Review by Mr Xenomorph
"The textbook definition of style over substance."
Imagine if Command & Conquer and Starcraft had a child.. with Down Syndrome. That is likely the approximation to what you will experience in Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3. Possibly the most generically average Real Time Strategy that has been made so far, it makes it's name on copying the best elements of more well known and better crafted real time Strategy games and does it half as well.
There are several things to consider as to why this game was a failure and a poor debut for developer Ion Storm Inc. First of all, let's talk about the difficulty. The first few missions in any of the campaigns are easy enough to get through, but once you hit the more or less half way point for each race, the difficulty makes a complete 180 degree turn and doesn't look back. Many missions in the late game can easily drag on for hours on end. The back of the box claims the most sophisticated A.I. in a real time strategy game ever developed. At first you might find this to be true, but on closer inspection, it seems that the developer's idea of sophisticated A.I. is to put the player in severely outmatched scenarios, constantly at a huge disadvantage as the computer will send rush after rush of their most powerful units in the first few minutes as you are still in the middle of building a decent base and spending precious resources on expensive upgrades so you can even get to the point where you can produce your own powerful units that can match the enemy. You'll spend very large quantities of resources just to have enough forces to defend your fragile base against the relentless onslaught of otherwise very stupid enemy units. Thankfully you have the option of setting all your structures on Auto Repair, so you can concentrate your attention on managing your units. Otherwise the game would be un-winnable. Have fun spending even more time and resources building up an even greater force to assault the enemy. It passes the point of challenging and lands in the territory of frustrating and annoying. Even at the Introductory difficulty level the computer is a pain to deal with.
Second, let's talk about the races. There are 4 races to play as: the obligatory Humans, the ancient and durable Darken, the scary insect people known as the Scorp, and the savvy businessmen who call them themselves Mercs. In a nutshell, they are all 100%, completely and un-apologetically identical to one another, save for one single special unit exclusive to each race. Oh, there are supposed strengths and weaknesses, such as the Scorp have supposedly weaker units and build a lot faster, Darkens have more expensive stuff with better defense, Mercs have stronger weapons, and humans of course are the balance of all the above. But trust me when I say that in practice, these "differences" are almost negligible. Everybody has the same exact infantry, same tanks, same artillery, same aircraft and the same walkers, all dressed up in different costumes. The Scorp's super weapon is a gigantic Scorpion. I wonder if that was a coincidence? Human's super weapon is a big cat. Literally, it's a huge, mechanized cat. The Mercs have engineered a giant Tarantula for reasons I don't understand. The Darken have a humongous dung beetle as their super weapon. Seriously. I don't know what the designers were thinking. It's just silly. But in the end, it doesn't really matter as they all function exactly the same way. At least nobody will ever be complaining about balance issues...
Third, resources are handled very illogically and annoying. There are two things to harvest in the game: Men and Materials. all units and structures require a certain amount of both to be built. Men are generated magically from colonies. The more colonies you have, the more men you can have access to. Too bad no matter how many colonies you have, it doesn't increase their rate of spawning, which itself is curiously ludicrous. You are on a deserted, uninhabited wasteland of a backwater planet in a distant part of the galaxy. And men just... Appear out of thin air for no reason. Maybe they continuously clone new soldiers from DNA at an impossible speed? I don't know. There is no explanation to how this is achieved. The real kicker is that many vehicles require an unreasonable amount of men to produce. 25 men for a tank? Why would you need 25 men to operate a tank? Seriously. It's stupid, and highly flawed design. Materials come from Material wells. Little pools of churning green liquid that act exactly like Vespene Gas geysers from Starcraft, and are sparsely scattered throughout the many maps. My complaint is that sometimes there just isn't enough of them. And when I find them, they are so far away from my main base that I have to spend lots of time building lots of umbilical's (structures that function like electric power lines that you use to spread power between multiple bases) connecting them, in addition to spending more time and resources on enough units to protect the additional refinery from the eventual enemy attack.
Fourth, and worst of all, are the horrible mechanics. This is the icing on the cake, or rather, the dog poop on the burned cake. The path finding in Dominion is absolutely awful. Often I will tell a few units to go to point A, and without warning, they will turn in the opposite direction! Good look trying to get more than one across a bridge at a time. The result will be all of your units scattering haphazardly in all directions like a punch of pathetic chickens with their heads cut off. Keeping all of your units in line requires a horrible amount of micro management, it's almost not even worth it to try and organize them into teams. They just won't cooperate. Sometimes the units won't even move at all, and will literally just stand there after I repeatedly told it to do something. Such insubordination would never be tolerated in even the crappiest armies, let alone in a real time strategy war game. There is nothing more annoying than not having your units do what you tell them to do or go where you want them to go.
Not to mention the fact that most units stop to turn, making them extremely slow maneuvering to begin with. To add insult to injury, often something like a recon vehicle will come zooming by your base, and half of your units will chase off after it in hot pursuit, leaving your base vulnerable as you try to corral all of your stray units and direct them back. This is difficult because there is no easy way of making them all stop like the simple command buttons in Starcraft. The stop command is accessed by right clicking and going through a list of commands. Also, there is no way to choose all of a particular unit. If you want a team of nothing but Hunters, you'll have to painstakingly click every single one of them individually, group them all at a rendezvous point, and then finally you can select them all. Highly annoying when their all in a crowd of other units.
Fifth, the most common complaint of all, is the failure to be original. The winning strategy in virtually all the missions is simple: Build overwhelming numbers of your strongest units, group them into a huge army, and rush them all at the enemy. If that fails, repeat ad infinium until the enemy has been grounded into dust. There is almost nothing to think about really. And this same formula had become old and moldy even way back in 1998 when it first came out. To it's credit, there are some attempts at innovation. The Telerig unit is very useful in that it is basically a truck that unfolds into a teleporter receiver, making it easier to ferry large numbers of units across the maps. Definitely saves a lot of time in a game that's already going to take forever to finish. Another thing is the engineer. You require two to capture a building unlike the typical 1 you'd see in a command & conquer game. However, the first engineer can virus a building, which can do any number of things such as prevent the building from being sold for cash, taking away half the resources a refinery gets and transferring it to yours, making an enemy auto turret fire on it's own units, and so on. However, those abilities are basically useless since it's very easy to build lots of engineers to prevent such tactics from becoming a problem in the first place, and, the engineer is so slow and weak that it's going to be trivially easy for even a small band of infantry to take it out.
Even though there are 4 races that are supposed to be all going at it, you only ever fight just 1 at a time. It never feels like a 4 way war, which cheapens the feel of the game even further. You could almost call it false advertising on Ion storm's part. Blizzard can let you fight all the other races at the same time, why can't Ion Storm do the same?
With all the flaws in the game, it's refreshing to point out some of the good things. Personally I like the soundtrack. There's a decent amount of quality techno and electronic music which I will admit, greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the game, and was perhaps the one thing that kept the score from going any lower. Truth be told I had more fun listening to the music than playing the game, and listening to the music was really the greatest inventive to keep going for me. Your mileage may vary. The sound effects are decent. Explosions sound like explosions and bullets and rockets sound like how you'd expect them to. However the voice acting is not very good, as there is almost none to be found besides the cinematics. Almost all of the units have the same, generic and unenthusiastic "Yes sir" or "On my way".
The graphics are actually surprisingly good. The units are all designed very well with lots of detail, and the movement is very fluid and convincing. Your ground troops almost look like real people running around down there, and I can complement the work put into the visuals. Everything looks great at all the resolutions and the frame rate remains steady even when the action gets intense. This is the only part of the game that I can honestly say that Ion Storm actually one upped Blizzard and Westwood! Yes, it is true, the graphics in Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 are a tad bit better than Starcraft and Command & Conquer! All the races have their own unique interface, and the cinematics look absolutely amazing for 1998. The CGI was very well done and gives the feel of a sci-fi action movie, and I have to give Ion Storm kudos for the effort put into the eye candy.
The story is rather interesting as well, in my opinion. An unknown deep space signal from a mysterious alien satellite orbiting the planet known as Gift 3 transmits a message telling of an ancient, lost artifact that can grant whoever finds it untold power. All four races dispute over who gets control of the device, and when negotiations break down, the war is on. In the beginning it is actually quite intriguing to see how things develop, and I was excited in searching to find out the mystery of Gift 3. However, without giving too much away, I must say that I found the ending to be confusing and not really answering any questions. Kind of a let down, but with almost everything else in the game being of low quality, what else could you expect?
It is clear that Ion Storm spent way too much time on presentation, and not nearly enough time on game play. It's sad when developers fall for the "Prettier is better" philosophy and ignore the "gameplay first" rule. It's tragic really, because the graphics and story and ideas say that this should be a good game, but sadly, it wasn't meant to be. If only somebody more competent had taken the time to put some really creative ideas into the game play, more originality with the concepts, and just more thought put into it, it could have been something almost as good as Starcraft. Speaking of which, it's almost comical to think that this game was released in the same summer as Starcraft. Poor Dominion, it didn't stand a chance... As it stands though, it is a forgotten relic, rusted and sour, relegated to the dustbins and depths of the not so sought after category of "Hey, you ever heard of this game? No? Yeah me neither...."
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 12/28/01, Updated 08/18/09
Game Release: Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3 (US, 05/31/98)
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