Released four years ago, the original Ground Control was an excellent real-time strategy game set in a sci-fi universe, though it never reached the popularity level of the big-name RTS games like Starcraft or the Command & Conquer series. Nevertheless, it made quite an impact in the genre with its gorgeous 3D engine, which was both powerful and flexible enough to support large maps along with the ability to zoom in to your units to get a look at the action up close. The sequel, Ground Control II: Operation Exodus, keeps this signature element while delivering a stunning presentation coupled with solid gameplay and a lengthy campaign.
Majestic battle scenes like this are par for the course in Ground Control II.
The game's story puts you in the role of Jacob Angelus, a captain in the Northern Star Alliance. Your home planet, Morningstar Prime, is currently under siege by Imperial Terran forces led by the ruthless Imperator Vlaana. As you make your way through the campaign, an alien race, known as the Virons, will eventually get involved in both sides of the conflict. The game includes a pair of linear, 12-mission campaigns where you'll control the NSA forces and then the Virons. Though the storyline behooves you to play the campaigns in that order, you may choose to start on either campaign at the outset of the game.
As mentioned before, the most striking aspect of Ground Control II is its beautiful graphics engine. Maps are suitably large and vast with rolling terrain and thickets of lush forest. Bodies of water shimmer and reflect sunlight--images that take advantage of the advanced capabilities of the latest graphics cards. The units themselves are extremely detailed--they are fully articulated with moving parts and they can be seen rocking back as their cannons fire. You can also see infantry carrying miscellaneous pieces of equipment, such as the massive backpacks of ammo carried by NSA siege infantry. And if you zoom in close enough to foot soldiers, you can actually hear them marching across hard ground. While it is true that you lose a lot of this detail while you're zoomed out (which is more ideal for actually controlling the game), battles still seem suitably epic as you see opposing sides light up the field with missiles and streams of tracer fire. Artillery is especially impressive, like the shells that arc high overhead before crashing down.
The game's sound effects are also excellent: missiles whoosh toward their targets and artillery fire rumbles as it impacts the ground. The NSA siege infantry's miniguns sound particularly fearsome when they go into fully automatic mode, pouring out a fusillade of death. Ground Control II's soundtrack is equal to its sound effects, offering pumping rock tunes that get you amped up for battle. You'll also receive constant reports on the battlefield about various positions that are being attacked and overrun, similar to what you would hear over the course of a match in Battlefield 1942. These reports help keep the mood appropriately tense as you ride the razor's edge between victory and defeat. About the only aspect bringing the game's audio down a bit would be the voice acting. There's a lot of it, as characters interact extensively before, during, and after missions, but some may find Captain Angelus' thick British accent a little cheesy or even farcical. His compatriot, Lieutenant (or "leftenant" as Angelus calls her) LaCroix, also sports a seemingly forced French accent.
Ground Control II's gameplay style doesn't follow the mold of most RTS games. There's no base building involved, so you don't have to worry about managing an economy or a tech tree. Reinforcements are called in via dropship, and you must have control of at least one landing zone on the battlefield to receive these extra troops. Over the course of a battle, you're slowly fed acquisition points that you can use to purchase new troops or upgrade your dropship in various aspects, such as cargo space, speed, fuel capacity, armor, and weapons. If you have a large standing army, the acquisition points come in very slowly, and if your forces are few, they'll build up more quickly. You can also earn more acquisition points by destroying enemy units in battle and by capturing and holding special spots on the map called victory locations.
One of the more interesting strategic aspects of the game is the ability to have your dropship stay on station at the landing zone to assist in defense against incoming forces. It's powerful enough to turn the tide of an attack, so using your dropship in battle can have important strategic consequences. The ship has a finite amount of fuel, however, so when it's out it will return to its off-screen base automatically. The dropship is also vulnerable to fire, so if it's destroyed, you'll be unable to call in reinforcements for a period of time until you get a new one.
Managing your dropship is a key strategic element in the game.
The environment plays a big role in Ground Control II's tactics. Units on elevated ground get defensive bonuses. Infantry can hole up in buildings such as guard towers and bunkers for a defensive boost as well; the game even allows you to pick which side of the building the infantry will defend. Infantry are also the only units that can go into forests, which is where they can hide out of line of sight and also gain defensive bonuses. Special gun emplacements are also scattered around the maps. Some of these, like the flamethrowers, are specialized for taking out infantry while others include large cannons that are more suited for blowing up vehicles. You can use engineer units to repair any damaged emplacements you find, and you can have any one of your infantry man the turret. These emplacements, like bunkers and other buildings, cannot be fully destroyed, but concentrated fire can kill any infantry inside.
Aside from environmental factors, the game models the armor thickness of your vehicles. Flanking maneuvers, therefore, become a useful strategy, as you can typically do much more damage to a vehicle from the side or behind. Your units also gain experience through combat, reflected in stripe and star symbols that you can see above each unit when selected. Experienced units are more effective than new ones, so it pays to keep your troops alive when possible. In skirmish and multiplayer modes, you even have the option of calling in air strikes, which you pay for with acquisition points.