A number of genres are heavily represented in the browser-based gaming realm. Physics games are everywhere, puzzles are a dime a dozen, and you can't toss a mushroom without hitting a platformer. But one genre that has been somewhat neglected is the real-time strategy game, a void Shadez II: Battle for Earth aims to fill. Those familiar with the RTS genre may not recognize Shadez II for what it is at first, but once you do, you'll find yourself looking at it from an entirely different angle.
You are in control of a mercenary force of military units with one goal: eliminate the enemy presence on planet Earth and save every man, woman, child, and bunny rabbit. The enemy is a race of machines that seems to have no other goal but their own survival by means of eradicating all life on Earth. They have ravaged the planet, and for whatever reason, the governments of Earth have entrusted you with the only means to defeat them. No pressure.
The military power at your fingers is varied and impressive. You have access to a number of ground units, including infantry with guns and rocket launchers, and covert ops specialists that can go behind enemy lines and plant C4 on structures to take them down. Light and heavy tanks are also at your disposal, along with APCs and mobile missile launchers that provide armored support. In the air, you'll control Apache gunships, Blackhawks, and Chinook transports as well as Tomahawk and Patriot missile strikes, battleship bombardments, and more. You can also call in a "Broken Arrow" which basically gives you every strike at once in one area, for those times when things get really desperate.
Of course, none of this can happen without resources. The main resource you'll collect is ore, represented by yellow deposits above the ground. It allows you to build units and call in strikes, but electrical power keeps things running. You have to generate this for yourself by building power plants. The more buildings you have in your base, the more electricity you need, and the more power plants will be required to supply this electricity. You start out with the basic power plant, which provides enough electricity for simple base operations. Once you start building tanks and helicopters, you'll need to start constructing nuclear power plants to supply the electricity demands. Keep an eye on your power meter, because if you go over, everything in your base shuts down.
This all sounds very familiar, and anyone who has played Command and Conquer will find it extremely easy to grasp. That is, until you realize that the game is presented in a 2D side view instead of the usual over-the-head map view. Kinda changes things a bit, doesn't it? While in many ways the side-view simplifies the gameplay, it also gives it a new perspective. Many of the strategies that are employed in other RTS games may not work, or may have to be adapted to the new style of gameplay. Also, units cannot block each other; if two units meet, they simply pass around the other, exchanging fire the whole time.
Analysis: Shadez II is an excellent example of what can be done to add interest to an established genre. By putting all of the action on a 2D plane, it changes the way you approach the game. Many of the same strategies will work, like creating an overwhelming force to obliterate the enemy, but others, such as the classic "divide and conquer" are not easy to pull off, if even possible. Sean has come up with a number of interesting and unique terrain and unit placement scenarios which help to capitalize on the 2D nature. Impassible ravines, bases surrounded by enemy units, and civilians that must be rescued from the other side of mountain ranges are just some of the scenarios you will face during the game.
As you progress through the campaign missions, you slowly unlock units that can be used in future missions, skirmish missions, or should you decide to go back to a previous mission you have already played. These units can be upgraded using experience points that you collect after successfully completing a mission. There are six levels for each unit, and each level slowly increases that unit's effectiveness. Once you hit some of the later campaign missions, and especially the skirmish missions, you will be in need of units that have been significantly upgraded.
One important fact you need to know before jumping into Shadez II: it's not free. That is, not entirely. You have access to several campaign missions and a couple of the skirmish missions right from the start. If you want access to the full game, however, you need to purchase MochiCoins.
Along with purchasing campaign and skirmish missions, you can also purchase Expert Mode. Expert Mode unlocks all units and upgrades them to level six and gives you access to advanced configuration of the skirmish missions, allowing you to tweak enemy AI, the types of units it has access to, etc. This makes pretty much all of the campaign missions a cakewalk, so if you want to preserve more of the challenge for the campaign, hold off on Expert Mode until you're finished, or at least until you get absolutely stuck. Once you activate the Expert Mode, you cannot deactivate it.
Aside from the fact that the Expert Mode makes the campaign too easy, the other complaint that I have about the game is the way in which you have to scroll the screen. In your standard RTS, moving the mouse to the edge of the screen scrolls the game field in that direction. With Shadez II, you have to use the arrow keys. It's really not that cumbersome once you get used to it, but I found myself constantly moving my mouse to the sides in an attempt to scroll before realizing, once again, that I need to use the arrow keys.
Sean Cooper put a lot of work into Shadez II, and it shows. The production values are very high, almost to the point that the game could pass as a downloadable title. The unit silhouettes are detailed, well animated, and move smoothly. Explosions are nice and explodey, with debris flying everywhere. The sound is top-notch, with excellent background music and event sounds that mimic those from the original Command & Conquer games.
If you are looking for a break from the standard RTS fare, or just want to play through a really well-made game, then look no further than Shadez II: Battle for Earth. There is enough strategy, explosions, and alien killing machines to keep most RTS fans busy for some time.