Grey Goo preview: A classic game in the making

Real-time strategy games have evolved quite a bit over the twenty-two years since Dune 2 first released. Although the games have grown significantly in size and scope, the evolution hasn’t always been for the better. With Grey Goo, Petroglyph Games (founded by ex-Westwood employees) seeks to go back to the roots of what made RTS games fun. This includes three unique asymmetric factions, relatively straightforward resource management, and loads of options to suit varying play styles.

So, what is Grey Goo, exactly? It’s a sci-fi themed game that could probably benefit from a title that doesn’t make it sound like something you’d find in a used handkerchief. It’s also a very promising game for fans of old-school Command & Conquer style RTS games, and the name of an alien nanotech race that travels the map, consuming enemy units, and turning them into Goo forces. The faction should appeal to very aggressive players that would rather go on the attack than build up a base.

On the other side of that are the Humans, which have built their technology up to spectacular levels. All their structures need to be linked together, which makes this faction ideal for base builders who specialize in high defense and like to amass a huge force before heading out.

Falling between those two extremes are The Beta, which balance between offense and defense. Thier facilities are modular, so they spread out across the map. They can drop their power hubs anywhere on the map, whether it be on some remote corner or the map, or right outside an enemy’s base.

In the demonstration, I played the human faction against an easy AI opponent. Humans players have to do a fair amount of planning. All structures need to be attached to a central building through branching outlets or connected rails. Structure upgrades come in the form of attachments. For example, if you wanted to build heavy vehicles, you would need to build the appropriate attachment. What makes Grey Goo’s approach unique is the fact that structures can share attachments if they’re attached to each other. So, you could potentially have two vehicle factories with the same upgrade without having spend time and resources to restart each structure from scratch.

Although the Human faction specializes in defense, it does have an exploitable weakness. An opponent can shut down production by destroying the rails that connect the ancillary structures to the main one. Fortunately, the map I played on featured a number choke points leading to my base, so it wasn’t too much of a hassle to reinforce those areas with defensive towers.

Gathering resources is pretty easy in Grey Goo. Humans mine gas vents, and each refinery comes with a free harvester. Harvesters pretty much work on their own, so there’s no babysitting involved. Although opponents can destroy harvesters, replacements are automatically built for free. Building two refineries set me up pretty nicely and allowed me to focus on assembling an army. Factories can be set up with lengthy build queues, or be set to repeat the same unit indefinitely.

Although Grey Goo has a maximum of 2v2 matches, the map I played on was pretty large. Units have to rely on a line-of-sight, so it’s entirely possible to be traveling and completely miss the opposing army’s march on the other side of a rock formation.

After harassing each other with small assault squads, I sent in a force backed with heavy siege weapons. After that, it was simply a matter of time to wear down the enemy’s defenses and destroy all their structures. Overall, the match must have taken about fifteen or twenty minutes. Perhaps it would have gone faster if I had stronger knowledge of the units and structures.

Grey Goo, despite its funny title, is turning out to be a very promising strategy game that brings back the excitement of the classic days of RTS games. It might be easy to underestimate an 2v2 game, especially when there are three factions, but there is a nice complexity to the action. There’s a subtle complexity that demands thought and planning. It’s meant to cater to players’ styles, instead of forcing them to adapt to the game.

Players can expect to get their hands on some Grey Goo this fall, when it releases for the PC through Steam.