capsule review

DropTeam

DropTeam, from newcomers TBG Software (published by Battlefront.com), is a realistic war strategy game set in outer space.

Come again?

Okay, well, maybe not entirely realistic, but certainly more than most strategy games are. Yep, DropTeam is a game for real grognards . (That’s what war game enthusiasts call themselves.) It uses realistic physics and ballistics, and simulates pretty realistic battlefield conditions, even though those battlefields are the surfaces of alien worlds.

Without wasting a lot of time with backstory, let me just say that DropTeam finds you on one of two opposing sides of human colonists on the fringes of explored space, fighting over inhabitable (or otherwise useful) planets. You’re in command of ground forces, and it’s your job to defend (or attack).

Most of what you do involves setting up installations like anti aircraft guns, light tanks, heavy tanks and other manned weaponry, then deploying them into action. While DropTeam does make one major sacrifice to future warfare in the form of ion weapons that help to weaken your enemy’s armor plating before you punch through it with artillery or munitions, it’s mostly realistic stuff—variants on what you might find on today’s battlefield, stuff like armor-piercing shells, mortars, missiles, automatic guns and the like.

These weapons—and your vehicles and mobile support devices—all move realistically, and your strategy may depend on atmospheric and environmental conditions. Some places have heavier gravities and different atmospheric densities than others; these will affect the physics of how your weapons and vehicles work. That realism also extends to the way weapons work against the enemy, too—don’t go looking for health packs, for example, because they aren’t here. And don’t expect your first direct hit to cause the enemy tanks to blow up in a shower of flaming fragments—you might have to hit it half a dozen times or more before it’ll start smoking.

The game features an extensive single-player campaign mode that lets you play through series of missions to reach different objectives (defend this installation from attack, assault this location and take over, and so on). There’s also a mode that lets you set up specific scenarios, and there’s multiplayer support for up to 16 people at a time. A built-in game finder will help you locate servers for online play. As I wrote this, there were still only a few public servers available—I guess DropTeam hasn’t caught on widely.

DropTeam was developed and published simultaneously for Mac OS X, Linux and Windows XP—kudos to the developer for being so egalitarian with multiplatform support.

In addition to the DIY scenario development for single-player skirmishes against the computer, DropTeam is also very “mod” friendly. You can script your own game conversions using XML, import terrain data using GIS maps, and much more; such features enable you to re-imagine DropTeam however you’d like.

One thing that’s really kind of cool about DropTeam is its ability to let you play either on the battlefield or in the war room. While you can certainly go out and command a tank or armored transport and watch what’s going on the battlefield yourself, you don’t have to do that—a tactical screen lets you order your units around, attack, defend, move, and more without having to do it yourself. It’s certainly a lot more fun to sit in the gunner’s seat and actually take aim at the bad guys, but sometimes it’s more effect to channel your inner Rommel (or Patton, as the case may be).

DropTeam isn’t the best looking game in the world—textures tend to run pretty simple, and most of the objects are fairly low-polygon count 3-D models, though they all look appropriate to the environment. But the graphics engine isn’t really DropTeam’s strong suit—it’s the realistic physical modeling that’s going on here, and the use of real strategy and understanding of battlefield conditions that’s needed to win the game.

Documentation is included as a PDF with the installer, and I’d strongly recommend printing it out and reading it thoroughly before playing. DropTeam really ought to have built-in some sort of tutorial mode to step you through the basics; without it, the game is immediately frustrating and too hard for anyone but a seasoned strategy game veteran to enjoy.

The interface is a bit wonky, but quite powerful. There are lots of different effects, video settings, options for different graphics effects, modifiable control schemes, and more.

In the game itself, you’re presented with a Heads Up Display (HUD) that shows you the status of the vehicle you’re commanding. Pressing the Space bar switches to a tactical display that will give you a better sense of what’s happening around you. You can use it to command other units, telling them where to go and how to proceed (defend this spot, attack this enemy, and so on).

If you do start tweaking graphics settings, expect to wait a while—level load times take a long time normally and that becomes longer still if you’ve done something that requires the game to re-cache textures and other graphics elements (like when you switch resolutions, for example).

The game is a Universal binary, and a downloadable demo will give you a taste—though it’s multiplayer only.

The bottom line

Though a tutorial mode is sorely needed for beginners, DropTeam gives seasoned strategy veterans some realistic battlefield gaming—set on the surface of other planets.

Tanks for the memories Lead an armored assault on the surface of alien worlds in DropTeam.
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