By – John Williamson

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The RTS genre has been dwindling in popularity for quite some time and only produced a handful of prominent games such as Starcraft II and Company of Heroes 2. Starcraft’s competitive scene is extremely daunting for newcomers and alienates a large quantity of potential players. While Company of Heroes 2 is more accessible, the campaign and core gameplay is a shadow of its predecessor and a step back in the series. As you can imagine, RTS games are a modern rarity, and out of the blue or more accurately Goo, comes a brand new IP from Petroglyph Games. This particular developer retained a number of key members from Westwood Studios who created the iconic Command and Conquer franchise. Grey Goo is designed to be a classic, methodically paced RTS which lovingly honors strategy games from a bygone era.

Throughout Grey Goo, you play as one of three factions; the Humans, Beta and Goo all vying for resources on a mysterious planet called Ecosystem 9. The basic premise revolves around the idea that a silent force is poised to destroy the harmonious and tranquil nature of the solar system. Without hinting at any major spoilers, the narrative contains a web of intrigue with superb, unique characters and fairly impressive voice acting. The plot is carried by a wealth of beautifully modelled cutscenes which illustrate the detail gone into the alien races.  Personally, I prefer a less-serious tone and comedic feel but the progression is done in a thoughtful and engaging manner.

Grey Goo’s campaign features 15 missions equally spanned across the 3 factions and employs a varied set of objectives. Each faction has its own individual traits which maintains a balanced environment for the intense confrontations. Humans opt for a defensive and cautious approach slowing reinforcing the main base and factories. In direct contrast to this, the Goo are reckless, unpredictable and unbelievably aggressive self-replicating nanobots that transform downed enemies into new troops. As a result, their strength makes for a dangerous opponent. The Betas adopt a more versatile strategy and alter their focus using logic and probability. Obviously, 3 unique factions with diametrically opposed abilities and units are the standard fare but once again I was impressed with the creative and logical stance which creates a wonderful arena for combat.

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Another intriguing design philosophy is the use of Epic Units instead of traditional high powered weapons. This system relies on supplementary armies which offer support while the Epic Units focus their fire on specific targets. I prefer this system as it allows you to confuse the enemy and draw away their fire using a large quantity of fairly disposable minor troops. Using a secondary army as canon fodder may be unconventional but it surely makes for it a cogent military tactic.

One consideration to take into account is the rather enclosed map size which doesn’t give you a large room to maneuver or set up complex structures. This is all down to personal tastes but I was crying out for a slightly more detailed landscape with an increased mass. The end result is your tactical options are limited to either flanking, hiding in foliage or attacking the enemy head on. After replaying missions a couple of times, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the game becomes too linear and enforces a recommended strategy. However, there is a superb map editor, brimming with options which might alleviate these concerns and offer larger maps in the future. It’s important to remember that user-content will only apply to the skirmish mode and multiplayer and not the main campaign.

Grey Goo is based on a slow pace with contests lasting between 25mins to an hour. Despite this lengthy duration, the missions never become a chore or make you aware of the overall pacing. The methodical gameplay formulates a more cathartic experience as you analyse each decision in a calm way. You could argue that part of this slow pace comes from a single energy source called Catalyst. This determines the rate of production and you have to carefully monitor the UI to gauge your economic rating and current output. Relying on a single source for economic support is quite a novel idea that works surprisingly well.

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Petroglyph Games have also catered to novice players using an extensive tutorial which provides hints during early missions as the action becomes increasingly more complicated. The tutorials in many RTS games are frankly rubbish and don’t explain even basic principles very well. In Grey Goo, the hints are provided in a graphical form and easily digestible fashion with the first 2-3 missions being a progressive tutorial. This level is accessibility is further assisted by the clear UI and use of texts instead of vague images for key functionality.

Even though there is some help for newcomers, the AI within the campaign is a major challenge even on the normal difficulty setting and may deter a lot of users who are inexperienced with the genre. I cannot emphasize this enough, if you are a novice player and want to jump into the game expecting a reasonable challenge then you are going to get frustrated very quickly. Your opponents are intelligent, very quick and aggressive and mobilize on your position in large numbers. They tend to fight you on multiple fronts and have a small team moving towards you early on whilst creating a secondary larger army. To put this into perspective, if you are a total beginner and start off slow, within a few minutes, your entire base can be surrounded by an occupied force. The situation is far from bleak though as there is an easier difficulty, but all that seems to do is lower the number of hits needed to destroy each unit. I also became quite suspicious of the AI’s ability to hunt for plentiful supplies of restricted resources. At times, it feels almost like they are cheating but I couldn’t find any evidence to support this theory. Overall, the AI is a catch 22 situation; it provides an excellent challenge but adds a massive difficulty barrier and makes it a poor entry into the RTS genre.

In addition to the campaign, there is a comprehensive skirmish mode with variable objectives. For example, you can decide if every unit has to be destroyed, just the HQ or all major buildings to complete a successful mission. Other customizable settings include altering the number of teams and enabling/disabling Epic Units. By default, the map selection is very small but you can download custom maps from the Steam Workshop. This one features adds a huge amount of replayability providing the game maintains a stable user base. Strangely enough, the AI appears to be a lot more conservative in this mode and pose a smaller challenge. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case but it might be to prolong the campaign length by making you replay missions.

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The multiplayer has a bucketload of potential and could create a competitive scene. I’m not convinced it would become a paid, esport type arena, but the high skill level required may attract RTS enthusiasts. It’s far from perfect though as currently, support is limited to 4 players via 1v1 or 2v2 matches which is pretty disappointing. In a similar vein to the skirmish mode, the amount of maps rely far too much on user-content. On a more positive note, you can engage in LAN contests which would be fairly enjoyable at Gaming expos. As you might expect, the main problem which plagues a lot of RTS games is the lack of players . At the time of review, there were 224 active players but 99.9% of these stick to the single player component. The lobbies are virtually empty, and if you do get a match, the variation in skill level is almost unbearable. I attempted to host and join the sole match that emerged and the experience felt rather awkward and unpolished. Hopefully, the multiplayer will pick up in the coming months when the price starts to fall and by that time, patches should have remedied the connection woes.

From a technical perspective, Grey Goo is an excellent PC game with a gorgeous aesthetic and stupendous soundtrack from the legendary, award winning composer, Frank Klepacki who worked on the Command and Conquer Red Alert score. The medley of adrenalin-fuelled music adds to the apprehension during each contest. Moving onto the options menu, you can rebind the keys and assign hotkeys. There are separate volume sliders which is quite handy if you want to heighten the speech level to hear feedback on enemy movements. I was surprised to see a jukebox function allowing you listen to the entire range of musical tracks. In terms of available resolutions, you can select between 16:9 and 16:10 panels. Additionally, there is a windowed mode and borderless window mode meaning the game is perfectly playable using a smaller amount of desktop real estate.

There are a whole host of graphical settings including depth-of-field, dynamic lighting, particles, shaders, fog, texture quality, bloom and more. At Maximum settings, the game can be fairly demanding especially at resolutions above 1920×1080. This issue is compounded if you press ALT+TAB at any time which appears to cause some stutter.  In my personal rig, I use a Intel i7 4770K @ 4.6GHz, 16GB 2400MHz RAM, and Sapphire Vapor-x 290x 8GB cards in a crossfire configuration. With this machine, I managed to get an average of 74fps at 2560×1440 with a maximum of 110fps and minimum of 48. This indicates that some optimization needs to be done in both single and dual card setups.

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Conclusion – Is It Worth Your Money?

Grey Goo, despite its terrible name is a superb, hardcore RTS and pays homage to beloved old-school strategy games whilst adding a modern twist. The gameplay relies on macromanagement and balancing of a single energy supply which is quite a unqiue idea.  I must once again emphasize that there is a high difficulty curve which could infuriate novice players and users expecting to master the game in a fairly short time. In all honesty, Grey Goo is quite inventive and one of the best RTS games of the last decade.

Grey Goo Technical Summary:

  • Time Played – 13 hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • Resolution Played – 2560×1440
  • Windowed Mode – Yes
  • Bugs/Crashes – Stutter after pressing ALT+TAB and optimization issues
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse
  • DRM – Steamworks
  • System Specs – Intel I7 4770K, 16GB RAM, Sapphire Vapor-X 290X 8GB
  • Game Acquisition Method – Review Copy
  • Availability – Steam
  • Demo – No
  • Save Game Location – /Documents/Petroglyph/Goo/Save

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  • trincetto

    Why didn’t I hear about Grey Goo before? Maybe I did, but forgot about it because of the silly name. I used to love RTS games — especially the Command & Conquer series — and played many of them in the past, despite being pretty bad at the genre.
    Thank you for the great review, I wouldn’t have found out the game otherwise!

    • John Williamson

      Thank you very much, that means a lot! It’s probably just been overlooked due to poor marketing but luckily I found it while browsing the new releases tab on Steam. I’m far from the best RTS player out there, but I enjoy the challenge and tactical thought required. The name is rather silly, and undervalues it which is a shame.