Thursday, July 28, 2005

What About Rome?

At first I told myself that I'd just wait until the Linux version came out, since the words "coming soon" give you a certain expectation of how soon something may be coming. Well, it has been far too long for my tastes, so this week I downloaded the Windows version of NERO and gave it a try.

It's beyond the scope of this post to try to fully explain what NERO is and what it does. For details, look no further than the above link. For a very brief (and mostly fictional) description, read on. The product of a scrappy rag tag team of computer scientists, all-around general brainiacs (to use the proper term), and a few artists - NERO is the answer to the eternal question: What happens when you take the results of artificial intelligence research, add some figurative dressing in the form of the Torque Engine, and see what type of game comes out of it. It turns out that the answer is "Quite an interesting one".

Gameplay wise, NERO is of the oft overlooked school of "set it up and let it whirl" of games. The first phase is the training mode, in which you're tasked with teaching a group of bots basic tasks - such as navigating around obstacles on the way to the enemy, how much to avoid too much enemy fire, and other basic necessities of a fighting robot's very short life. You don't have direct control, so you can only set which behaviors are rewarded and which are discouraged via the "Smite!" command. Besides placing obstacles to create ever-expanding mazes the only other commands you have available are "Converge", which makes the other bots act more like the selected unit and "Milestone", a command that I'll admit I don't understand yet. It can take quite a while to get your NERO (short for Neuro Evolving Robotic Operatives) performing how you'd like them to but this phase of the game takes an almost god-game approach to the process, making a nice relaxing counterpoint to the next phase.

The battle phase is much more simple compared to the above. You take your hard trained team and throw them into battle, either against another team you (or somebody online - Network play is possible) created, or one of the other pre-trained teams included with the game. From there, interaction is limited to moving the camera around, watching the fight, and moving your team's flag around (it isn't what you think, it's just a way to get slightly better control over your troops, assuming they're trained to follow the flag). This phase is surprisingly intense, especially with a time limit. The intensity wears off after a few rounds against the same team, but the attachment you have to your boys (or your girls, call the robots whatever you want) keeps it interesting.

It goes for all games, but with NERO especially - it's certainly not for everyone. It's a game that requires quite a lot of patience as well as the will to start team after team, creating for each different methods of training. There's even some patience involved in the battle mode, as matches without time limits can often take quite a while. The payoff - watching your well trained team kick some ass - is entirely worth it.

No comments: