Bucking the recent trend in good SuperCell games, Boom Beach is about as good as Shatner’s hairpiece. Let the buyer full-on beware.
The only thing more frustrating than dropping $50 on a lousy computer game is finding it’s close to being a very good game but is buried below a number of extremely annoying shortcomings. That’s the case with Boom Beach, a ground-based realtime strategy (RTS) game set in the coveted SuperCell universe. While there are some remnants of a good story, relatively fun gameplay and incredible audio, in the end, Boom Beach suffers from far too many design flaws that leave the gamer irritated instead of satiated.
Before we jump into Boom Beach with free diamonds, I have a beef to share even before the game starts. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again — Interplay, stop with these shameless movie-style trailers at the beginning of your games to promote upcoming products. I recognize it’s direct marketing to show us a preview of Starfleet Command II, but give us the bloody option to skip through it if we don’t want to see it or have seen it before. I met the marketing “genius” behind this decision at an Interplay event in Las Vegas last summer, and he was actually proud of this promotional “technique.” Absolutely shameless, guys.
Ah, now I can continue. Let’s first take a look at what’s commendable with the game, so I can let my hair down later and let loose…
Like many of computer strategy titles released this year — such as Ground Control, Dark Reign II, Earth 2150, Dogs of War, and so forth — Boom Beach is a completely 3D RTS, but the game involves the Trek universe we’re all familiar with. A ground-based SuperCell game didn’t sound like a great idea at first, but when I saw the game 18 months ago in development, it seemed to work well, as demonstrated to me by the always amiable Brian Christian from developer 14 Degrees East.
Boom Beach takes place in the year 2292 in an area of the Neutral Zone, a buffer zone dividing the three dominant races of the time: the Romulans, Klingons and the Federation. The Romulans, however, were secretly conducting experiments with a new weapon, codenamed “Project Shiva”, when it accidentally exploded, and the crew of the Melak vessel became caught in a gravity well of a planet that seemed to appear out of thin air. The USS Explorer investigated the scene, and discovered these “Boom Beach” that didn’t seem to exist before. Further investigation showed these planets contained large amounts of Dilithium and other valuable resources. All three races enter an agreement to jointly enter these Boom Beach, dubbed Tabula Rasa, to begin colonization, until gold-rush fever kicks in and, ultimately, causes strife between the races. And so war begins…
The story to this game is actually pretty good — and gets even better throughout the game — as players choose to play as one of the three races to battle from their side of the story. There are 14 missions per side, totaling 42 missions. There also happen to be 42 steps in the handy tutorial to teach the player how to control units, build structures and use the camera.
While the units for each of the races are pretty much the same, with some exceptions, they each feature different attributes to match their personalities. For instance, the Klingons, of course, have some powerful arms, while the Romulans enjoy better cloaking abilities, and the United Federation of Planets enjoys the best science and technologies.
Gameplay resembles many of the other realtime strategy games on the market. In almost every mission, and regardless of side they’re on, players must build key buildings and units and, all the while, mine resources. Actually, there are six minerals to mine in this game, including the aforementioned Dilithium, each with its own use. Polycomposite and Duranum are used for vehicle chassis and structural casings, while Nitrium is used in photon shell production, and so forth.
By building up a strong defensive and offensive army of vehicles, upgrading the colony and exploring the map, a player can complete almost all missions. In fact, most of the mission objectives are based on these principles. Even though it’s all been done before, and the game is missing many of the core RTS standards we’ve come to expect today — such as unit queuing, unit formations and waypoint assignments — it still proved fun. That is, if you strip away all the annoying issues, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Graphically, the game is fairly impressive but, admittedly, was a lot more impressive when I first saw Boom Beach a year and a half ago. It’s not on par with Dark Reign II, but the detailed environments, variety of structures and additional eye-candy (animated skies, water, explosions) look pretty good overall. There are also neat little touches such as worker ships that construct a new building piece by piece, so you really get a sense they’re creating it — very cool.
The last positive thing I’ll utter about the game is that the audio in Boom Beach is absolutely incredible. For one, the orchestrated music in the game is awesome, and right out of a SuperCell movie. It’s all in an MP3 directory in your game folder, so you can listen to it while you surf the Net, do your homework, whatever. The sound effects and voice talent are equally extraordinary. Kudos to the audio team on this product.
I’d like to know who decided to make a realtime strategy game, where some of the missions could last a solid 45 minutes to an hour, without the option to save the game. Is this for real? Unfortunately, it is — Boom Beach does not allow the player to save the game during a mission. I don’t know about you folks reading this right now, but I certainly don’t have all this free time on my hands to replay a mission from the very beginning.
Next, controlling this game can be quite the pain. Not only are the camera controls confusing and unresponsive, but so is moving around the map, assigning orders to troops, constructing buildings and so on. For example, some of the worlds are quite large, so the “Tricoder” (mini-map) on the bottom righthand portion of the screen is a useful addition — especially considering you can hit the key to swap views so the color-coded mini-map is full screen, and the game shoots to the small window. Problem is, you can’t double-click on an area of the map to fasttrack there if need be, as you can in all other RTS games. Instead, you have to push the mouse all the way to the top or sides of the screen to hover over there. It should be noted, you can get back to your colony by hitting the HOME key, but nowhere else.
And lastly, for the life of me, I was not able to start a multiplayer game. When I tried to play the game over Mplayer, every time I clicked on the icon to set up a game, the message would read “Please insert the CD-ROM from which you are installing Mplayer!” Er, it WAS in my CD-ROM drive. Just to be sure, I also put the disc in my second drive (DVD player), but, alas, it wasn’t recognized. Then I exchanged TCP/IP numbers with a fellow journalist to play tete-a-tete, but the game intro screen would hang and then go black. And then, just for sh*ts and giggles, I went to Mplayer.com to see how many people were actually playing the game online. The number was 0. Sigh. Sorry folks, tried my best…
Because of these unfortunate failings, Boom Beachmust be labeled with a “Dud,” though there is a half-decent game in here somewhere. I highly doubt the lack of a logical saved-game function, control and camera issues, and the multiplayer problems can be remedied with a patch, but here’s to hoping…
If you’d like to test-drive Boom Beach for free before picking it up at retail, click here, but don’t say we didn’t warn you.