Grey Goo Review: Three Sides to Every Story

Grey Goo uses powerful, unique, factions and balanced tactical combat to help revitalize real-time strategy. Although its name might not sound like much, the Goo is a monstrous force to be reckoned with. How is battling against pools of sentient liquid nanotech? Our review dives in.

4

Grey Goo takes us to a different era of real-time strategy. Instead of a heavy focus on economy and gathering resources, the game emphasizes building an army using one three unique factions, customizing them with researched technologies, and using them to the best of your skill. It accomplishes this goal to a large degree, thanks to easy resource management and diversified races. However, those positive qualities can be undermined by a campaign that is marked by a steep learning curve a number of cheap narrative tricks.

Knee Deep in Goo

The "Grey Goo" refers a faction in the game comprised of liquid pool of nanotechnology. Originally designed as a means of exploring deep space by squeezing through a micro-wormhole, locating hospitable planets, and preparing them for colonization, this batch has become self-aware, and is destroying everything in its path. Throughout the course of the campaign, the Goo sets itself up to be quite a menace. Its giant pools slide all across the landscape, grabbing up resources, and dividing to form different units.

The first part of the campaign involves an alien race called the Beta. They have four arms, and can use them to carry a lot of firepower, making them ideal for players that prefer aggressive tactics. Later, you play as the human faction, a group of scientists and explorers that are tired of war, but eager to fix its mistakes by helping to eliminate the Goo. Humans are very base and defense heavy. All buildings have to be hooked up to a power grid that leads back to the main base. Although the faction has a teleporter that can send troops to almost any location in a flash, its nature makes acquiring new resources and protecting supply lines very difficult.

Expansion can be tricky, whether you're playing as the Human or Beta factions. Many of the campaign maps appear to be purposefully designed to prevent setting up fortifications near Catalyst vents. It makes building Epic units like the Hand of Ruk interesting because players will have find a clearing large enough to set up. I really wish that there was manual way to rotate buildings using the keyboard or scroll wheel, since placing buildings in the right position can become quite time consuming.

Lastly, there's the Goo. Unlike the other factions, the Goo doesn't have a base, so it can continually remain on the move. However, it does need to stay in place long enough to absorb resources from a Catalyst vent. Large "Mother Goo" pools can consume enemy units and buildings to strengthen and heal themselves, then slip through otherwise impassible mountain terrain to evade a strike group. Other Goo units can use their spindly legs to climb into those areas to rain devastation down on their enemies.

Factions generally have a small but essential selection of units and one Epic unit. Humans have a massive robotic armor called the Alpha, which slams down waves of destruction. The Goo has a giant monster goo called The Purger, that uses tentacles to tear buildings apart. But the one that I found most worthwhile is the Beta's Hand of Ruk, which is a floating fortress armed with a mega cannon, and has hardpoints where units can be mounted. The Hand of Ruk can't target its huge cannon against enemies that are too close, but these hard points more than make up for that weakness. As if all that firepower wasn't enough, the Hand of Ruk also operates as a mobile factory, so it can theoretically build its own reinforcements.

A Tough Fight

Grey Goo features some stunning visuals, especially with face-to-face character animations. The first time I saw a Beta speaking to me on screen, I really felt like I was looking at a real-life alien. The campaign tells an interesting story from multiple points of view, and the gameplay is challenging. However, Grey Goo's campaign's difficulty ramps up very quickly, and you'll need to have a firm grasp on how to best use all the different units by the second mission, because the AI can be quite relentless. Setting the difficulty down to easy helps a little, but probably not enough to help casual players and those new to real-time strategy games.

That Goo ends up being quite a monster when played by the computer, which is capable of true multitasking. Almost all missions end with a "seek and destroy" hunt, which can be infuriating, given the way Goo pools can split and slip through terrain. The game also has a habit of springing a lot of cheap surprises on players. For example, when you build the Hand of Ruk for the first time, every enemy unit will automatically know where it is and will home in on it. Almost as some strange sense of karmic retribution, you'll later have to face-off against two Hands of Ruk (and their giant cannons) when you play as the Goo faction.

Although units all have their strengths and weaknesses, and there are strategic positions like hiding in forests or gaining the higher ground advantage, Grey Goo still ends up very much being a numbers game. Even when playing as one of the less aggressive factions, players will be expected to amass a huge army and sweep through as quickly as possible. While there are counters against rush tactics, players are generally forced to move as fast and efficiently as they can against the Goo, since it's so easy for it to slip away and recover. 

Playing as the Goo doesn't make things much easier. Most of the Goo's units are too fragile to stand still in defense patterns for very long. So unless you're hiding on a remote part of the map, it's usually best to stay as mobile as possible. Things become increasingly difficult as you split off more Mother Goo pools to collect resources and produce units. Unlike factions with standing bases, setting rally points for Goo units is a little less inuitive, and they'll only continue moving as long as they remain in a liquid state, not a transformed one. So, fielding an army takes more micromanaging than with the other factions.

Conclusion

By most standards, Grey Goo is an excellent real-time strategy game with fantastically unique factions and stunning graphics. Its campaign undermines some of its positive aspects with a steep difficulty curve, some annoying "gotcha" moments, and maps that can make it difficult for expansion. Despite this, and the amount of multitasking it takes to manage over the Goo faction, you can hardly find a better real-time strategy game than Grey Goo. The three factions are exceptionally well balanced, and can be further customized to match the player's style by researching different technologies. The Goo itself, when played by a powerful multi-tasker like the computer, can be a real menace, and one that's very satisfying to take down. 

Some might take issue with how the game doesn't exactly move real-time strategy in a big direction. Its multiplayer modes are fairly standard, and its largest skirmish maps support four players in total. Meanwhile, casual players might be put-off by its difficulty. But Grey Goo innovates by providing a strong, satisfying strategy experience that gives players the freedom to play their way. There is a very good game here, even if the campaign might make it hard to see.


This review is based on a PC download code provided by the publisher. Grey Goo is available now through Steam for $49.99. The game is rated T.

Managing Editor
Review for
grey goo
8
Pros
  • Very well balanced, unique, factions
  • Excellent graphics and presentation
  • Interesting story
  • The Goo can seem monstrous and near unstoppable
Cons
  • Very steep learning curve
  • Too many missions end with Seek & Destroy
  • Base expansion can be a bit tricky
  • Playing as Goo requires a lot of micromanaging
From The Chatty
  • reply
    February 6, 2015 12:00 PM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Grey Goo Review: Three Sides to Every Story

    • reply
      February 6, 2015 1:07 PM

      You can rally the goo. The formless goo anyway. Once you split it into something it'll stop moving to the rally point. But I'll just rally a bunch of goo blobs someplace and form it into an army at the rally point.

      • reply
        February 6, 2015 2:07 PM

        Thanks for the info. I played through the entire game believing that you couldn't set up rally points because it's not as intuitive as with the base building factions. It doesn't impact the score, but I've updated thee review to reflect that it's not impossible, I just found it less intuitive.

    • reply
      February 6, 2015 2:22 PM

      I am absolutely terrible at this game. I have trouble with every. single. mission. and I'm only on mission 4 of the Betas.

      I think it's because I tend to adopt a more defensive strategy but the game rewards more offensive. I also have a really hard time getting my production up. It's just a long time between "go" and "you have production now".

      • reply
        February 6, 2015 3:12 PM

        Yeah. I've been enjoying skirmish mode and the story is interesting, but the missions are brutal. Mostly because there is usually something distant on the map you need to protect but I can't seem to defend my home base and build up a strong enough force to get to the dudes what need the protecting.