From Bright Skies: Dark Reign Redux

By Adam Smith on February 2nd, 2012 at 9:30 am.

REDUXED

Back in 1997, there was a strategy game released that went by the name of Dark Reign. I’m fairly sure I played the demo but I can’t be certain because I just played the demo again and drew a blank. The reason I’m playing the demo is that it’s just been re-released, remade even, to run through Silverlight as Dark Reign Redux. The demo is available now, with a full release on its way at an undetermined price. The XBLArgh version is priced at 400 Microbucks, which is around £3.50 by my reckoning. Perhaps you wish to try the demo? Here it is, with a 120MB install size. Back in ’97, Dark Reign came on 16,521 floppies.

Everything has a cult following these days and I’m sure Dark Reign is no different, but I’ve never been aware of a particularly large fanbase. Being able to shut down buildings to conserve power rather than demolishing them is about the only thing it’s thrown at me that rings some form of distant memory-bell. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced I did play the demo in my teen years but then I probably decided I’d pretend I needed to shave instead of buying the full version.

Seems like a fun, traditional sort of RTS though, with all the base-building and unit queuing you can click a mouse at. Anyone have fonder memories? Or simply less muddled ones?

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59 Comments »

  1. coldvvvave says:

    Dark Reign was great.

  2. Persus-9 says:

    GoG also have this at their $9.99 price point and their version includes the expansion pack but presumably doesn’t have the resolution enhancements of this new version. Still something to consider.

  3. JediEagle says:

    Dark Reign was awesome :) And I never was able to finish the last level :P I did rebuy it on GOG, so I’ll probably try it again :)

  4. Jekhar says:

    It’s on XBLIG, the little brother of XBLA. Which is even more baffling. But don’t bother trying it on the toybox. Maybe just have a quick look at the controls-screen for a short laugh. I don’t know who would want to play this with a pad.

    edit: I found a screenshot of it: http://forum.teamxbox.com/showthread.php?p=13618836&mode=linear#post13618836

  5. fuggles says:

    Came out the same time as Total Annihilation and was significantly worse resulting somehow in them both being looked over….poor TA. I think I played the demo and got irritated at how much graphical damage everything did but how little actual damage it did, with buildings on fire everywhere but only at 99% health. Also scouts that turned into trees and possibly a plot involving water?

    • fuggles says:

      Warcraft/Starcraft were the problem. Compared to TA they are technically crap, even SC2 I would wager is technically worse than TA. TA should have been the future of RTS and sold very little, leading us to sup com which is a bit too far one way in terms of complexity and graphic design and then to sup com 2 which was too far the other.

      Not pleased with you blizzard and your multiplayer following. Not pleased.

    • Cerzi says:

      I remember impulse buying Dark Reign (well, I was 11) and not enjoying it exactly because I loved TA so much. The main difference that stood out to me was how TA was so much more of a simulation.

      I loved how each projectile had a proper trajectory that may or may not hit the target, or how aircraft would land, take off and swarm the sky realistically. In comparison, Dark Reign was a game of homing bullets and inexplicably floating aircraft.

    • LintMan says:

      Yeah, Dark Reign was the “also ran” that came out aroun the same time as Starcraft and TA. I played all 3 at the time and it definitely came in 3rd. Very forgettable – the only things I remember about it are that scout units had an auto-explore feature that was pretty cool, one of the tanks looked like a sneaker to me, and the campaign was loaded with “trigger points” that would send units to attack your base when one of your units entered a trigger zones, so when I sent out some very early scouts to explore around my base on one level, my base was quickly crushed.

  6. Risingson says:

    Dark Reign was one of the few RTS I played more than the tutorial level, back then. Its use of terrain and quirky strategic options were quite fun.

  7. Belsameth says:

    I played it, of that I am sure, but how or what…
    *scuttles off to Wikipedia for a memory refresh*

  8. minerwilly says:

    I enjoyed it. It was heralded in the PC press for about a year before as a work of heartbreaking genius, then Total Anhilation came out of nowhere at the same time and got higher reviews.

  9. ecat says:

    Ah, Dark Reign. Drugged up soldiers, flying doughnuts of death, hover rail tanks and people you can turn into trees :) Also the first game I modded.

    One of my all time favourites and one I dig out every so often. Dark Reign and Warzone 2100 made for happy RTS days.

    Another first with DR was the full on 3D sequel, what an insult that was. It certainly heralded the future of reduced interaction and small maps :(

    • Uglycat says:

      Don’t forget the WZ remake!
      http://wz2100.net/

    • Belsameth says:

      Warzone 2100! Now there’s some happy memories.
      And I see it’s still being developed by, what seems to be, a bunch of volunteers.
      http://wz2100.net/

      They really should make a proper sequel/remake of that game.

      Edit: Doh! Too late :p

    • ecat says:

      WZ2100:
      I guess by 2004 Eidos realised the game had no where to go and in a fit of almost divinely inspired altruism, released the source code and most other game resources to the public domain. The code makes for interesting reading if you’re into such things.

      I do wonder what would happen if the source for all games was released once they reached their best before date?

  10. Xan says:

    If Dark Reign had a bigger budget and better balance it could have given Starcraft a run for it’s money.. The game gives you the option to give each of your units AI behaviour, you could send scouts to scout automaticly or tanks that can shoot and move can be given the harras command to find enemy units, shoot, retreat, repair, repeat.

  11. olemars says:

    I remember it. It had a few novel units and the backstory was interesting (very dark and reigny). Pretty run-of-the-mill RTS though, and drowned in all the other RTS’es that appeared around the same time. Particularly TA, as mentioned.

  12. MessyPenguin says:

    I remember when i used to get Compuserve and Free something cd roms with loads of demos on them and im sure this was on there, along with M.A.X or something and the Warhammer one, i played this quite a while but then found age of empires :)

  13. BoZo says:

    I loved this in LAN, it had some awesome superweapons and buildings you could pack up and move…

  14. Om says:

    This fetishisation of nostalgia really has to stop. Dark Reign was a deeply mediocre game. Some people liked it, some (including moi) didn’t but generally it was received with shrugs and has been forgotten about for a reason. It just wasn’t very good

    People can of course try the demo but they’re unlikely to discover anything beyond a bog-standard late-1990s C&C clone. That even this can be spruced up and re-released says a lot about the industry’s (and society’s?) increasing tendency to cannibalise our past in lieu of actually innovating

    • Persus-9 says:

      At least nostalgia it is good in terms of providing money for the preservation of old games. Besides, people are innovating, innovation happens and taking inspiration from different souces and thinking about what has already been done is part of the process. Consider this, if we don’t look to the past as inspiration we can only look to the present and the present is the time where there is a suppose lack of innovation.

    • SwiftRanger says:

      The genre didn’t advance much since TA and DR to be honest. Especially not on UI and AI fronts. That’s just the bleak reality.

    • Om says:

      Persus: Drawing inspiration from the past does not necessarily mean remaking and flogging an old game. There is nothing that is new or even slightly interesting in this ‘Redux’ version; nor has there been any massive fan-led demand for a revamped DR. This is simply a case of a cheap remake that will sell for a few pounds. That is is a remake however guarantees at least some respect and press attention from our nostalgia obsessed culture

    • Persus-9 says:

      I can agree that there is undue press coverage of remakes and sequels which take the names of old franchises. I think that only encourages the abuse of old brands and isn’t healthy. I can also agree that I don’t think this really earnt its post since the game isn’t a classic and has been available on GOG for some time for those who are interested.

      On the other hand I doubt much has been lost by the developers choosing to spend their time on making this or the customers spending their money on it so I’m not against things like this remake existing.

    • Om says:

      Admittedly I don’t know much about the developers behind this re-release – and it’s unlikely that one of them is a budding yet stifled Sid Meier in the making – so the practical impact of this particular remake is probably not going to be earth-shattering

      However the overall attitude that this represents is poison. Look at RPS today: three of the five game stories posted so far (discounting the fanfiction one) concern remakes of one sort or another. Off the top of my head we’ve got two Syndicate ‘reimaginings’ coming along and at least one MoM clone. At least these were classic games that retain large fanbases but things are really getting desperate if as unremarkable a game as DR is getting a re-release. I do believe that this does stifle innovation in the industry and near-obsession, from both fans and media, with ancient classics is part of this

    • Persus-9 says:

      I think we’re dealing with two different phenomena here. This is pretty much a straight port of an old game to a new platform (360) and a silverlight version thrown in for some reason, that seems reasonable enough to me. Similarly getting Thief on GOG and having a tweak to make it run a bit better is a good thing in my book and so are faithfull HD remakes by and large.

      On the other hand the current trend for reimagining is rather rubbish because it is generally just gutting the original game for the world and the brand name as a marketing technique rather than progressing it meaningfully. Why not name the game something different and make a new world rather than scraping the old game down to the canvas and painting over the top? It’s just cynically capitalising on name recognition of a brand to sell something largely unrealated and I do object to that.

      I don’t think these are the same thing and I don’t think the same attitude is behind it. I love to replay old games and love to see things like this that help preserve the past. I also love it when people take an interest and inspiration from the past rather than treating everything which ever fell out of fashion as taboo. This is a very different thing from the press and public getting hugely excited by sequels and reimaginings based on little more than a name and developers abusing such nostalgia to generate interest in something new and pretty much unreleated.

    • Om says:

      That’s a distinction that I haven’t made here and one that I typically don’t make. And when I do it’s to come down in favour of those that “gut the original game”, if only because there is at least some new content being introduced. Whether a remake is faithful to the original or not, it’s still a demonstration of a deep lack of innovation and an obsession with the past

      Remember the years around DR’s release? Remember how fast the industry was moving? In the field of RTS alone we went from C&C through to TA, AoE, Homeworld, Ground Control, etc, in the space of a few years. With FPSs the change was even more rapid with Half-Life, Thief, UT and Quake 3 all providing something new. Now imagine if someone said at the time that, actually, we’d all be better of remaking Chuckie’s Egg…

    • LintMan says:

      @SwiftRanger: There have been some advancements on the UI front, particlarly with Supreme Commander. That game pioneered the excellent Zoom-to-Mouse feature and also, I believe, dual monitor support where you could have the global map on one screen and the zoom-in on the other. Unfortunately a bit too ahead of its time.

  15. Anarki says:

    The ability to power down buildings temporarily was in one of the old C&Cs (Red Alert I think?)

    • westyfield says:

      It’s in most of them, I think. Pretty sure it was in Red Alert 2, probably 3, Tiberium Wars, and maybe Generals.

    • Arcalane says:

      I distinctly recall it being in Tiberian Sun, but I don’t think it appeared before that.

    • Om says:

      Chronologically Tiberian Sun would be C&C3 (ie, between RA and RA2) but I can’t recall if you could power down buildings. Indeed, I can’t remember much about the game save the crushing disappointment that accompanied it. In that Tiberian Sun probably was a game that made me – it was the last time I was ever giddy with excitement about a game release

    • Xocrates says:

      Pretty sure you could power down buildings in RA.

  16. SwiftRanger says:

    Dark Reign is an RTS classic, period. Its fast pace was famous but also ultimately its downfall if you ask me. Graphics weren’t always clear either which hindered the extensive feature set. So many UI, terrain and AI options (and all actually serving a good purpose) which make Tiberian Sun, StarCraft and StarCraft II look like amateur efforts. Pretty funny to see how Blizzard still needs to go back to a game like DR to get some fun unit concepts for SCII.

    No, the end of ’97 – start of ’98 was a golden age for RTS gaming with Dark Reign, TA, War Wind II and AoE being shining beacons of light between an overload of RTS clones which didn’t add anything to the Dune II formula. It won’t come back unfortunately. :(

  17. Bluerps says:

    I remember playing one of the campaigns almost to the end, before getting bored. It had some nice ideas for the time, but most were poorly executed, like the terrain with different height-levels, that were impossible to distinguish from each other (there are probably some mountains on that screenshot up there), or the spy-units that could be turned into anything to conceal them (enemy units, trees, rocks, etc), which didn’t have any effect because the AI still noticed and shot them (they worked better in multiplayer).

  18. Vinraith says:

    As a young man in college on a tight budget (and with few gaming journalism resources at the time) I recall purchasing this, playing it briefly, and returning it to the store with the statement “I already played Warcraft.”

    • PoulWrist says:

      So I guess you didn’t play Duke3D, Quake, Starcraft, Total Annihilation and all that either because you’d pkayed a game in the same genre. DR had pretty much no similarities with Warcraft after the initial phase.

  19. uray84 says:

    Played this game all the time when I was growing up!
    Found a community a few years back that made a few patches and have been trying to keep the game alive:
    http://www.darkreign.ws
    Lots of fond memories

  20. Ovno says:

    Dark Reign was mighty back in the day especially multiplayer, the best bit imo were the ai settings, you could set them to various mobility, aggressiveness and damage tolerance levels and if setup right they could act as harv hasslers, guards, scouts or anything else really.

    Also the mod pack was good, by combining the rebel suicide bombers “FOR THE CAUSE!!!!” and the blackhole superweapon, I made a suicide psyker that ran at the enemy and then summoned a black hole into existance where he was standing, this was of course when we were all messing with the game files and making custom units, though my one was by far the most unbalanced, especially in 10 strong squads, on maximum spacing of course.

    Oh and dark reign 2 was terrible it was part of that first wave of rts to use 3d and boy it did it badly…

  21. buzzmong says:

    I think I tried the demo of this back in the day, and I have vague memories of coming away thinking “TA is better”.

    TA is sitll excellent though.

  22. The Sombrero Kid says:

    OMG i’d completely forgot about this game & it was brilliant!

  23. The Sombrero Kid says:

    It beat Total Annihilation by a month and was a vastly superior game imo.

  24. Rei Onryou says:

    StarCraft, Total Annihilation and Dark Reign all came out close together. I remember PC Format having all 3 on a coverdisc, trying them all, deciding that StarCraft was really good fun, Total Annihilation was epically epic and Dark Reign was interesting, but OK.

    I got SC and TA. Never regretted it.

  25. Berzee says:

    Perhaps it was Dark Reign 2 that you played? I never played the first but I have vivid memories of the jetpack men from the demo of the second:

    I will try this demo of the first one!…someday. I’ll download it now and put it in my rainy days demo folder.

    Edit: Silverlight? That’s still a thing?

  26. Jenks says:

    I read Dark Reign, but for a second I thought it was Dark Sun.

    In that instant I was already preparing to roll a thri-kreen psionic. How disappointing.

  27. Eclipse says:

    I’d like to see Dark Reign II on GOG. That one was ace

  28. squareking says:

    I love how divisive the comments are. Either DR was a decent game or we’re all looking at it with a rosy tint.

    I loved it. I loved the Imperium’s mobile zombie suicide bomber factory, I loved the anti-infantry Shredder and I loved the hero sniper unit with a mega rate-of-fire in the map editor. I didn’t get very far in the campaign (it was brutal, despite my having beaten Blizzard’s RTSs, and required some long-term tactical planning), but the art style, story and music were fantastic. And I never had issues discerning units; Raiders and Mercenaries look very distinct from [Imperium soldier] and Bions. And decoy units! And fairly advanced unit pathfinding/patrolling options! For a me-too RTS in the late 90s, it had a lot to love.

    Anyway, the XBLA thing is definitely a misstep.

  29. mollemannen says:

    dark reign is simply put the best rts ever ^^ after warzone 2100 that is.

  30. MythArcana says:

    Great game. I remember exactly when it came out; the Golden Age of PC Gaming it was. Definitely a far cry from the half-baked cartoony shovelware we are up against today. The only problem is…XBL and Silverlight?! Ack…

  31. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    O man that was an excellent game. Can’t believe it didn’t get wider attention.

    Auran, from memory. Australian developer.

  32. Jade Raven says:

    Adam, your reckoning reference appears to be several years out of date as AU dollars have been worth more than US dollars for some time now.

  33. Nico says:

    you may have played an RTS from around the same time called Dark Colony. In that you could play as humans or greys, and I seem to remember it having pretty decent visuals. I thnk the game wasnt as good as dark reign though. I’m pretty sure I got demos of them both on the same cover CD of a magazine (PC gamer or PC zone, not sure.)

    KKND was also pretty cool. but if we are getting into underloved RTS’s I would also throw emporor: battle for dune into the mix. (not to mention star trek armada…)

  34. icemann says:

    My friends and I played this game to DEATH at LAN parties back in the late 90s. Absolutely loved it, as it was basically C&C on steroids. I remember the singleplayer of the main game (I’ve never played the expansion) being excellent until the last few missions where the difficulty level ramped up to insane levels and I had to edit the game files to get my way past them. Either that or I sucked at the game :p. Final level was just crazy. Had an excellent storyline of attempting to change history and all that. Despite its faults an excellent game.

    The 2nd game in comparison was just totally crap. This was a series that was best in 2D.