Back in the slower, happier year of 1999 there were a number of contenders for victory in the first round of “proper-3D” real time strategies. The finest of these was known as Warzone 2100, and its base-building prowess was practically unparalleled. The game has been freeware for some time, but is now supported by the Warzone 2100 Resurrection project, which is doing its best to provide for, and improve on, the original game. I’ve been playing Warzone again in 2009, and I’ve posted some thoughts and impressions after the jump.
My clearest memory of Warzone 2100 was that it included proper elevation in 3D for the first time. Big rocket-toting artillery types could get up to the top of hills and rain fiery ordnance down on their enemies. Such things had not been seen before, and it wasn’t until Ground Control a couple of years later that such visions would be repeated. Warzone 2100 was, however, rather more of a game than the pretties that were to follow. It was, and still is, buff. It’s packed with research and vehicle design, and leans heavily on the base-building, resource-thieving mechanisms that have made the RTS so popular over the years. Tank rushes, turtling, designing a hovering flamer-tank – it’s all here. It’s escalates beautifully through the campaign too, gifting me those arcing rocket salvos at just the right time.
So stuffed with ideas was this throne-coveting pretender that even let you “design” your own units, by piecing together turret, chassis, and locomotion. Such splendour was unheard of at the time, and it still seems rather bold today. Warzone 2100 was created by the only major developer local to me, Pivotal Games, though when they were still called Pumpkin. Pivotal shut up shop in August last year, thanks to SCi’s horrible internal mess, and sad faces were seen. Happily their finest hour remains alive, and is being slowly built upon by that excellent fan community.
It still works, after a fashion. I had to put Windows 95 compatibility mode to get it to boot on my Vista machine, and still had a couple of crashes. It ran fine on XP, however. There’s even a Linux version coded up by the Resurrection folks, so there’s a good chance that this will run on my mk1 EEE. A delicious possibility. I’ve played through a few levels, and fought a skirmish match against AI. It really does make you think: visually we’ve come a long way, but Warzone 2100 does so much that RTS games still struggle to get right today. There’s lots of gaps where excellent GUI design and player feedback fill in for modern games, but it’s still challenging, playable, and instantly comprehensible. More tantalising still are the recent blog updates on the Resurrection site, promising new terrain renderers and sky boxes of cloudy delight. Behold: