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Dark Reign: The Future of War was a Real Time Strategy game released in 1997. It demonstrated a number of features no RTS had before, such as
- Production queues
- Complex fog-of-war, which was affected by the terrain (a unit at the top of a mountain could see further than one in a forest)
- Powering down of buildings to preserve power
- Unit behavior, which would govern when a unit would retreat, how far it would chase an enemy, and how likely the unit would ignore orders and engage
- Infiltrating a building with a spy, which allowed for stealing designs for units or buildings, depending on the building entered
- A waypoint system, which allowed for paths to be saved and customized, as well as allowing for looping. Units would also perform actions at a waypoint, based on what the waypoint was selecting. Thus, it was used to instruct Freighters (resource gatherers) to avoid enemy bases to get to a specific resource. After that, it would always follow that path until the resource was depleted.
The story goes thus: Earth began to become over-populated. Soon, the Jovian Detention Administration (JDA), a group responsible for shipping prisoners to the penal colonies on the moons of Jupiter, took control of the government. Deciding to expand, the JDA cut a deal with the prisoners, known as the Sprawlers: they would find and colonize new worlds, and the JDA would grant them their freedom. Thus, the Sprawlers began to find and colonize new worlds. After two generations, mankind was flourishing on over a thousand worlds. The JDA renamed itself to the Imperium, declared itself the ruling government of the galaxy, and began ruling with an iron fist, using its control of every planet's water source to force the planets into line. Eventually, after rising dissatisfaction with the Imperium, the Sprawlers had a genetic key secretly inserted into their DNA by Imperium scientists which would kill them when they reached their 25th birthday. When the news that this condition had been caused by the Imperium leaked out many years later, the Sprawlers and a number of other unhappy with the Imperium banded together, and, calling themselves the Freedom Guard, struck back at the Imperium, starting the first galactic civil war.
You are a follower of the scientist/philosopher/religious leader Alpheus Togra. After his world is destroyed by the war, you find a probe sent by your long-lost leader. It offers you the chance to go back in time and rewrite history, saving Togra and preventing the splintering of your group. But first, you must train by fighting twelve battles in simulation, reliving the great wars of the civil war.
Each side has certain strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, each side also specialises in one specific unit type, and has a counter for the other side's specialisation.
The war was fought between
- The Freedom Guard, who specialize in infantry. Their strengths are phasing (the unit can disappear below the ground, thus becoming invisible and nigh-impervious to harm, but completely incapable of moving or shooting back) and stealth (a number of infantry units can disguise themselves as trees, rocks or bushes). However, they are at a technological disadvantage against their opponents. Their counter for the Imperium's tanks is the Tank Hunter.
- The Imperium, who specialise in tanks. Their main strength is hovering units (which consists of pretty much every tank and one infantry unit). Unlike the Freedom Guard, they don't have any Medics or Technicians, thus forcing their units to return to base for healing. They have three counters for the Guard's infantry: the Amper (which fires darts that heal the unit and make it faster and tougher, but kill it after five seconds. This is the closest the Imperium get to Medics), the Hostage Taker (that eats infantry and spits out mindless drones with satchel charges strapped to their bodies), and the Shredder (which is a ten-foot-wide circular saw hovering at about waist height. Yeah).
- In the final mission, you take control of the Tograns. Their biggest strength is that they have access to Freedom Guard AND Imperium technology. Their biggest weakness is that it requires a lot of work to get both techs (to get Freedom Guard units, you build the associated production building, which will not manufacture Imperium units, etc.).
There was a 2000 prequel that dealt with the JDA/Sprawlers conflict taking place during Earth's 26th and final century.
This game contains examples of:
- Action Bomb: Aside from the Hostage Taker's drones, the Freedom Guard has Martyrs: Sprawlers on their last months of life who seek to go out with a bang.
- All There in the Manual: The manual contains histories of the conflict, biographies, even unit specifications. However, it's accessible in game and even contains a journal written by the player character.
- Apocalypse How: What happened to Togra's world was a Class 5, rendered uninhabitable because all the water on the planet was essentially burned out of it.
- Artificial Stupidity:
- When you tell a group of units to go somewhere, they proceed in a straight line, resulting in the first few units getting their health whittled away quickly.
- If units are being fired at by artillery, they'll charge the artillery regardless of the distance, leading to them most likely charging headlong into an enemy stronghold.
- Artillery units will frequently charge out into the middle of a battlefield unless you mess with the AI settings.
- If a unit gets chased away from a position by enemy fire, they'll retreat a certain distance, then proceed back to the area where they were when they got attacked.
- Awesome McCoolname: Jeb Radec, Stiv Baator, Gregor Trilkin, Gerhard Bantrill...the list goes on.
- Black and Gray Morality: The Imperium are Black, being The Empire and poisoning most of the water in the galaxy so they can maintain control of it, while the Freedom Guard are Gray, being a bunch of screwed-over people who will do whatever is necessary to stop the Imperium and free themselves from the 25-year expiration date. Oh, and the Tograns just want to kick both of their asses so that their homeworlds don't end up in the line of fire. The Tograns were content to sit it out, but that didn't work so well the first time around.
- Bottomless Magazines: Played straight, except for air units, who either have to return to a Rearming Deck to reload, or in the case of Sky Fortresses, just recharge over time.
- Boisterous Bruiser: Triple Rail Hover Tanks.
- Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The player's side is orange. The enemy is red.
- Even more blatant in the sequel, if at least more consistent and justified by the difference in tech level. The high-tech JDA are silvery, the Sprawlers (whose gear is scavenged and jury-rigged extensively) are rust-brown.
- Determinator: Jeb Radec. He lived well beyond 25, and the popular tale is that this is because he refused to die until he saw the Imperium defeated.
- Escort Mission: Subverted because, once you find them, they fall under your control. Since every mission can be played from either side, this is also inverted, as you can go out and stop the transport escaping.
- Evil Sounds Deep: The Imperium units, when they talk. Eventually taken to ridiculous extremes.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: Every Imperium unit, with the exception of the Amper.
- Fog of War: As stated above, it came up with the complex fog used today.
- Follow the Leader: Very similar to Command and Conquer games.
- Fragile Speedster: The Guard's Spider Bikes are weaker than Imperium infantry, and are very easy to kill. The only thing going for them is their range and mobility.
- Friendly Fireproof: Averted; if units get within the Splash Damage of larger weapons, they'll take damage as well. This can be a serious complication if you're trying to back up a tank squadron with artillery, but pretty much every weapon in the game has at least minimal splash radius. Also, if your projectiles miss due to the target moving (the AI does not lead targets), and a friendly happens to be in the spot the projectile lands, that's a direct hit; unlike weapons in many other RT Ses, even single-target attacks will not Robotech to pursue a moving target.
- Gainax Ending
- Kill Sat: The Desiccator, which was used to vaporize the planet on which Togra lived.
- Large Ham: The Martyrs are extremely over-the-top, laughing maniacally and screaming at the top of their lungs. Justified, because they're basically suicide bombers and want to go out with a bang.
- Togra's voice actor is also quite hammy.
- Luck-Based Mission: The final level pits you against an extremely aggressive Imperium base and a defending Freedom Guard. If the Imperium defeat the Freedom Guard, you lose, because the Freedom Guard Orbital Defense Matrix is the only thing preventing the activation of the Kill Sat. Your success or failure entirely depends upon whether or not the Freedom Guard can hold off the Imperium long enough for you to cripple them. Then, it all depends upon whether or not the Freedom Guard attacks your base while your army is tearing the Imperium apart. Also, if the Imperium and Freedom Guard attack at the same time, you're almost guaranteed to be screwed.
- Mad Doctor: The Amper.
- Magnetic Weapons: The Freedom Guard use a lot of railguns.
- Nintendo Hard: It's similar to Command and Conquer games, but it gets much harder than any of them.
- Non-Entity General
- One-Hit Kill: The Guard's Snipers, of course (but only on infantry, which would have been far more useful in the Imperium's hands). There's also the Civilian unit Jeb Radek, who's available in the Map Editor only.
- Reinventing the Wheel: Justified. Each mission is a separate simulation, and, while in chronological order, are not related to each other.
- Scavenger World: The Freedom Guard's units, for the most part, look cobbled-together, which they supposedly are.
- Tank Goodness: The top tiers of the Imperium and the Freedom Guard produce the Tachyon Tank and the Triple Rail Hover Tank, respectively. The Freedom Guard, surprisingly, have another: the Shock Wave, a mobile Earthquake generator that can wipe out an entire army.
- Tech Tree
- The End of the World as We Know It: What will happen in the 13th mission if you fail to defend the Orbital Defence Matrix.
- Useless Useful Stealth: Averted hard; Infiltrators are incredibly useful if used correctly.
- What the Hell, Player?: Screw up a tutorial mission, and the instructor will chew you out over it.
- You Require More Vespene Gas: Mostly averted. Of the two resources, one (taelon, used for topping-up your power generators) is optional (provided you build enough generators), and the other (water) is converted into cold hard currency.
- It helps that water is a renewable resource (as long as the spring doesn't get contaminated, which does not happen by accident and is hard enough to accomplish on purpose). It's possible to strike a balance between your industrial output and the number of springs you control that results in none of the springs ever being tapped out and waiting to replenish; even if you overharvest, your freighters will obediently queue up and continue their business - it's less efficient, but your money does keep trickling in without further micromanagement on your part.
- Zerg Rush: The general AI strategy is to overwhelm you through sheer force of numbers. The combat mechanics - namely, the relative scarcity of area-of-effect damage and the indiscriminate nature of all weapons - makes this more threatening than it might otherwise be.