Sometimes, for reasons entirely unbeknownst to me, I'll go months on end without actually checking out games that I really meant to give a try. Such is the case with Glest, an open source (GPL) 3D real-time strategy game and relative newcomer to the scene. It's been out for a few months now, so I really have no excuse for taking so long to give it a look but, since it had an update this week I realized it's time had come at last.
Let's start at the beginning here. I was in no way prepared for the level of polish I was presented with upon running Glest for the first time. Its menu screens are beautiful, with the camera gracefully navigating fully 3D backgrounds as you make your way through the initial options. In most of the open source games I've seen (a few, like Planeshift, are excused from this discussion) menus are, quite rightfully, more of an afterthought than anything else. After all, what is the point of lovely menu screens when the actual game suffers as a result?
Beyond the main menu, Glest continues to sparkle. Although I haven't yet had a chance to play through them all, the maps I've seen appear to be well crafted, both from the gameplay and aesthetic sides of the fence, although with current lack of multiplayer, I could see certain balance issues popping up in the future. The background music, oft lacking in many open source offerings (for obvious reasons, we're not all composers), fits nicely with the epic nature of a game like this. For the more graphically-oriented among you, there are also some really nice particle effects at work, especially for burning structures, which look awesome.
Gameplay is more or less your standard RTS fare, but I doubt that most people looking to play an RTS will mind this. One area where Glest stumbles is an apparent pothole that most of its open source peers have hit as well: its lack of an in-game tutorial. Granted these aren't the easiest things in the world to build, and I give all due slack in this case, but this is something that could end up driving many a new player away. Any RTS veteran will know from previous experience to start harvesting, building, and cranking out as many units as possible, but this knowledge shouldn't be expected as a prerequisite.
Right now, it's Linux and Windows only, but at one time Glest was a Windows-only project which was quickly ported, so it's fairly safe to say that ports to other platforms aren't out of the question. Give it a try, I'd say it currently outclasses most of it's competition. I know I liked it a lot more than I was fully prepared to.