As usual for the genre, let me preface by saying that I suck at strategy games, but I like when they have interesting worlds and stories, and play them for that in the first place. Grey Goo is a game by Petroglyph Games, ex-alumni of Westwood plus other talented people. So when they promised a classic RTS experience, even I got interested. Because classic RTS usually meant some good (even when silly) stories. I cannot say that didn’t deliver on the promise.
First, I do need to get some gameplay/technical things out of the way, because I cannot not mention them. The engine of the game is… weird – I haven’t experienced such slow loadings for everything, including the game load itself, since early 00s. It seems that the game always loads extremely slowly, but on closing it and loading it again works mostly fine, so it’s probably an issue that simply didn’t get fixed after several years. You cannot load the save game when in the mission either, for some reason, despite having a load game menu, which seems weird. And you cannot quit a mission without “surrendering” and going through the mission failure screens either, which is probably a clear sign that singleplayer wasn’t designed to be the main focus.
Surprisingly slow and at times almost claustrophobic feeling map based gameplay also seems more designed on multiplayer balancing, which is not something I can criticize, of course, since I have no idea if it’s “good” or “bad”. But for the lame easy mode playing I went with, as a non-strategy-player, a lot of things definitely felt slow, sluggish and visually messy. The concepts are amazing and easy enough to grasp, playing as titular Grey Goo, a mass of nanomachine blobs that morph, merge and consume, is something I’ve never seen before in RTS games, promoting a very “constantly on the move” type of gameplay. While the 2 other sides of the conflict, while more conventional and similar, still had their gameplay made somewhat unique. Although, rather clear parallels can be made to the Starcraft races, with Beta=Terran, Humans=Protoss and Goo=Zerg, they’re different enough, especially the Goo. And I’ve found more similarities with the classic Westwood titles as well, with super weapons, lack of “workers” and even a rather big importance of using walls around bases, as well as the tighter control over the air based units. Besides, I’ve never seen an RTS before where the sides can be this asymmetric, with Goo being almost entirely unlike the other 2 sides.
But I digress, we’re here for the story after all. And… I don’t have enough to say about it, is the sad thing. The potential is huge. The basic premise of the game is just the right balance of hard sci-fi and more “epic sci-fi”, with both very simple exploring the universe and being the worst enemy to ourselves ideas mixed with some ancient powerful aliens destroying the galaxy, which is a bit trite, especially after how popular Mass Effect was. But it can work, it has all the potential to expand on the characters, the races introduced, the themes.
Yet, it kind of doesn’t. Game feels incredibly short, almost unfinished, as a single-player story. You get to play as 3 sides, there are 3 additional missions in-between the two normal game missions that slightly flesh out one character, and there’s one “next game teaser” mission that was added as an update, but after you’re done you feel as if you have read first 3 chapters of a 15 chapter book. As if the entire thing was a teaser for the real thing. Some characters, seemingly important ones, get introduced and then never appear. Main cast is never really given any chance to be properly explored and to have any kind of growth. Granted, lots of older RTS games had similar issue, where even when you had lots of cutscenes, they never really told you anything worthwhile, they still usually crammed big important exciting story-arcs or incredibly memorable scenes and characters.
Grey Goo, however, feels like a short prequel story to the main story that haven’t even been announced yet as of me writing this. I hope it happens and I hope it’s a better story experience, because the potential is all there. But Grey Goo, the Definitive Edition of the first game, is not a particularly interesting story as is. It seems like people love it for multiplayer, though, so if you’re into the multiplayer RTS this might be the game for you. Especially with how unique the Goo plays. Oh yeah, and also Frank Klepacki made the soundtrack and it’s pretty goddamn good.