One of the first things I learned in Journalism school was to never analogize my subject matter with recipe ingredients. But sometimes I just can't help it, especially when a game like Colony comes along, begging to be described as "two parts real-time strategy, one part tactical action and a just a dash of tower defense." It's the latest release from Jakrin "Krin" Juangbhanich, the developer behind the ridiculously successful Sonny and Sonny 2. You could call Colony a real-time strategy game, although you'd be selling it short. It's unique in the sense that it draws inspiration from several tried-and-true genres; featuring multi-faceted gameplay that feels familiar, even if doesn't appear so.
As evidenced by Krin's self-professed love of StarCraft, the game is rooted in the sci-fi/alien-horror RTS genre. The plot isn't incredibly thick — there are three different army factions you can choose to play with: Capitalists, Communists and Fascists. Each army has its own story arc in campaign mode, and they each have an inherent bonus (for example, Capitalists produce resources faster — army bonuses are explained when you start a campaign). You're given a hefty array of units to work with; each providing its own strengths and weaknesses. Soldiers serve as your basic cannon-fodder "starter" unit, although you won't have to wait very long to begin using heavier units like tanks, helicopters and even medics.
Similar to side-scrolling tactical games, you begin each round at one end of a horizontal map, with your enemy situated on the opposing side. The goal itself isn't too complex; just turn the enemy's base into a smoking crater. Accomplishing that goal, on the other hand, will require a bit of strategy and skill. You'll notice your base consists of individual squares, forming a grid. You'll always have a "Central Base" pre-built in the middle of your grid, which serves as your entire base's "hit points" or "life." The Central Base also comes equipped with a defense turret, providing a bit of cover when you're under attack. The remaining squares are called "Ground Zero," signifying that you can build on them.
Here's the catch, though: Colony is a multiplayer-based game, even when you're playing a single-player campaign. The base belongs to both you and the AI, which serves as your ally. Even in single-player mode, you work with the AI to destroy the enemy base, while the enemy does the same. You can even communicate with the AI, which serves as an entire gameplay aspect on its own! In his official blog announcement, Krin wrote that the allies have their own unique "personalities" that dictate things like aggressiveness and combat tactics. "You can talk to them via the chat, and ask them what they are going to build, or what you think they should do," he says. "They will let you know what the biggest threat from the enemy is, and if they are about to form an attack group. You can even ask them personal questions like their name and age."
Your grid is divided into eight squares (not including the central base), which is divided equally between you and your AI ally. You each have four plots to build structures on; this is the primary RTS game mechanic, and you'll find it amazingly intuitive if you have any experience at all with the RTS genre. If you don't, you'll still find the learning curve to be relatively smooth; construct buildings with resources, then produce your army with your buildings. There are three resources used in Colony: money, manpower and energy. There's also a special fourth resource that represents morale, which builds as your army takes more ground on the battlefield. Don't worry; the tutorial in the "Quick Play" mode offers adequate instruction, as do the in-game hints and advice offered by your ally.
The interface is simple and easy-to-use; you can point-and-click through the entire game if you like (with the exception of typing to communicate with your AI or real-world ally). Click and drag to highlight a group of units, and issue commands by clicking the action buttons below. If you're a fan of hotkeys, just use [A] and [D] to scroll from left to right across the battlefield. Use the helpful "Rally" command by hitting [X], which forces your units to wait outside your base after they've been produced. You'll also be able to use additional number and letter hotkeys as they relate to the interface layout, as explained in-game.
Analysis: When it comes to hybrid gameplay, not every developer is able to pull it off. In Colony, Krin was able to successfully create a working synergy between several different mechanics, while avoiding common pitfalls like an obtrusive interface or overly-complex micro-managing. Fun units like snipers, helicopters and mech-walkers offer diverse enough ways to defeat your opponent, without feeling overwhelmed by choices. The same is true of the construction system; it doesn't take two hours of gameplay just to learn the dynamics between resources and building functions. Colony's graphics and sound are nothing less than you'd expect from the developer and publisher team that brought you the Sonny series, and it seems to be optimized well enough to run smoothly on older hardware.
The online multiplayer mode will probably be the most under-appreciated aspect of Colony (initially, at least). I hope I'm wrong, because live multiplayer adds a new dimension to the game, and it's executed pretty smoothly via Jiggmin.com's Blossom Server. Up to four people can play per game; two on each team, sharing the base, just as you share it with the AI in single-player mode.
RTS vets might find themselves breezing through the campaign mode a bit quicker than expected, but there are various difficulty settings available in the "Quick Play" mode (you can also switch between armies). Aside from the lukewarm single-player mode—which might have been enhanced by non-linear gameplay and more upgradeable customization—most players won't find too many faults in Colony. It's a novel spin on the casual RTS paradigm; just as solid as it is accessible.