Dark Reign: The Future Of War

Dark Reign Engulfs Real-Time Strategy With A Vengeance

At first glance Activision’s Dark Reign looks like another real-time sci-fi tactical battle game. Ah yes…scores of flashbacks race through your cerebral cortex representing the same kind of bleak, brutal, futuristic sci-fi warfare that so many other RTS games have been based on. You see visions of the formulaic back story of brutal galactic hegemony versus a valiant but doomed cadre of revolutionaries. There are the too-familiar paradigms of resource management and troop build-up, of overhead mapped views and mission scenarios steadily escalating in difficulty. Much of this might tempt you to dismiss the game with a resounding “Been there, done that.”

Not so fast, where do you think you’re going? Dark Reign is inherently different than it’s RTS predecessors. The game is the RTS game success story of 1997 along with Total Annihilation from Cavedog. It offers a plethora of new trappings to further enhance the RTS gaming experience. Clearly Activision prove they are formidable opponents and are a landmark contributor to the ever developing genre of RTS games. Make no mistake about it, Dark reign is not an average RTS game and in a few moments you will see why.

Keep in mind that the aforementioned elements are external trappings that are unavoidable in the RTS game genre.


Bellowed in the depths of Dark Reign’s mundane exterior beats the heart of a robust, challenging and flexible wargaming engine. The war begins as the player is thrown into the world of Freedom Guards and the Imperium. If that isn’t enough, Activison throws a WYSIWYG scenario editor that is easy to use and provides “whoop ass” replay value.

Dark Reign’s flexibility allows the gamer to play in various different ways. He/she can start with the four tutorial missions. Or he/she can jump right into the game through the instant action mode, which lets the gamer play on any of the 50 multiplayer maps, or on maps of their own design.

Take on the challenge of a grand campaign consisting of twelve increasingly difficult scenarios played in order. Play the campaign from either the Imperium or Freedom Guard’s point of view and switch sides after every mission. The final battle a.k.a. the “final conflict” scenario is your chance to defeat Dark Reign’s war driven macabre.

The campaign game presents a smoothly navigable learning curve, offering up a few new technologies and unit types to both sides at each step along the way. You’re not allowed to rest on your laurels here — the strategies that may have worked for you on a mission where you mounted an attack from an established base will prove useless for the guerrilla-style running battle of the prison break mission

One of Dark Reign’s strengths is that the player can avoid playing the campaigns. Creative ideas in the missions themselves are a combination of puzzles to be solved rather than ammo driven open-ended battles to be won. The Red Alert missions will please the gamer since they will see more of the same here. Missions are not linear they have multiple goals, and while many can be achieved by force and numbers, others may have the gamer reloading a number of times to find out just what they should have done.

Dark Reign’s two-pronged resource management scheme is well thought out, requiring you to gather water (for credits) and “taelon” (for power generation). Your ability to carry on the battle depends as much on your skill in locating, exploiting and defending sources of water and taelon as it does on how well you are able to marshal your troops.

Virtual Urth ratings Scale (1-5):
Buck Value: 3.5
Gameplay: 4
Originality: 4
Music: 3.5
Availability: NOW!

Final Verdict –“One more turn.”
Good solid games (80-90%)

The mechanism for generating new units in Dark Reign sports some welcomed refinements over previous RTS games. It’s possible to queue up multiple units for production and a facility can crank out as many as 10 units without further intervention. However, having on or more unit production facility will not increase the 10 unit limit. You can also set the exit point for newly produced units, so that once a unit has been built it will immediately proceed to where it’s needed. This exit point feature can also be set for repair facilities.

The balance of units between the Imperium and Freedom Guard forces is well crafted, with neither side possessing a spoiler unit. For an RTS game to succeed an equilibrium should be maintained. This element saves Dark Reign from Red Alert’s fatal flaw: the infamous tank rush tactic and the ever so difficult Krush, Kill N Destroy.

Dark Reign’s gameplay further enhance gameplay providing a smooth and user-friendly interface. The game exhudes a real-time adrenaline rush as the combat unfolds. The chugging, orchestrated background music keeps the player on their toes as it accelerates the suspense and anticipation of an enemy attack!

Dark Reign’s sound effects are elaborate and provide the appropriate ambience. Each unit sports its own “war call” and is accompanied by it’s distinctive sound. The graphics are also well rendered, with enough smoke, flames and gore to satisfy all but the most jaded of gamers. While the terrain and landscape graphics are appealing, at times the tactical effects of terrain aren’t taken sufficiently into account.

A small yet crucial element overlooked in Dark Reign is its incomplete documentation. The game manual does an excellent job of describing actual game play. Once you get beyond the basics of playing the game and start delving into advanced features, however, the documentation becomes sketchy. The settings screen for instant action missions is one of the few under documented areas that offers a bewildering array of controls whose purpose only becomes apparent after a lot of trial and error. Dark Reign holds a lot of potential for serious RTS enthusiasts, part of the attraction towards RTS games is the figuring out of a lot of hidden pleasures. Overall, Dark Reign represents an excellent incremental step in the development of RTS games. It’s a game that breaks new ground and succeeds at doing the familiar RTS elements better.

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