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.