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Rating: 4.2/5 (67 votes)
Comments (20) | Views (5,031)

MarcusHelium-3Warning: This game contains honest-to-goodness scientific content. Those looking for aliens and space battles should continue at their own risk.

Helium-3 is an RTS with an educational slant from the folks at Discovery.com. It is the year 2035. The energy crisis of the 90s and new millennium has led to a global energy crash. Fossil fuels are being depleted at an alarming rate, and renewable energy sources have not been able to keep up with global demand. The world is on the brink of a complete shut-down, unless a new source of energy can be found. Luckily, one already has been located.

During the Apollo space program, numerous samples were retrieved from the moon and brought back to Earth for study. Among other things, scientists found an element originally discovered back in 1934 called helium-3 (3He). This non-radioactive isotope is sought after for use in nuclear fusion reactions. And it is this element that will save the human race. The decision is made to mine the moon for helium-3 and start using it to power helium-helium fusion reactors. 100 tonnes of the element can power the Earth for a year, and there is thought to be over a million tonnes just in the first few meters of lunar soil.

Of course, as with any opportunity like this, people are going to try and profit from it. Thus begins a rash of claim-staking the likes of which hasn't been seen since the early 19th century. At over $4 million per kilo, there is a lot of money to be made. As they say, everyone remembers the first person to the moon, but no one remembers who was second. Don't be second.

Each game consists of a competition between four rival miners on a section of the moon containing various amounts of helium-3. During each ten-minute battle there are two goals: be the one with the most money at the end, and/or be the last one with operational mining vehicles, or X-TRACT vehicles. These multi-purpose devices are your key to fame and fortune on the moon. In addition to mining the moon's surface for helium-3, they also contain offensive and defensive capabilities. The vehicles can fire either pulse-lasers in a line-of-sight fashion at other X-TRACT vehicles, or can launch guided missiles to take out opposing mining vehicles. They can also put up a shield to protect themselves from attack. And, in a last-ditch effort to save your bacon, they can self-destruct, taking out surrounding vehicles.

You start each round with five X-TRACT vehicles. Gameplay takes place in timed turns. You have the time given for the other three players' turns, plus the time of your own turn (approximately 5 seconds) to decide what to do with two of your five vehicles. You can either move the vehicle, order it to mine a surrounding location, arm one of its weapons, or order it to fire an already-armed weapon. Strategy comes into play when trying to decide whether to defend, go on the offensive, or mine for money. You also need to try and guess what your opponents are up to. Do you need to move your vehicles out of range of a well-planned attack or can you jump in an mine one more square before the time is up?

You can compete in practice battles against computer opponents at three difficulty levels, but the only way to earn money and upgrades for your X-TRACT vehicles is to compete in matches against human opponents. The moon in Helium-3 has been divided into over 10 million gamespaces, each containing an amount of helium-3 to mine. Once the game locates three other available players, you will be transported to one of these gamespaces. Earning money during the game will increase your level, and will slowly unlock upgrades to your X-TRACT vehicles. Upgrades will increase the range of your weapons, movement, and mining operations, and each of your five units can be upgraded independently, allowing you to decide which upgrades you want to perform to each unit. No matter your strategy, the future of our planet is in your hands.

Helium-3Analysis: To call Helium-3 a true RTS is somewhat of a misnomer. Command decisions are made in real-time, but limiting of unit movement and fire to a number of squares, as well as limiting the number of units to be moved, puts it more in line with classic turn-based strategy games. There is also no resource management in the game, something that has become a staple of the RTS-genre. Of course, this allows the player to focus on the strategy of winning the round.

One of the game mechanics that really adds a new element of strategy to the game is the fact that you have to make a decision whether to mine or prepare for attack with each vehicle. Mining can happen immediately, but if you want to try and take out an opponent's vehicle, you must first prepare the weapon to be fired. You can move your unit into position on the same turn, but you must wait to fire the weapon until the next turn. By then, your quarry may have moved. This isn't as much of a problem with the missile, since it is a ranged weapon. As long as the target is still in range, you can still take it out. But the laser, which has the ability to take out multiple targets that happen to be within its line-of-sight, can only fire along lines of sight (which can be increased with upgrades). If your targets move out of those lines, you need to reposition, re-activate, and try again.

The computer AI is remarkably competent during practice rounds, and you can have quite a bit of fun with that alone. I was only able to compete in a couple of "live" rounds, since most of the time the matching service failed to locate three other players within a reasonable amount of time. I'm not sure how long others wait around for matches, but hopefully more players will move into the neighborhood. One interesting feature of the game is the fact that you can explore the surface of the moon in Helium-3 and zoom in on each gamespace that has been set up. If a battle has been played on that gamespace, you can actually watch a replay of it. Creates a very interesting, persistent environment.

The graphics are nice, if simple. Your units are denoted by color, since the are all based on the same models. Everything moves nice an smoothly. The gamespace is only the size of the game screen, so there is no scrolling to deal with. Sound consists of sound effects during the game, with no music. Time to launch iTunes and find some music suitable for mining and mayhem.

This game is a lot of fun, perfect for short spurts of casual gameplay, and has an impressively researched back-story rooted in real science, including science facts about helium-3, and a timeline that goes from 1959 to 2037. The future posited in this game is, in fact, a very real possibility. Who knows, playing Helium-3 may be training you to be the next millionaire miner of the future?

Play Helium-3


I'm sure some people will like it, as the implementation is decent, but the organization is pretty poor. I felt catapulted in an unknown environment, with no clue at what the goal of the game even was, for others to feast over my dead body. The tutorial doesn't help much, and I still don't have a clue why all the enemies' vehicles seemed imune to all of my missiles...


The energy crisis of the 90s and new millennium has led to a global energy crash. Fossil fuels are being depleted at an alarming rate, and renewable energy sources have not been able to keep up with global demand. The world is on the brink of a complete shut-down, unless a new source of energy can be found.

Sadly, this is where jayisgames and I part ways. I don't expect to see promotion (implicit or otherwise) of environmentalist propaganda at websites I visit to discover casual games.

It's a real pity; I've bought a dozen or so games as a result of reading this website's weekend reviews. But no more.


don't kill the messenger, rose

BladeStorm November 5, 2009 1:23 AM

the games really great, who gives a stuff about the message, play the game and enjoy it

and besides, that bit you quoted is talking about a period in the future - are you saying that the future is set in stone? it's a story get over it

only problem was having to register, but i did it and am quite enjoying it

Chyro - they are using a shield - if you only see 1 bot move on their turn, they probably put a shield on to save themselves

KamenZero November 5, 2009 2:10 AM


This is not some sort of Propaganda.. it's a game, created for the enjoyment of others by the Discovery Channel. If this is propaganda, then so is every other game set in a near-dead future that came about due to some environmental reason (and there are lots).


I would have liked to have had at least 5 more seconds to set up my moves. The pacing makes it far too difficult to adapt to changes in the environment and to develop decent strategies. Playing against other people was just humiliating.


I really like mining/resources games, but the execution here is rather clumsy, and worst of all it failed to find any people for me to play the game with. Since there is no single player campaign to play as an alternative, there's not much of a game to play.
And er, "environmentalist propaganda"? It's only a game, set in a fictional scenario, like almost every other computer game that's ever been made. If everything has an agenda, what's yours?

Anonymous November 5, 2009 6:39 AM

Interesting idea, but after a handful of games, it seems that the winner is always the player whose corner of the map randomly has the richest helium deposits. Against that initial roll of the dice, strategy doesn't make a huge amount of difference.


I've got a few straight forward strategy:

Think fast :p

Ok the real thing is, you can set moves on your X-tractors even when it's not your move, meaning you have in fact 20 seconds to place your move and even alter it :)

watch for ore-rich places, and if your opponents have just armed a weapon.

Anonymous November 5, 2009 7:35 AM

BladeStorm: Either the shields of other players are invisible to me, and he was lucky enough to have more than one unit shielded on two consecutive turns. Or, he survived without shields. Either way some things were unexplained, be it the shield system or some other life-saving system.

Also, I felt cheated when I was fighting the player just before me, as he had 3 times more time than I did to place directives after seeing the previous moves.

Also, the game suddenly came to an abrupt end, which means that I should have spent my last couple of turns protecting my vehicles instead of losing some trying to fight back had I known.

Also, I didn't have a clue if what objective was.

List goes on. How many games must I play, getting wiped out, until I begin to guess the rules? Is it fun for me? Is it fun for my opponents to see me shoot myself in the foot? The article mentions AI practice games, but somehow I couldn't find them despite looking for it. That might have helped...



from what I've seen, shields are not invisible, but your opponent might have used a bonus crate and giving it an extra life. This is only a guess, however. I haven't seen such crate yet.

Also, what corner and when do you get to move is all just luck. You don't always start first or last.

Then, for the part which I must agree, the notices of games close to an end appear at about font size 8 in the bottom of the screen. I never read it unless I have time in this fast-paced game. Make it bigger or appear for a few seconds at somewhere noticable.

The objectives, however, were stated and repeated quite often: mine the most Helium-3, or kill all your enemies. This game is real-time-strategy and fast-paced, so it's better to read instructions carefully before playing. The practice and other panels are to the left, writen in a small font size, but they exsist.

Feel free to ask more questions, I'll try to answer them with my knowledge when I'm free.


Bots that haven't moved (Indicated by being greyed out) are immune to all weapons


Not to be a hater, but it's a review, not a graduate thesis. Writing that much discourages people from reading any of it.


This reminds me a lot of the movie Moon. Great sci-fi.


Could have been a cool game, but too many minor annoyances with control scheme, interface, etc.

BladeStorm November 5, 2009 9:58 PM

Sheilds enavted by your enemy are invisible, bots that havent moved are immune, generally if you have an armed weapon, the other player will only move his bot 0,1 or 2 squares, and not mine or arm a weapon himself. If he does this, he has used his shield and is invulnerable until he next moves.

I agree on the length of game, took me lots of games to learn to check that little guage regularly.

When you mine, just make sure that you are in the middle of a grouping of blue squares, and not just sitting on the darkest square - there is only so much u can take off a square per turn so getting some form 9 squares beats a little more from the one.

Im level 4 - shame you can't challenge people


doesent work for me, when I click play game
http://img402.imageshack.us/img402/3265/30383979.jpg it just fades out -
any ideas?

MethanalCHO June 9, 2010 4:31 PM

I find this a very enjoyable game. Considering there are not very many quality science games out there, this is one of the best there is.

The scenario described of the Energy Crash is very likely to be occuring in the near future. And the solution provided also seems like a good answer.

The gameplay system is very good, and realistic. It makes you feel as if you are actually the CEO of a lunar mining company, watching as your company mines away at helium-3 stored beneath the grey, powdered surface for gigaannia on end.

The only real problem in the game is that practically nobody knows the game exists anymore. If more people knew about the game, then it would be a lot more fun to play.

Five out of five stars.

Confusion July 19, 2010 11:11 AM

Some helpful tips here:

Strategy is not very important here. Usually one corner has more Helium 3 then the others, which means the player nearest that corner has a larger chance to win.

Concentrate on shielding, then mining, then attacking. If you're desparate or there's not many enemies left, concentrate on mining.

When you mine, you mine a patch of ground 3�-3 with your X-TRACT vehicles at the center. It is better to mine a large patch of low concentration of Helium 3 than one square of high concentration of Helium 3.

Anonymous July 10, 2011 12:09 PM

I got a 404 error when I tried to load the game from the link posted here, has Discovery Channel stopped hosting the game?

[It might be on its way out. I've found a version to host and updated the links in the review. However, it connects with the Discovery site, so it may be just a matter of time before they disable that, too. -Jay]


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