ScreenCritics Groot takes a look back at the RTS classic Total Annihilation – does the 1997 classic still hold up in modern times?
Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a good real-time strategy game, I as sure as hell don’t. Yeah sue me for not being a fan of the genre so much, but that might be the reason because my brain is the size of a peanut when it comes to tactical planing. However I found some exceptions and relished in their chaotic nature as I unleashed a massive horde upon the enemy base in just a mater of minutes. Seizing an enemy camp, made you feel like you were the Napoleon of 21. century, and before you know it, your delightful feeling turns to dust once you enter the online mode. Yet even though my tactical skills sucked rock bottom, I still enjoyed and quickly matured with this particular RTS game. So in this retrospective we will be covering the mayhem that was unleashed to the gaming world in 1997 known as Total Annihilation.
Now the first think that struck my mind was, how the hell did a “nice” kid like me, got my hands on a game that sounds like a nuclear test simulator. Well it was the year 2008, I was still just getting interested in the gaming world and retro games were a huge thing for me. I also began to play a certain table top game called Warhammer 40k and it wasn’t long before I discovered that there was a strategy video game. So I hoped to my computer and found a bunch of titles, with one of them standing out, Total Annihilation. Developed by Cavedog Entertainment, this title claimed to be one of the best RTS games at the time, rivaling titles such as Red Alert and Warcraft. At the time strategy games were all about thinking ahead, gathering and tactical maneuvering, while this gem, took that concept threw half of it out the window, and took the other half and innovated it for a more enriching experience.
The story isn’t anything to brag about and I mean do you really need a good story for this type of game. The entire plot is centered around a war against two major factions known as the ARM and the CORE. The CORE is a faction made of artificial intelligence that took over the Milky Way, and plan on dominating and enslaving the land. That’s where the ARM comes in, a rebel band bent on destroying and riding the galaxy of the menace. The two factions engage in a brutal massacre, that is obviously described in the title of the game. This puts the player in the role of the Commander in which ever faction suits him best, and tasks him with the ultimate annihilation and destruction of the enemy forces. As I said the plot isn’t anything special, but seriously do you really need one, just go out there and drop a nuke on some mechanized units.
Though this gem lacks in the plot, it certainly makes up for it in the game play department. The game is essentially a real-time strategy game, but what makes this one so special is the way it plays out. Instead of gathering resources the player has to build and provide his own resources. There are only two; energy and metal, and these are limitless, which means the player can have as much as he desires and trust me you will need them a lot. Buildings such as solar panels, windmills provide energy, while refineries provide metal, and this is harder to get then the other one. The player has the ability to build these objects from the beginning and he should do it fast, since you will need a lot of supplies in order to build a decent army if you plan on surviving the first 10 minutes of the game. Some specific units use more resources than the others and the player has the indicator of how much he needs and how much can he use.
The most interesting aspect of the game are its units. Instead of the typical HQ that can be found in most RTS games, in Total Annihilation you begin and end with a large sentry. This sentry is the main base, able to constantly move and build the main structures and the game ends once the sentry is killed. The sentry also has the largest health bar and can even counter the enemies attack, sometimes being able to fight off an entire battalion. After the main barrack is built, which I advise doing in the first minute of the game, the player can then build fighting units and a construction droid which unlocks more structures. The fighting units range from land to water and air, each type of unit having both strong and fast abilities. Not to mention that each faction is unique in their own way, but not in terms of appearance. The CORE is much faster in terms everything, while the ARM is much stronger in terms of units, buildings and the sentry, so the player can choose which faction suits him best.
Now I have to mention the most interesting part of this game and probably the most interesting to a lot of gamers that have played it is the mayhem. What set Total Annihilation from the rest of the RTS was the sheer amount of carnage that the player could inflict on both himself and the enemy. Explosions were everywhere and I’m sure that Michael Bay would get turned on by the effects of these explosions. The combat was done as realistic as possible, and some of the most interesting features was the impact of that these units can inflict. If a nearby unit explodes the others will be affected, damaging not just your opponent, but yourself in the process. Not to mention that the player, if he uses his resources wisely, can order unlimited nuclear strikes on the enemy base, resulting in one of the best fireworks in video game history. All in all there is a reason why this game is called Total Annihilation, because the accent was on the destruction of everything that stands between you and your objective, no matter the casualties.
As for the visuals, I can say that the developers were ahead of their time in this department. As I already said the effects were done spot on, considering that it was released in 1997 where the games were still using the old retro- pixellated formula. The game is set on multiple plains similar to that of our own planet. Add to that a soundtrack provided by Jeremy Soule, who has over 200 composed songs for video games, and you got a truly apocalyptic experience. Total Annihilation didn’t beat its rivals, but was still considered the best game at the time and was awarded over 50 awards, garnering a cult following. The game got two expansions, but after a certain time was bought by other companies and a sequel just wasn’t on the horizon. However in 2007, a spiritual successor, Supreme Commander was released, and was heavily influenced by the game design. It took 17 years for a sequel to finally be released, titled Planetary Annihilation, which expanded on the concept and did justice to the original. On top of all that the a community of dedicated fans made a full 3D remake that is still going strong to this day.
Overview: Total Annihilation is truly something special and no doubt that fans of this genre will defiantly fondly remember this classic gem. From the game play to the visuals it captured the attention of many gamers, even those who are terrible at RTS games like me. The game is hard and the players online can prove to be really merciless, but with time this can become a truly remarkable experience. To this day this is one of the games I still have on my PC and I still go back to it every once in a while. Passing out on it would be a shame, so I advise for anyone to take a look at it, it is worth your time, and of course enjoy all that mayhem and destruction that it has to offer.