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Vol. 2, Issue 2
November 18, 1999

The Bargain Bin:

Total Annihilation

by Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon



s my kids slowly grow older I find myself continually searching for new games that maximize their enjoyment without overloading the learning curve. What I mean to say is, I want them to be able to jump right into a game without having to go through a hefty manual or spend time reading information on the screen for what to do next. Especially since the youngest of my gamers is 3 (my youngest is nearing 2), and can’t read just yet.

Often I’ll go through the archives on my computer and search for older games that I’ve stopped playing but I think they might find enjoyable. And the other day I came across Total Annihilation. Amazingly, I was first introduced to TA at a LAN party and immediately fell in love. I got crushed helplessly against 4 other veteran players but it didn’t diminish my delight in finding this new RTS.

click to enlarge!

In Total Annihilation, stuff blows up real good.

Total Annihilation is a Real Time Strategy (RTS) war-type simulation. You must gather resources to fund your campaign, and continually upgrade and build new technologies and structures to advance in strength. It comes with a complete single-player campaign, where you can select to be on either side of the battle (CORE vs ARM), and comes with full multiplayer support.

Total Annihilation has been followed by a plethora of other RTS war-type games, but it wasn’t until I loaded it up again that I noticed what made it great the first time around. There are a lot of things I like about this game, that I haven’t seen duplicated in others. Let me go through a few of them here.

You can build all types of military units, including walking KBOTS or wheeled tanks and gun-toting jeeps, and in this game they don’t wait to be told where to shoot to start attacking enemies. That’s nothing new, right? But, even when you’ve given them a new location to move to, they will attack enroute. This is a feature I haven’t seen in other games. In most RTS games, when you move a unit, it won’t attack an enemy until it has completed it’s assigned move. This is really incredibly annoying if you’ve moved a number of units, gone off to check another part of your battle, and come back only to find that they’ve walked through an enemy ambush and have had their asses handed to them on a silver platter. In TA, they are proactive when meeting enemies, no matter what their assigned action. Plus it’s configurable. You can turn this feature off if it isn’t working out, though I’ve never had or wanted to.

Resources are unlimited. Again, I’ve never seen this anywhere else. Your two prime resources are metal and energy. Metal can be found in bottomless mines or by recovering wreckage, and energy is amply abundant from light, wind, and gas sources. Limited resources to me means there is a timer on the battle. Perhaps to eliminate wars of attrition or battles that last to the wee hours because wars have unlimited funding. In my experience however, this is never the case. Unlimited resources means one less thing to worry about. More attention can be spent on the battle itself. I like it.

The waypoint system is still top of the line. Other games have gone with waypoints, but I’m sure TA was one of the first. When my younger son starts up a campaign and needs help, in moments I can set up a dozen different actions for his Commander to accomplish and then leave him to play. 5 minutes later I can come back to find his base is established and he is amassing an army for an all-out war. I see Age of Empires 2: Age of Kings is using waypoints now. Who do I thank for that?

You can select and group any number of units. This is not unique, but it’s a big beef I have with games like Warcraft and Starcraft. Hey Blizzard, listen up! If they didn’t make such badass games, I wouldn’t play them.

The control you have over your units is nearly perfect. You can have a unit or group of units: guard, patrol, or just sit where they are and not move. I hate playing an RTS and suddenly find that my units have taken off after some wandering enemy unit that was no danger in the first place. Sure other games are configurable (just as TA is configurable, but I’ve never once had to change it) in how much initiative you want your units to have, but it just doesn’t seem intuitive as it is in TA. In those other games, I’m getting too much or not enough. My particular beef on AOE2 on this subject: how the heck do I get units to stay where they are? There’s no Stay put command! I have to move catapults way back from any potential battle near my base, or they just strike out on their own and cause considerable damage to my own structures and units.

The battles are fun. How do I explain this? My kids get an absolute thrill at watching the vehicles go at each other and the mass destruction that ensues as a result (wonder what Mynx would say about this). They hoop and holler and then send in more. The battles are realistic, as are the weapon animations and explosions.

Of course, TA is showing signs of age. The graphics certainly are nowhere near top of the line (not sure they were then either), and the menu system is a bit clumsy, but I can easily look past that. In my opinion, TA is a whole lot of fun and still ranks up there with any popular RTS game of today. Plus it runs damn fast on my pathetic P200. If you’re a fan of RTS games and haven’t checked it out, go hit the bargain bins. TA is a great game and I will continue to recommend it.

- Russell "RadPipe" Lauzon is some guy who just walked into the loonygames office and started calling himself Features Editor. The position wasn't filled so we kept him.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dan Zalkus. This edition of The Bargain Bin is © 1999 Russell Lauzon. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.