Developed by Petroglyph Games. Published by Grey Box. Released January 23, 2015. Available on PC. Review copy provided by Publisher.
Petroglyph Games has been making real-time strategy titles for basically a decade at this point, and the team behind the studio has multiple decades of combined RTS experience, dating all the way back to the game that coined the term "real-time strategy;" Dune II. I grew up on Dune II, then WarCraft and Command & Conquer, then, of course, StarCraft. The Petroglyph team is actually founded by former Westwood Studios folks, responsible for half of that list of some of the most recognizable RTS games ever made. I didn't actually know all this when I went into Grey Goo, so I was, frankly, shocked to discover just how well it turned out. In hindsight, it's not much of a surprise. This is a remarkably well-versed team with ties to the very genesis of the genre as a whole.
The first thing you'll notice when you launch Grey Goo is the remarkable production quality. The voice acting is top notch, the cinematics are gorgeous, and the characters are written such that they're easy to relate to in a "if I was part of an interplanetary race" kind of way. Even outside of the traditional cinematics, you have the same high level of production on the mission briefs, with beautifully rendered characters speaking through thick South African accents, which at once lends familiarity and intrigue at the alien nature of the voices. Of course, if you know the accents, you'll probably just get the "familiar" part of that.
Before we dive into the game itself, the backstory warrants some attention because of just how thoughtful the narrative of Grey Goo actually is. It's not just an RTS for its own sake. It's a tale with lessons to be learned about playing God, and, ultimately, about taking responsibility when things go awry. This is all available on the official site, but if you're avoiding spoilers entirely, skip to just past the next image, and I'll try to avoid any mention of spoilers later on.
Over a century ago, humans created the Pathfinder program, designed to explore the distant reaches of the galaxy and report back on its findings, since humans are themselves so short lived. It should be noted that "Grey Goo" is actually a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving self-replicating nanomachines. and is very clearly the core concept of the Goo race. Instead of shutting down when the humans scrapped the project, the AI evolved into something else entirely. Rather than its original mission of "Explore. Gather. Report," it's moved into much more destructive methodology, which more or less involves consuming everything in its path. The humans eventually realize that humanity's very existence is being threatened by something of its own creation. Lessons learned, right?
You'll start Grey Goo's campaign as the Beta race, which is a pseudo-humanoid, bipedal warrior race, who have been collecting a resource - "catalyst" - on a newfound planet rich with the stuff. Beta, like each other race in Grey Goo has a very distinct base-building feel. Instead of having multiple separate buildings, you've got to attach almost everything to a Hub. Once you've filled up the slots on your Hub, you'll have to build a new one to continue developing your base, which also usually means it's time to expand to help acquire more resources more quickly. The factional differences seems heavily focused on the base building, much more so than the units themselves, which is a bit of a departure from the likes of StarCraft, where there's a more even mix of uniqueness.
As you develop your Beta bases, you'll get access to larger and larger Hubs, which can accommodate more tech buildings, more factories, more everything. The largest Hub size is the only way to build the Beta Epic Unit, which we'll touch on later. Beta as a whole is dependent on having several bases of increasing size, rather than one primary base with several satellite bases supporting it. Unless you take the tact of simply building an additional hub near your starting base, you'll be more or less forced to expand rapidly, if only to keep your resource collection rate on par with your expenditure rate, once you build your first Large Factory, which can produce three units simultaneously.
Next, you'll play as the Humans, which is also incredibly unique with its base construction. More or less completely opposite of the Beta base structures, the Humans get a single base to work with. If you lose your home base, you're done for, since every building must be connected via power conduits to your core structure. It's reminiscent of the Protoss Pylon setup in StarCraft, only significantly more restrictive, since your conduits don't provide power unless they're connected to your base.
Expanding to another resource node with Humans is simple enough, but can be incredibly dangerous to enact if your opponent has more control over the map than you, since you'll need to scout the resource node with units before you can construct a second refinery, which will allow you to construct the extractor - the only building that doesn't need to be on the grid - in order to collect the resources. It's imperative to get your units out there early with Humans, in order to find and protect the nearby resources from enemies. If you get stuck with just one node, you're in a lot of trouble.