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Greed Corp Review [PC]

18 Dec 2010  by
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Greed Corp is a turn-based strategy title in which four pseudo-industrial factions farm some rapidly diminishing land and attempt to use the acquired profits to crush the opposition. There’s possibly a bit of a political message there if you tilt your head and look at it from the correct angle (which is all angles, because the message is louder than a shirt worn by an irradiated penguin after the final polar ice-cap has just been melted by an errant nuke.)
The game has been available on Xbox LIVE and PlayStation Network since February of this year, but has now appeared amidst the water-vapour wonders of Steam so all of us PC hermits can play it too.

Developer W!Games has taken a mantra of design simplicity to heart when designing Greed Corp, resulting in each faction being functionally identical in terms of which units and skills they have access to. The only difference between the Freemen, Cartel, Pirates and Empire teams are the (rather charming) graphic sets that each has. This is likely to be a bit of a turn-off for some – especially those more used to strategy titles featuring large factions distinct in play-style as well as look – but it gives the game a tight, classic board game feel. Each player (whether human or AI) has access to precisely the same ‘pieces,’ meaning there can be no tedious complaints about imbalanced tech-trees and the like.

A typical game plays out over 20-30 minutes (longer, if turn-time is set to unlimited and someone spends an eternity over moves) between two to four factions. Land, in the form of individual hexagons, is rapidly gobbled up. Each side has access to ‘walkers,’ which are able to claim neutral hexes, or take opposing ones if the number of walkers exceeds those defending the space (if the numbers are equal, the attacking team takes the area but both sides lose all of the walkers.)

On owned hexes, players can build harvesters, barracks and guns. The harvesters generate gold (in addition to a steadily increasing set amount given every turn,) but lower the terrain around them each turn. Eventually, hex columns will begin to collapse, taking everything on top with them. A harvester can also be set to self-destruct if you fancy taking a few nearby hexes down early. Barracks build more walkers (up to eight per turn, to a maximum of sixteen per space,) while guns can fire shells (once you’ve built and loaded them) to damage terrain or destroy walkers. Finally, every side can build up to three carriers, which can carry a set of walkers anywhere on the battlefield. If you’re the last faction standing, you win.

The fact that the game can be pretty well explained in two paragraphs is testament to the success of its simple rules structure. Cliché it may be, but Greed Corp fits rather well into the ‘easy to learn, tough to master’ category. Like chess, it’s necessary to try to think a few turns ahead. Will it be safe to build on this hex, or is it likely to be crumbling into the ether in a couple of minutes time? Should you go for the opponent encroaching on ‘your’ land, or is the guy slightly further away stockpiling a more dangerous military force? Would it be wise to let this harvester grab a little more gold for the war effort, or just self-destruct now and take out some enemies? A couple of false moves in the end-game sequence can find a winning position flipped over into a losing one.

The single player campaign features six maps for each of the four factions, which gradually unlock as you progress. For the PC version, conditions for unlocking have been eased slightly. Rather than having to complete a map to move onto the next one, points are awarded for narrow losses as well as victories, meaning you’re likely to always have at least the next couple of maps open to you. As you move through the campaign, turn-time limits also get tougher (from unlimited time, to just 45 seconds.) It’s possible to create stand-alone battles on one of the two, three or four-player maps too – meaning you can get a single-player taste of every faction without actually unlocking them.
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While single-player is engaging enough (thanks to the cleverness of the simple rules system,) it can get a little predicatable. You’ll quickly discover that when you replay maps, AI opponents follow exactly the same pattern of moves during early parts of the game, which doesn’t bode too well for the computing processes going on behind the scenes. Also, and this may just be my paranoia talking, all of the AI foes seem far more intent on taking me out than one another. When faced with two moves that are relatively equal in terms of tactical advantage, I’ve observed that the AI will more often than not attack the player. This renders the wonderful balance mechanic of all sides being equal a bit of an illusion on single-player maps with more than two factions.

Another minor annoyance concerns the camera. This will sometimes move to focus on AI activities during its turns, but if any part of the move is visible on screen (say, barely noticeable in the top corner) sometimes decides not to bother. You’ll mostly want to watch what the AI is up to, so this can be a bit irritating. A further PC-only tweak is worth mentioning at this point though; it’s now possible to press a ‘speed up’ button to hurry the AI through its turns if you’re tired of waiting.

Of course, all of these AI-related niggles can be avoided completely by firing up a multiplayer game through Steam. If you just want to play with friends, there’s a workable (if slightly clunky) method of doing so. You have to create a stand-alone battle (as with single-player,) open up some ‘online player’ slots and then invite Steam friends through the Steam overlay. Not the neatest method, and the game could certainly benefit from a simpler way to set-up a private match.

If you don’t mind who you have a game with, it’s much simpler. You just press the big ‘join game’ button, decide whether you fancy a ranked or friendly match and wait in a queue for an opponent. It’s not a huge community by any means (the leaderboards listed 150 people at the time of writing – a week after release – though more are probably just playing non-ranked matches,) but if you wait for a game during sociable hours you’ll probably get one. Just be aware that you may well end up playing people from quite a small pool.

There’s no specific ‘team’ function for, say, 2v2 games but there’s absolutely nothing to stop you having a textual whisper in the ear of a fellow Steam user during the game and trying to broker a dubious alliance.

Greed Corp has a neat birth-of-flight style look to it and a set of tunes whose musical genre I’ll probably get wrong, but which sound like a more upbeat version of what Manny Calavera was tapping his skeletal toes to in Grim Fandango. Some kind of ragtime swing jazz, maybe (if that concept exists.) Whether or not the game gets its hooks into you largely depends on how you take to the central concept of simplicity. Aside from a collection of different maps, the game really doesn’t change much throughout the single-player campaign, so you really have to be on board for the central board game-esque mechanics. Personally, I think they work rather well – but it’s a shame that the AI often lapses into predicatable patterns. Multiplayer solves this issue if you fancy playing against real actual humans, but the community doesn’t seem destined to become huge (not that this is the game’s fault, exactly.) A few interface-related annoyances relating to organising games with friends also prevent the experience being as smooth as it could be.

Greed Corp is the first in a proposed set of game set in the ‘Mistbound’ universe, so it’ll be interesting to see what W!Games come up with next. This title is a satisfying opening chapter.

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