, and that’s a shame. It’s also slightly underwhelming in terms of some aspects of its campaign – there is no skirmish, only LAN multiplayer – with the pace and wobbly narrative building up to an anti-climax.

The reason for this unsatisfactory ending was unclear at the time, as the game just seemed to roll to a halt. But the difficult-to-find Dark Conspiracy expansion largely solved that problem, with the opening two missions being among the most dramatic I’ve ever played in an RTS. The opening mission of Dark Conspiracy is about as surprising as I can remember an in-game RTS game being before the games of the past couple of years: it’s genuinely seat-of-the-pants stuff, with a carefully executed mission boiling over into an ambush, and finally a rolling crisis management that I totally didn’t see coming. The rest of the campaign finishes off the story that the original game started, and finally gets you somewhere. If there’s a reason to get hold of the game now, it’s because the original game was never whole: Ground Control was one of the few titles that was genuinely, ultimately completed by its expansion.

Ground Control and Dark Conspiracy together are the complete package, and Dark Conspiracy wasn’t given away for free back when Vivendi was promoting Ground Control 2. For anyone looking to go back, or to try out this beautiful little RTS for the first time, I can say that $6 doesn’t seem unreasonable for the pair, finally, fortunately, reunited.

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76 Comments »

  1. pkt-zer0 says:

    Bought it for the equivalent of 30$ a couple weeks after it became freeware. Would spend at least as much on it even today.

  2. Nobody Important says:

    Amazing game. Never played the expansion, but I think I’ll have to.

  3. Darthy says:

    Ground Control remains a big favourite of mine. The graphics, while faded now, were astoundingly detailed for the time. The story and voice acting was well done, and the gameplay involving.

    It always encouraged you to play cautiously; fast units were fragile, and heavy units were slow. Attacking without scouting things out first just cost you units. It was this element of puzzle-solving interesting, but also something of a weakness.

    All the careful movement and repairing created a slow, turtling style of game play which ultimately didn’t distance itself that much from the base-building games it was trying to move away from. There were few puzzles which ultimately couldn’t be solved with a spotter and a bit of artillery.

    The other failing was to make the drop-ship that useful as a game play mechanic. Because you were limited exactly where and when you can land there was never a real sense of using it strategically.

    It was a great game however, and had some of the best big guns of its era. War never looked so beautiful.

  4. DMJ says:

    Ground Control is one of my “games to reminisce about with old gaming buddies”. Like the time we tried to have a multiplayer battle. I set up a carefully balanced force, positioned it carefully, and he sent in a bomber to drop a literal nuke my APC and won the match in under 2 minutes :(

  5. Duckmeister says:

    Exactly how did Rebellion get a hold of Empire Earth? That was developed by Stainless Steel, then Mad Doc Software, right?

    However, no matter was it’s released on, I don’t care, as I still have my Gold copies of Empire Earth I and Empire Earth II.

    Frankly, these games were milestones for RTS gaming in general, and remain two of the best RTS games (and most chock-full) ever.

  6. Railick says:

    I remember the multieplayer for this game being a total blast! I loved playing with a bunch of artillery units and looking at the mini-map to see where incoming fire was coming from and having my units fire at that area blind, 90% of the time I would kill their artillery units and then pound the surrounding area taking out the defenders ect. With your troops just constantly coming back into the game with drop ships the action never slowed down. I’d like to see something like that now a days. DoW 2 is close but no cigar :) Still fun but doesn’t capture that feel. Also I’d love t osee Nox’s multiplayer is newer game, death match/diablo 2 is fantasic.

    I’m also excited to see Evil Genious on that list, I had the game way back but lost one of the two CDs a long time ago and have been wanting to play it ever since. Never saw it again after the intiial release in any store or bargin bin ;(

  7. Heliocentric says:

    You can’t take freeware back, this game is free, stupid mergers spoiling everything… *pouts*

  8. Heliocentric says:

    People are repeating that the expansion wasn’t given away free, but i’m sure it was.

  9. Heliocentric says:

    About ground control being methodical and slow, most of the expansion and often in the core game a light scout, a little artillary and a zerg of planes can do anything, indeed during the expansion for a run of missions planes can do everything and do it fast.

  10. skrat says:

    Still have my original boxed copy :)

    Grand game.

  11. Railick says:

    If there was ever a good reason to pirate a game this is it. Not that I codone that, but still like Heliocentric said you can’t take freeware back mate.

  12. Duckmeister says:

    The expansion wasn’t given away free helio.

  13. Railick says:

    I always had as many planes I could get in the later missions with as much artillery as I can get to go along with it.

  14. Nobody Important says:

    Having played the freeware version of Ground Control from beginning to end, I can state with an affirmed and stern face that Dark Conspiracy was never given away for free.

  15. SwiftRanger says:

    People are repeating that the expansion wasn’t given away free, but i’m sure it was.
    It wasn’t given away free as others have said but it did debut at an amazingly cheap price (for an addon) back in the day, like 5 euros or so I thought.

  16. teo says:

    Ground Control is STILL available for free, which is nice because I lost my discs. By coincidence I was reminded of this game a few days ago and downloaded the free version, and then I went to GoG to see if they had the expansion and it was just released! Crazy timing

    Visually I think it holds up pretty well. Compare it to other games from 2000 and you’ll see what I mean. But I have to say I got really pissed off at the game today. I was playing the 11th or 12th mission of the 2nd campaign and I hadn’t really brought any real anti-air units. It was a really long mission (like an hour) and I had killed pretty much everything that needed killing, except for a few aerodynes. I could’ve made it out of there except that the fuckers were focus firing on my APC.

    I had another close call in the first campaign. There’s a mission where you need to hold out waiting for a dropship and my APC got destroyed with 6 seconds left on the clock…

    I don’t know if the game would be better with a save function but I have to say that Myth II wasn’t hurt by it, and I still think Myth II is slightly better than Ground Control.

  17. Doc Kirzner says:

    Lords of The Realm? I’m not seeing it on GoG, and really got my hopes up briefly there. Oh, the nostalgia of Lords II. Might have to check out Ground Control; thanks for the tip.

  18. ArtyArt says:

    I recently installed my boxed copy of GC and couldn’t get it to run like it should… i.e. it had a really choppy framerate which ruined the fun. My computer is nothing special (2 year old dual-core with a 3650 ATI card) and I do know most of the tricks to get older games (especially those who don’t like dual core machines) to run, so I suspect it’s the game’s fault. Can anyone confirm that those problems exist? And more important: can anyone confirm that those problems have maybe been fixed in the GoG version?

  19. Railick says:

    I wouldn’t say it is the games fault, but rather your computer is probably too advanced to play it right like trying to play old Dos games on Windows Vista.

    You probably already tried this but have you tried setting the core affinitiy or whatever the heck it is so that the program only runs on one core while everything else runs on another?

  20. Jarmo says:

    Was mid-mission save ever added to Ground Control? Or even modded? As a family man I cannot possibly play a game with long missions and no mid-mission save.

  21. Heliocentric says:

    Must be wrong about the expansion my bad, but its been on d2d in a bundle with gc2. Must have gotten mixed up. When i got my own first pc it was with a sierra demo disc. Half life, swat 3, alien vs predator 2, homeworld and this. Legendary.

    And indeed you can see the proto world in conflict. Although personally i think they went backwards since dark conspiracy.

  22. Heliocentric says:

    Mid game save was never added, but you can play it windowed and just leave it paused. :) its worth it.

  23. Colin says:

    The expansion was given away for $5 to people who had bought the full game (free + shipping costs or something like that). As for the FilePlanet free GC promo deal, I seem to remember Dark Conspiracy being offered for download as part of that deal right when it started but being pulled quickly after that.

    And I’m going to echo Heliocentric here and say that it’s really worth playing windowed/paused. Honestly actually, I’d like to see more strategy games not having mid-mission saves since it makes you respect the opposition significantly better. It also removes the tendency for “recon by error” which is never terribly satisfying.

  24. Gap Gen says:

    The ending to Dark Conspiracy was really unsatisfactory, too. It’s a shame they didn’t continue that story – Sarah Parker was an excellent character.

    But yeah, Ground Control was ace. Trying to complete a mission without losing a unit was an art-form, and perfecting a shock-and-awe assault on an enemy stronghold was very satisfying.

  25. Carra says:

    I finished Ground Control 2. I have some good memories of the game but it was nothing earthshattering. Never did play the original game.

  26. Gap Gen says:

    The graphics at the time were really something – to pan the camera down to troop level and watch enemy soldiers blow into a thousand tiny pieces in a vast, firey explosion, or watching your tanks kick up dust as they pumped out shells was really something.

    Also: The ending to Dark Conspiracy (spoilers, natch). How is this an ending? How does this tie up the loose ends and finish the story? Or did I entirely miss the point?

  27. ids says:

    ahh i have 2 copies of this game and it my favorite game of all time up with the lines of thief and thief 2. It just a great game how the camera works and no resource mangement. Also i love watching the nuke go off or taking the camera right next the squad of soldiers and you can see them full 3 rotate. I wonder if you could put it up on steam to play against people in multi player because i all ways had some problems with the multi player but the lan games i had with it where great.

  28. Gap Gen says:

    OK, that last link failed. Ending to Dark Conspiracy: here

  29. Colthor says:

    A question: I played the demo of this when it was new, and really disliked it – a few minutes in to the second mission a massive fleet of aircraft swept in and annihilated you utterly. Was this representative of the full game, or just a case of Crap Demo Syndrome?

    I’ve held a grudge against the game ever since, because I really wanted to enjoy it/I’m a spiteful old git.

  30. Chis says:

    Are GoG going to release something that ISN’T a bloody strategy game sometime soon?

  31. Stupoider says:

    Oh wow, I’d love to try Ground Control 2.

    My dad got me Ground Control 2 when I was younger and I loved it! Shame I never got to play the original. :(

  32. Sunjammer says:

    Worked with a GC designer a while back, and he was so proud of that game it pained me to harbor hidden feelings of… shall we say indifference? The game simply bored me.

    Not until DOW2 have the notion of a base-less RTS clicked with me. Granted DOW2 has some measure of a base, but it mounts to little more than a stationary unit that builds other units, and i think some base is better than no base. It helps to have an origin.

    Anyway, i still don’t get the appeal. It’s always been a very flat experience to me, both artistically as well as in storytelling and overall design.

  33. Railick says:

    @Colthor No , I can honestly say there is never a moment in the full game where you’re just randomly wiped out. There are some tense moments where you CAN lose but that might have just been a case of the demo killing you on purpose :) I hate RPGs and games that do that. DOW 2 has a moment like that but it doesn’t actaully kill you off it just gets you REAL close ;P

  34. Colthor says:

    @Railick:
    Thanks, that’s what I’d wondered!

    Another game on the ever-growing “when I’m bored or see it on offer” list, then…

  35. DarthInsinuate says:

    I love Ground Control, but I never got along with the sequel, I just felt overwhelmed by it.

    I’m playing though the first game again then I’m going to drive through and have another stab at Ground Control 2.

    I’m glad that I’m still completely in love with Ground Control, I find Major Sarah Jessica Parker’s accent a bit annoying though.

  36. antonymous says:

    This one had no AI to speak of, they were always just riding along predefined paths.

    Only with the no-reloads approach you’d have to be overly pedantic about picking them off one by one, which didn’t make for the greatest experience especially if you blundered somewhere and had to redo the fiddling..

    And yes, the expansion was given away for free if you mailed in the postcard from some other games’ boxes.

  37. Gap Gen says:

    Colthor: I think you can take out the enemy aircraft if you have AA units, but the idea is to move fast enough that you evac by the time the enemy air units get there.

    Actually, thinking about it, I found the ending to GC better than the ending to DC – in GC you solved the mystery of what the planet was about and stopped the bad guys – in DC, you just uncovered some conspiracy waiting to be busted. I expected the sequel to take place on Earth, with Sarah fighting against the corrupt corporations there, instead of abandoning the storyline in favour of something different (and in my mind, worse).

  38. Railick says:

    Honesty time here, I had to cheat to beat this game ! :P I’m ashamed of it, but I wanted to see the ending and I just wasn’t good enough to beat it or maybe just not patient enough so I used cheat codes to make my army unkillable. It still took me HOURS to beat the last few levels even marching through them with out slowing down O.o

  39. IvanHoeHo says:

    Back when I was playing the free version, I got some kind of sound loop error during dialogues, which kinda put me off of finishing the game up.

    Can’t really justify a purchase without knowing what kind of issues the GOG version had fixed. Too bad their pages don’t have changelogs or some such.

  40. Railick says:

    It is probably just like the free version mate and sound loop was probably something wrong with or conflict with your computer , not likely to have been fixed since most people didn’t have it and it’s been years and years since patches stopped coming out ;P You should try downloading the free version and see if it works now, maybe some changes in your system over time got rid of whatever the problem was, you never know.

  41. Duckmeister says:

    I wouldn’t say that this is kinda a predecessor to World In Conflict, I think it’s really just an execution of the baseless RTS with very bad and very good elements.

    Personally, I would love to have certain presets of the units I’d like to be reinforced with, and be able to just click ONE button and everytime my reinforcement points would go high enough it would give me those same units automatically.

    So, I’d have an Anti-Air preset, which would give a balance of units but with a heavy preference toward Anti-Air, or Infantry, or whatever.

    Whereas in WiC you have to manually click out each unit you want to bring in, and that annoys me, even if it’s just “4 heavy tanks, 4 heavy tanks, 4 heavy tanks”.

    Speaking of WiC, I used to be really good at it in the demo, co-founded one of the first clans, at reached some amazing ranking in the leaderboards. I just tried playing it the other day, and I still can’t run it past the “low” settings, and I got kicked off many servers because there’s new stupid player-enforced rules like “no using two heavy artillery at one time” or “no nukes before 15 minutes” or “don’t rush the capture zones with cheap units to get tactical points early so you can drop a nuke before 15 minutes”.

    It’s like “no rushing” in other RTS’s, but worse.

  42. keelsids says:

    @Gap Gen: youtube link is awesome.
    @Railick: interesting, I would not pirate and in fact bought it from GOG since it’s such a great game. I do see that you have a point. It was and still is available and GOG is not providing anything of value like a soundtrack or artwork with this game.

  43. keelsids says:

    ….er by available I meant free. Missed a word right there.

    Went ahead and saw the cinematics for Ground Control 2. The story seems to be just as good. Quality of models and such are great.

    And do check out the Ground Control manual. It has a good amount of setting and character which is just the right thing for anyone who is interested and want to explore science fiction.

  44. Novotny says:

    Best artillery ever.

  45. TCM says:

    @Chis:

    I find that strategy games tend to age way better than any other genre, possibly because most of the good ones have gameplay that’s only vaguely similar to other titles released since.

    That said, I never played Ground Control. I might have to try it out now.

  46. Vinraith says:

    @TCM

    Strategy games generally aren’t very reliant on their graphics, either, it’s really all about gameplay. This is less true in the case of RTS games (which are really tactical games at best most of the time).

  47. TCM says:

    Well, seeing as RTS stands for Real Time Strategy…

    For me, tactical games fall under a specialized category within Strategy games. That said, they are distinct, and I recognize the difference, but I don’t see RTS games as relying on graphics either way. Usually.

  48. Vinraith says:

    I’ve never exactly understood how, say, Starcraft ended up under the same genre heading as Europa Universalis, AGEOD games, and hardcore wargames (of the hexagonal, life eating variety).

    RTS’s are definitely more dependent on graphics than “other” wargames, simply because part of the charm of RTS titles is watching all the little “things” do what they do. A lot of thought goes into what units look like and how they’re animated in RTS titles, whereas other strategy games can pretty much be played with the digital equivalent of cardboard counters.

    So to hew back to the point, I’d say RTS graphics are significantly more important than strategy game graphics, but less important than, say, FPS graphics. The simple fact that one usually plays these games zoomed out means they hold up for awhile as long as you can tell what’s what on the field.

  49. James Hsieh says:

    @Vinraith: Definitely a good point there regarding how RTS is attractive due to our interest in watching things move and “work” at completing the orders you gave them.

    In general Ground Control held up. The most interesting details like the pop-up smoke discharger after firing a round from the main battle tanks, the shell casings which drop from the infantry, seeing actual projectile and particle weapons hitting the cliff and sand dunes behind the target they missed, etc. all make the game compelling. Those are details which are often missing or ignored by game studios.

  50. Heliocentric says:

    In the mission where the massive airforce kicks the toffee out of you you are meant to be running for your life to an evac point. Alternatively, start the mission with lots of light tanks and all the artillary you can manage, make the light tanks carry anti air turrets and deploy them in the valley before the main enemy base and keep the guns inbetween you and the fliers. The jets get mullered.