I spent a lot of time harvesting tiberium and building tanks back in the late 90’s, but when it came to real-time strategy games, “Command and Conquer” was one of the best around (along with “Warcraft II” and “StarCraft”). “Command and Conquer: Generals” (released in 2003) still remains to be my favorite RTS of all time, it’s just a shame that my Windows 8 machine won’t run the blasted thing. It’s admittedly been a while since I’ve played anything as good since then (“Supreme Commander” is a close contender) and when I saw “Grey Goo” appear on the Steam store, I knew I had to request myself a copy. It took a couple of weeks, but the folks at Petroglyph (developer)/Grey Box (publisher) and their PR team at Sandbox Strategies West came through and managed to send me a key. They didn’t have to, so while I’m slightly annoyed by the delay, I’m still very much appreciative considering that the price tag is $49.99 (as of 2/10/15)…I’ll get to that a bit later.
“Grey Goo” is an RTS that involves three factions: Human, Beta, and the Goo. Not exactly the most imaginative faction names, I’ll grant you, but I know you’re itching at the chance to play as “Goo”. Who wouldn’t? Without spoiling too much of the story, the game will thrust you onto a distant planet where the Humans and Betas are in conflict with one another. The Goo, a race of self-replicating nanobots, show up to ruin things for both sides. The story itself is played over a total of fifteen campaign missions (five missions for each of the three factions) and yes, there is a skirmish mode should you just want to have some fun away from the story. While nice, I was admittedly disappointed by the fact that I could only set up “1 vs 1”, “2 vs 2”, and “FFA” matches. This is a far cry from the eight player arena battles my friends and I used to have in “Warcraft II”. On the other hand, the game does support a map editor and your creations can even be shared via the Steam Workshop.
The Human and Beta faction are somewhat similar in play style in that they’ll construct modular buildings and harvest resources from fixed points (catalyst pools) via a refinery. The Beta, oddly enough, act more like your standard “Terran” faction than the Humans do. For example, the Beta can build structures within a certain range of your base without restriction. The Humans, on the other hand, have to connect their structures with power lines. This might sound like a hassle, but the ability to transport structures along your power grid really comes in handy in a pinch. These two factions are the most recognizable out of the three and probably what most RTS fans will be able to relate to.
The Goo, on the other hand, don’t construct bases. You start the match as a giant (but mobile) glob of Goo (called a Mother Goo), which can both harvest and produce units. There’s a bit more micromanagement involved with this faction, I feel, as you’ll be building multiple Mother Goos in order to harvest resources and create units more quickly. You can sit your Mother Goo(s) on a single pool if you so desire, or move them around and keep your opponent guessing as to where you are. There’s also the fact that you can’t set your factories to “auto” like you can with the Humans and Beta, as the Goo have no factories. Instead, you’ll constantly be clicking/hot-keying the production of units via mitosis…that is, causing your Mother Goo to spit out smaller versions of itself, then morph into your desired unit(s).
Despite the map limitations you’ll experience when trying to play skirmish or multiplayer, I found “Grey Goo” to be a lot of fun. Just the ability to build walls and turrets got me excited, mainly because the former isn’t often featured in RTS games nowadays. Its play style is more reminiscent of “Command and Conquer” than “StarCraft”, but I expected as much. After all, Petroglyph was formed by employees from the now deceased Westwood Studios…the father of “C&C”. There’s more emphasis on macromanagement than micromanagement thankfully, giving me more time to focus on the battlefield and plan my next move. The campaign is well done (albeit too short for my tastes) and the music is top-notch. I myself felt like this was more of a $25-$30 game as opposed to a $50 game, though everyone’s mileage will no doubt vary.
In the end, “Grey Goo” is indeed a welcome throwback to the classics I’ve grown up with and is worth plenty of repeat visits. It does everything it can to make your life easier (what with the QWERT keybind controls and auto-harvesters for the Humans and Beta) but falls short on the skirmish/multiplayer side of things. It really would have been awesome to have the ability to set up and see a “4 vs 4” or “2 vs 3” or something along those lines. I also found the AI to be a bit too aggressive and difficult, even on “easy”. I lost many matches against the “easy” AI and I consider myself to be a moderately experienced RTS player (though I admittedly love to turtle, which this game seems to discourage). This ruthlessness will most certainly frustrate newcomers to no end and at times, I honestly wished that I could tell the AI to tone it down a bit and expand more slowly. With the above issues in mind, those short on money may want to wait for a price drop (like I would have done had I not received a press key).
Final Verdict: 6/10