Netstorm – Part 3

I’ve managed to finish Netstorm now, slightly faster than I expected. My enthusiasm for the game has lessened a little mainly due to a few quirks/glitches I’ve run into. First off, I had to abandon playing the game on my Windows 98 machine and move over to my main PC, off-colour palette or not. This is because the game has a habit of freezing for long periods of time when there is a lot going on. It got to the stage on one level where every unit I clicked on started a minute of waiting. Some pauses are still evident on my new PC but less often and it clears them much faster. God knows what this would have been like on the minimum spec of a P90 though. There was a patch made for the game at some point which might help, but I’ve not been able to find anywhere to download it so I’m stuck with the release version.
I’ve also had a few issues with the gameplay itself. On some of the levels, new sources of storm crystals keep popping up around the map giving an inexhaustible supply. On one level, they popped up far too fast in my opinion leading to a stalemate where I simply couldn’t break down my opponents defences faster than he could rebuild them. I could get around it by attacking more quickly but it should have been designed to avoid this situation.
On another level, I have to work in partnership with another priest against 2 enemies at the same time. This sounds like a good idea except my colleague is fairly useless and I end up doing all the work. This wouldn’t be so bad except after playing the level for half an hour he captures the final priest, then proceeds to do nothing with him. This made the map unwinnable and I had to start again making sure I won the race to the priest second time around.
A fairly standard tactic which I’ve learned to use is to build a bridge very close to my enemies island at the start of the level. This blocks him from expanding outwards both protecting me and also giving me a platform to attack him from when I’ve collected enough storm crystals. Building the bridges over and over does get a little monotonous when you have to go back and retry the level. None of these quirks would be an issue if I was allowed to save my progress.

The difficulty level was a real up and down affair. You would expect it to keep getting harder but the penultimate level was ridiculously simple. It basically just involved building a huge bridge to an empty island, moving my temple to it, then building another huge bridge at the far side. The only tricky part was figuring out that I was supposed to pick up the priest I’m trying to rescue at the far side as though he had been subdued (which he hadn’t). There weren’t any resources to collect in the mission.

The last mission in the game is far more difficult although slightly less so than some of the earlier ones. I’m being attacked from all sides but as long I block the enemy off with bridges and take the nearest couple out quickly it becomes a lot easier.

It’s something of an anti-climax after battling through so many other forces, but at the end I have to capture the Storm priest who does nothing except stand in the middle of a load of towers. I blast through them and sacrifice him to win the game.

This wasn’t a game that I was ever optimistic about getting much of an ending and it was just as well as all you get for winning the game is the message above. I do get the impression that the single player campaign is something of an afterthought.
Despite that, I still enjoyed myself playing this. If I had a problem with a level, I’ve been able to go back and try again usually without too many retries required to get through it. I did struggle badly with the 2nd mission of the 3rd campaign but that was mainly because it required me to learn a new technique with sun barriers which hadn’t been introduced before.
Netstorm stands up fairly well for a 14 year old game. It’s outside of the genres I’d usually play but I’m not sorry to have given it a go. I can’t see it being a game I ever go back to myself and I’m not keen enough to look for some online games now I’ve finished it but if RTS is your thing it’s possibly worth tracking down.

Netstorm – Part 2

I’ve played through the first campaign on Netstorm now in 3 or 4 sessions. In the first campaign, the people of Nimbus have been enslaved by the dark lords of thunder, wind and rain and I have to gather allies to oppose them. To say there is a plot to the missions would be a bit of an exaggeration though. They have brief text introductions but it’s really just a series of levels.

The first mission is straight-forward but things soon get more complex as I have to take on well fortified defences in the second mission. From what I’ve seen, I’m clearly not going to be allowed movable units other than those which collect storm crystals. I can’t build on an island with an enemy temple on it so this means building large forces of static turret defences off the side of the island I’m trying to attack.

The types of unit I’m allowed to build are limited and vary in every mission forcing different approaches to be taken. I always start with a huge disadvantage, and if the computer A.I. was any good I would be annihilated extremely quickly. For instance in the third mission shown above, I’m under heavy bombardment from these dragon shaped towers which can attack over an extremely long distance but only in a straight line in one direction. Thankfully, I start the map with a barricade up, which is an impenetrable laser fence. This can only be breached by destroying one of the towers at either end of it. If the computer aggressively attacked those towers, I would be dead in a minute but it ignores them allowing me to slowly build around the side and gradually push his forces back.

The final mission of the campaign puts me in the ridiculous position of being sandwiched between two huge opposing forces. The key to winning this one is to protect myself with a particular type of tower. These are invulnerable if attacked from one side so I can protect my buildings and slowly start to push the enemy back by building around the sides to attack his stronghold. This isn’t simple and I suffer plenty of setbacks before really getting on top.

After about 30-40 minutes I manage to defeat both sides. This would have been longer but one of the enemy priests foolishly comes too near to my base and gets shot by my defences. This allows me to defeat the Eastern forces without ever mounting an attack on them. The only key to defeating an enemy is to capture and sacrifice the enemy priest. The sacrifice is fairly slow which led to a tense minute or two while the enemy frantically tried to break through my defences and rescue their priest.

I’ve certainly got a good idea for the gameplay in this now, although it would be very different against a human opponent. The biggest difference in this to any other RTS I’ve played is the lack of control over my units. I can’t tell them who to attack and the most powerful units are usually extremely inflexible with very narrow fields of fire. The units are always a tradeoff depending on what you are trying to achieve. Netstorm actually has a lot in common with tower defence games in some ways but is more frantic and I never have time to sit back and watch.

I’ve been extremely limited on what units I’m allowed to use in a single mission with maybe a choice of 4 or 5 each time. This reduces my available options but that isn’t to say these levels have been easy. I’m certainly not completing them on the first go and there is no saving allowed meaning that I have to restart from scratch each time I mess it up. This hasn’t been an issue so far though and I can’t say I’ve ever felt like I didn’t deserve to lose. You can tell fairly early on as a rule, if you are doing well and learn from your mistakes each time. It might take half an hour to actually finish off the opposition but the critical stages tend to be at the beginning.

With these lengthy levels, this isn’t going to be a game I’m going to finish quickly but I’m certainly enjoying it. It is one of those games which can eat up large amounts of time without me noticing it and you don’t want to start playing this if you have something you should be doing. The gameplay is far more strategic than Command and Conquer, although it is suffering the same failing of providing its challenge by putting you in impossible situations. This single player campaign is almost a puzzle game in that regard but I can imagine the multi-player games being extremely good fun and a serious challenge. I’m sure I would get pulverized if I were to play a veteran at this although I may give it a go when I get through with the single player campaigns.

It occurs to me that if I’d been playing this while I still had 60 games left to blog about, I’d be wanting to rush on to the next one and wouldn’t be enjoying it half as much. I don’t feel any need to hurry at this point and will probably take another couple of weeks to finish this off in my own time. This is no Knights Of Legend but it is a game that requires a reasonable amount of time for each session which means I can’t just jump into it when I have a spare 20 minutes.

I would have liked to see a stronger story to the missions but the gameplay is enough to keep my attention on its own. Netstorm isn’t something I would have bought or played if it wasn’t for this blog and is a good example of why I’m still doing this.

Netstorm – Part 1

I’m breaking off the books for a while to play another game, Netstorm. This was published in 1997 by Activision and developed by Titanic Entertainment. Titanic was founded by Ken Demarest, Zack Simpson and Jim Greer, all of whom were former Origin employees who had worked on Ultima 7 among numerous other titles.

If you haven’t heard of Netstorm then you are in the majority. If this game is famous for anything, it is that it only sold 13,500 copies. To put this in perspective, Akalabeth sold 30,000 back in 1980/81 when no one actually had computers. In theory, that should make Netstorm one of the rarer games I own, but this wasn’t reflected in the price.

Despite the poor sales, the game was actually critically acclaimed and described it as the #1 game no one ever played in 2000. Unfortunately for Titanic Entertainment, their name proved to be all too fitting and this was the only game they ever made. It did gain a following from some gamers though and still has an active community to this day.

Netstorm, as the name suggests, was primarily made with internet multiplayer games in mind which may have been its biggest downfall as the market probably wasn’t ready for it. Activision did little to no marketing which would hardly have helped a fledgling developer either. I’ll just be looking at the single player campaign which has 16 missions + six training missions. Despite the age of this game, it did actually run in Windows 7 without any tweaking at all, but I was getting minor colour problems and ended up resorting to playing it on my Windows 98 machine instead.

The game is an RTS set in the world of Nimbus. The people of Nimbus live on islands floating around in the sky while beneath the three Furies of Wind, Rain and Thunder battle amongst themselves. All the units in the game harness the furies powers and each unit requires a certain amount of each type of energy to be built. Once built units don’t consume energy, however. Each side has one high priest who can build workshops to create other structures, or temples to sacrifice other priests on (the ultimate aim of the single player game).  You can upgrade buildings, set them to producing certain other structures and the like. Resources have to be collected to buy units or purchase upgrades. These sort of mechanics will be familiar enough to anyone who has played Command and Conquer or the like, but from the little I’ve seen playing the tutorial missions so far this plays very differently.

Before I get to that, the tutorials start out with the real basics of building bridges. One of the snags with living in the clouds is that you need to be able to travel between islands, which is where these come in. They are manufactured in random Tetris-like shapes that you can use to build away from your island. The geysers shown on the screenshot above are the resource in this game, and I have to build bridges to be able to collect storm crystals from them, which I’ll then use to build with. The bridge mechanic is certainly unusual, and I end up building all over the place to get where I’m trying to go. Later in the game, I will actually need the spare branches to nowhere, as I can place units there but you can’t build on the side of bridges. The bridges have a tendency to collapse after a while if they aren’t joined up at both ends so you can’t afford to take too long setting them up.

The animation when I create a building deserves a mention as they shimmer into existence from the ground up. This isn’t a game that is especially impressive graphically, but it’s not ugly either and this sort of effect does work well.

The tutorial missions gradually work their way through the game basics. Here I’m attacking an enemy cannon with my sun disc throwers. The cannon’s have a long-range but can only fire in straight lines so are vulnerable diagonally. I have to build close enough to attack these with my sun disc throwers, while keeping out of range of the enemy. I can then build my own cannon and take out the rest of the enemy defences from a distance.

It may change later in the game but there is an emphasis in these tutorials on stationary buildings rather than the C&C style of RTS, where you build a huge army and send them out exploring. With each unit needing energy to be created and the generators only having a limited range, I end up having to create a chain of generators to reach a certain point. These may then have to be defended from one of the enemy buildings which launches flying vehicles to bomb them. This definitely has the potential to become extremely tactical and the bridge building will be key.

To win the mission I have to reach an enemy island and capture their priest, usually by building a sun disc thrower near him so far. In one mission, I can also collect a spell from the enemy island using one of my golems (previously only used to collect resources). The golem can then cast the devastation spell near the priest, which subdues him long enough for the golem to pick him up and carry him back to be sacrificed on my awaiting altar.

I’ve only played the 6 tutorial missions so far and  I get the impression that these missions only scratched the surface. I like the look of Netstorm so far though.  The gameplay is slightly quirky but it’s original, simple enough to understand and looks to have some serious depth to it. I’ll have to play some of the real missions before I start to get a true feel for it.