Have You Played… Ground Control?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

I don’t do strategy games. And yet, I love Ground Control! That’s likely because it gets rid of absolutely everything that makes strategy so unbearably tedious – resource gathering, resource management, graphs, paperwork, tax returns – and just focuses on controlling your limited gathering of bang-machines to fight for territory on the planet Krig 7-B.

The result was a game that was super-fun action, and at the time (2000), featured graphics that caused your eyes to well up. Not bad for a group of recent graduates operating out of the arse-end of nowhere in Sweden. (It really was – sorry residents of Ronneby – I visited them during development and we had to fly there in a ten-seater prop-plane. The pilot would turn around and ask people where they wanted him to land. It was a cloud-bus. The airfield we landed in had a man sat on a fold-out chair for its customs.) (Although I suppose if you look at Sweden, Stockholm is actually in its arse.)

It forced a big oaf like me to embrace tactical combat, rather than just tank-rush-and-hoping, which was quite an achievement. And it’s still fun now. Developers Massive Entertainment went on to make not only Ground Control II, but also the amazing World In Conflict, before then sadly becoming Ubisoft Massive, and as such have been stuck doing bit-work on their major franchises, which is a real shame. However, they do seem to be taking the lead on The Division, so that’s good.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Ben Barrett says:

    Been waiting on that Ground Control 2 expansion that lets me play as the Terrans for over a decade now.

    Just around the corner, Massive, aye?


  2. EkoAzarak says:

    Agreed. Ground Control is a fantastic RTS. Played the hell out of it. Haven’t tried the sequel tho.

    • Werthead says:

      The sequel is almost as good, but let down by a few problems. The biggest is that artillery is a bit weedy compared to the first game and not as effective, which is a shame. Also, the game ends on a bit of a cliffhanger (clearly they wanted an expansion or sequel) that’s never been resolved. The UI is also, weirdly, much poorer than the first game, with a great big stonking control pane taking up a quarter of the screen instead of the original game’s much more elegant, transparent floating icons.

      On the plus side, the dropship that hangs around the battlefield providing fire support is brilliant, the graphics are still pretty impressive even now. Also, being able to save mid-mission may be less hardcore, but it’s also far less frustrating during the really long battles.

  3. MrFinnishDude says:

    to major Tom

    • James G says:

      That was a trick they missed with the sequel. “Ground Control II: Major Tom” is a much better name than “Ground Control II: Operation Exodus”

  4. GernauMorat says:

    My introduction to ‘proper’ RTS. Was thinking about it just the other day while playing Red Dragon and how amazing a sequel in that engine would be

  5. Mungrul says:

    Best artillery in an RTS ever.
    Also a great alternative for those Myth players amongst us.

    • Cinek says:

      Care to elaborate why?

      • Nouser says:

        Ground Control is one of these games in which artillery and tanks shoot with actual ballistic calculations, meaning that it is not possible to shoot everywhere from every location and that choosing a good spot makes a significant difference in accuracy.

        • Cinek says:

          Well, that’s hardly the only RTS doing that. Doesn’t explain why it’s the “Best artillery in an RTS ever“.

          • Mungrul says:

            It was just incredibly satisfying to use, with massive parabolic arcs, great animation and meaty sound effects.

      • Heliocentric says:

        BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR-sputter, Ke-chunk; Ke-chunk; Ke-chunk; Ke-chunk; Ke-chunk; Ke-chunk; BRRRRRRRRRRRRRR-wooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooosssshh BKHHHHH- BKHHHHHH- BKHHHHHH- BKHHHHHH- BKHHHHHH- BKHHHHHHRRRRRR

    • GernauMorat says:

      You could fire nuclear artillery shells couldn’t you? The arty was indeed fantastic

    • snappycow says:

      “Best artillery in an RTS ever.”

      Indeed. I fondly remember being awestruck as a squadron of enemy bombers swooped down on my artillery and one of them collided with the artillery barrage that was going upwards and was immediately destroyed.

      Good times.

  6. mike2R says:

    I very nearly liked this game :)

    Which, considering I was already a confirmed RTS hater back then, is high praise. (I probably approach it from the other side to John – I love strategy games, but I can’t deal with the multitasking and pressure in RTSes)

    But I definitely enjoyed this game on the early levels. The graphics were stunning, and I seem to remember you could load up all your infantry in vehicles and go roving around the map fully mobile, which was a first for me at least.

  7. unacom says:

    Played it. Love it. Add-on was nice. GC2 was good too, but not quite like the first. Even though they streamlined movement and command. I very much like that it forces me to form a strategy on the troops fielded. No reinforcements. No additional forces. No orbital strikes. Didn´t play World in Conflict, though.
    I´d really like more of that. Had a mean learning curve too, for a younger me.

  8. wcq says:

    Great game. Underrated soundtrack.

  9. mouton says:

    Wonderful game. Great unit animations. Best artillery ever. My first encounter with the immortal Jennifer Hale.

  10. Risingson says:

    I have. The tutorial. And then I remembered, again, how horrible I am at rts.

  11. Michael Fogg says:

    John, I think the story of that visit to the freezing northern tundras to report on a groundbraking strategy game would make a great full lenght article.

  12. Gap Gen says:

    My favourite thing (well, one of them) was panning to ground level and watching the dirt and debris kick off tanks as they fired at each other.

  13. bill says:

    This was so close to being a great game. It seemed to be almost exactly what I wanted from an RTS… actual tactics and non of the base building and gathering.
    And it looked so lovely.

    But it had incredibly linear event driven missions and no mid-mission save function… which led to lots of frustration and replays and eventually caused me to abandon it half way through.
    The final straw was a mission where I spent about 40 minutes sending a small stealth team behind enemy lines to retrieve something or other… and when I got within a few meters of it the game triggered a “defend the object from waves of enemies” event.
    Which might have worked if I’d brought an army with me, but I had about 4 weak units and no way to win.

  14. askarr says:

    This game was also my introduction to Jennifer Hale’s awesomeness (in British mode), along with the mental freedom for younger me to realise that games like this didn’t have to copy Westwood’s formula to be wonderful fun.

    For me the game was made by details like the little weapon explanations such as the Order’s plasma artillery where ‘tanks are reduced to metal slag and infantry… does not survive’, and vehicles that required actual thought in positioning because they couldn’t fire through each other. There was something special about the notion of shepherding limited troops & caring about their survival that I didn’t really recapture until Dawn of War 2’s small squads.

    On top of that, there was no omniscient watcher in the sky – you (or more accurately Major Parker) were actually physically present on the battlefield in a command unit.

    Ah, and the memories of multiplayer, where picking good mixes of special weapons on units yielded joy such as a well timed deployment of defensive shields meaning that your Order bombers weren’t shredded by Craven AA deployed on a nearby hill out of artillery range just long enough to drop hot plasma on your opponent’s main battle tanks. It looked absolutely gorgeous for the day.

    I even loved the singleplayer plot, and that was paper thin.

  15. johnny_lawless says:

    This was one of a brief spate of “straction” titles back in the late ’90s, which included Microsoft’s Urban Assault, and, one of my all-time most played games, Battlezone.

    A few of them, including Ground Control and Battlezone, got sequels that fizzled (Battlezone 2 was quite decent, as I recall). Unfortunately, the genre never really went anywhere, even though it had a brief, quiet, sort-of revival in Bohemia Interactive’s “Carrier Command” a few years ago.

    It’s a bit of a shame, because I feel that it was a concept that had legs.