PC gaming will always be unique, if only for one reason: the relative openness of the PC allows hobbyist developers the opportunity to try their hand at game development. Without these amateur programmers, designers and artists, the game industry would certainly have less talent to mine when it comes time to staff well-heeled commercial projects. And sometimes, a part-time labor of love makes the move to full-fledged retail product. Such is the case with SunAge, an ambitious real-time strategy game from upstart developer Vertex4.
Released in Europe in November of last year, the Lighthouse Interactive-published game is due for a North American release sometime in early 2008. SunAge is a tribute to a previous 21c3 generation of RTSs - the fast-paced, isometric click-fests. Unfortunately, the game is less a tribute to classic RTS gaming and more a botched effort to copy the design and mechanics of decade-old titles. For a multitude of reasons, you'd be better served digging up an older computer and firing up a copy of Starcraft or Total Annihilation than experiencing the frustration that is SunAge.
I'll admit that there can be a twisted pleasure in ripping into an over-hyped game which under-delivers on release; seeing a big publisher get its comeuppance is sometimes satisfying. But there's little enjoyment to be had drowning a small, independent developer in layers of criticism. SunAge, however, leaves little wiggle room in this regard. Pitched on the box copy as a game which will "...bring back the good days!", SunAge is almost the culmination of over a decade of work by lead designer and programmer Roman Pfneudl. He brings his vision to life in the form of a 2D, three-faction RTS with easy-to-grasp mechanics and straightforward gameplay. The game is strictly a throwback to a time when Windows 98 was beginning to make an appearance on desktops and DirectX was just gaining a foothold as a viable game development API. This also happens to be the era of some of the most revered RTS games of all time, and this nostalgia serves to highlight the shortcomings of SunAge.
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