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Freeware Friday: Warzone 2100

Welcome to Freeware Friday, a weekly column showcasing excellent games that you can play free of charge!

There's just something about designing your own goodies that no strategy fan can resist. Games like Sword of the Stars or Galactic Civilizations 2 let you design your own spaceships for use in combat, but spaceship design is a common feature in space 4X games. It's not seen often in real-time strategy games, but unit design is definitely there, and the case-in-point for this loveable feature is Warzone 2100. One of the earliest RTS games to support the custom units feature, Warzone 2100 is a blast from the past, and best of all, free and open-source. With a double whammy of free and retro, you can't really go wrong.
The plot of Warzone 2100 is bleak, yet optimistic. After a nuclear war, the survivors in a particular shelter form an organization called The Project. This organization seeks to regain the technology lost in the nuclear holocaust as well as clear out the scavengers and bandits that ransack the outside world. Soon after establishing their first external bases, they are attacked by other organizations, which are under the control of a mysterious group called Nexus. As the story progresses, the player must fend off attacks as well as put together assault teams to push forward and reclaim the planet.

While the main story is elucidated in cutscenes before each mission, the campaign itself tells quite a bit of the story. Chronicling the search for advanced cybernetics technology, the campaign quickly moves into a race for survival, where the player must eliminate the enemy within the time limit to survive. The unique part is that roughly half of the missions take place on the same map, only enlarged with each new mission. This means that expanding your base is completely necessary for survival, and the distances between your base and the enemy base quickly because quite large. Along with the time limit, this dramatically increases the difficulty of the game as time goes on. It's an interesting mechanic that not many other games have explored, unfortunately.

The other half of the campaign is spent on away missions. Here is where your true mettle is tested, as you can only bring so many units with you. While this wouldn't be much of a problem normally, you are also timed. Luckily, your dropship heads back to base on a regular basis to acquire more units, but it takes time to travel to the mission zone. If you send construction units along with the main party, you can construct things like defenses to lure the enemy into, but you cannot outright build a new base, which is sort of a disappointment. It would have been cool to build new bases in new locations, which can then funnel resources to your original base.

When it comes to fighting in Warzone 2100, you must do something before actually performing the attack: design your units. The design of units boils down into three sections, each of which adding elements such as health and cost to the overall design of the unit. These sections are:

  • The body, which determines the health and armor of the unit. You can design your units with any body you have researched, which boils down to a light, medium, and heavy body for each faction. The most balanced of all the bodies in terms of cost-effectiveness are easily The Project's, but the Nexus bodies are the best in terms of specialization (more health, lower weight, etc.)
  • The mover, which determines how your unit gets around as well as the speed of your unit and what terrain it can travel over. For example, wheels are very fast, but can only travel over some terrain types and aren't very durable. Treads are slow, but add more health and can go over virtually anything.
  • The weapon, which determines just exactly what your unit is. Note that it is not always a weapon. While you might put a mobile mortar on one unit, the next could have a radar dish to detect enemies outside your line of sight, or a repair crane to continually repair your units.

This design portion allows players to customize their playstyle exactly how they want. Want to be an artillery commander that bombs the living hell out of anything that moves? Get some radar and mortar units, with a collection of extra, direct-attack units to defend your army. Want to smash through enemies with massive force? Do the opposite, with heavy direct-attack involvement. Both are effective, and it's up to you to figure out just how you want to approach combat. Note that in combat, attacks are actually physically simulated. If an enemy unit moves away from an attack while it is in mid-firing, and the attack isn't homing, the enemy will not take any damage. Likewise, if somebody else moves in front, they will take the hit. Accuracy and positioning play a very important role, and can really only be increased through experience. The more units eliminate enemies, the more effective they are.

The skirmish and multiplayer mode function much like the normal game, except with no time limits and no research limits. You can research everything from the start without the need to go looking for new technology. You can build anywhere on the map from the very start, and the oil derricks that give you resources are often much faster at it than in the campaign. Understandably, games in this mode are far faster paced than they are in the story section of the game, and it's incredibly fun. Easily one of the best multiplayer games we have played.

Warzone 2100 is one of the excellent, overlooked RTS games that any fan really must play. It innovates in new and interesting ways that other games, most notably Earth 2150, borrowed. An excellent mix of traditional real-time strategy, grand strategy, and unit design helps elevate it above its peers. You can download Warzone 2100 through the official website or right here on Big Download, and there is a map editor for all your skirmish and multiplayer needs on the official site. Everyone is in luck here, as it is available on PC, Mac, and Linux!

For another look at freeware games, take a peek at Joystiq's Free Game Club weekly feature!

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