Warzone 2100: A hidden gem repolished
Warzone 2100 is a real-time strategy/ real-time tactics game originally released in 1999 by long defunct developer Pumpkin Studios and published by Eidos. Its initial release included PC and Playstation 1 versions of the game in April and May of 1999 respectively. Unfortunately, within a year of release Pumpkin studios had dropped support of the game and were shuttered by Eidos. The story of this game doesn’t end there however; by November of 2000 a group named N.E.W.S.T had released their first unofficial patch. N.E.W.S.T eventually became Pumpkin-2 and they continued to release patches up until 2004 when Eidos allowed the release of the source code under the GPLv2 license. Work started on a sequel to the game which would have been called Total Warzone, In 2008 Eidos clarified the license of the game allowing the use of every asset in the original, this effectively stopped the sequel and a new project took over. The aptly named Warzone Re-Development Project used the resources from the would-be sequel to enhance their rebuild of the original. The latest build by the Warzone 2100 Project (Warzone Re-Development Project renamed) features new textures, higher screen resolutions, improved AI, weapon balancing, new defensive structures, and multiplayer stability.
But what was it that made this game so deserving of almost 15 years of fan development? It certainly didn’t release very strong, that much can be said. In 1999 it faced immediate competition from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, Homeworld, and Age of Empires II: Age of Kings. This list of very heavy hitters is just a small part of the dozens of remarkable games released then. When you have that many classics hitting the market so quickly it’s easy to see why a title, despite being a very solid title, was missed by the masses. Those that did play it saw something very new to strategy games at the time. The campaign told a fairly generic tale but the game play was spectacular. Each mission had you originating from a home base which you shaped over consecutive missions and ranged from “away” missions where you might only have a limited number of handpicked units to base defense and assault. As the story progressed you unlocked new technologies. Using these technologies you could create stronger and very diverse units; the unit designer allowed you to choose the weapon, chassis, and propulsion all of which changed the health, speed, cost, and damage of units. This customization combined with the huge choice of weapons and other components added a certain level of tactical flexibility you didn’t see in other games of the era and even today. You could produce swarms of cyborg troops to overrun emplacements, pound away from a distance with mobile artillery, carpet bomb areas or surgically strike critical buildings with VTOLs, or just crush everything beneath heavy armor. Of course those of you who are more inclined to turtling could build defenses that would put the Maginot line to shame as well. No matter what your preferred style of play is, you can find something you will enjoy doing in Warzone. Additionally, the graphics engine was leaps and bounds ahead of other strategy games excluding Homeworld. Fully 3D models of units and buildings, 3D mesh terrain, and a camera that you could pan, rotate, and zoom into the perfect positions to overview your base or get into the thick of raging battles.
The game play, unit customization, technology tree, and the graphics, truly made this game standout to some but, unfortunately, not enough. The fan projects which followed all worked towards expanding upon these core concepts and for the most part succeeded. On release, the multiplayer skirmish mode allowed only a small part of the tech tree to be used but now the entire tech tree is available plus a few inventive additions and it’s a doozy. On top of that we have re-skinned textures and higher screen resolutions so it’s not as much of an eyesore as you might expect. The last solo attempt to reach the end of it took me about 8 hours of game time at which point I was rolling around with self-healing tanks the size of supermarkets. Development continues to tweak the balance of this game; it won’t be joining the competitive E-sport rosters anytime so if you want a very involved but very fun brawl with friends then I would heartily recommend this game.
Really, really fond memories of some of these classic games. I remember spending hours, days, weeks and months on Alpha Centauri. Civilization has long been my favorite PC game and having it set in space just made it even more enticing. C&C was awesome also and Homeworld I simply fell in love with. The graphics were outstanding on that game for that time (I suspect it would actually hold up quite well)