In the future, we're either going to be at war with computers, or we're going to actually be computers. I don't think anyone questions this, right? Ashes of the Singularity takes it to the next logical step, however, and asks us this: What if we were computers, and we were at war with computers as well?
I have to confess to feeling very 'meta' as I played Ashes of the Singularity. I'm a computer person fighting computers in a computer game I'm playing on my computer. And I'm a person! See? It's funny! Sort of.
I think it's true that RTSes have sort of been asking for this all along. Company of Heroes is fine but how do your orders get to your units so instantly? In Ashes of the Singularity it's all tidily explained. See, you're a post-human, developed in concert with computer processing power to be more than human, and this basically means your consciousness can zoom around planets doing RTS stuff really easily. But so can the enemy, right?
Speaking of the singularity, we're reaching a watershed time in RTS gaming right now, and arguably in gaming in general. Is there going to remain a market for the single-player gamer, that foul-eyed ghoul who would rather lurk in his squalid dungeon enjoying a good story than weather the tsunami of pre-teen insults that bring such colour to multiplayer bouts?
Well, if there is, it's not going to come from Ashes of the Singularity. Poised uncertainly between a lukewarm single-player campaign and a vague nod toward the fabled eSports motif that can bring longevity and fame to RTS games, Ashes fails to really deliver a knockout punch in either arena.
But at least there is a single-player campaign. Consisting of a handful of planets, each of which delivers one level, you're tasked with building structures, harvesting raw materials (metals and radioactives), and building units to take out your enemies. With the right structures you get access to a couple of little tricks such as dropping troops into enemy territory.
Stop me if you've heard this one before.
Some missions see you having to defend a control point (or a series of control points) for a set period of time which the enemy advances in unrelenting streams. Other times you'll be trying to destroy his construction yard. Er, I mean Nexus.
So there. That's it. You can build aerial units that specialise in air-to-ground, or air-to-air, or scouting. There are a couple of land-based AA units, the odd artillery piece, and a load of straight-up-and-down scrappers. You'll need engineers to build new facilities and capture resources. Tank rushes, or their cyber-space-age post-human equivalent, are invariably going to be your best tactic...
Okay. I've said enough without just coming out and saying it. It's Dune 2. No, not even Dune 2. Just a vanilla RTS that offers pretty much nothing that hasn't been seen in other games. Is it supposed to be some kind of DirectX 12 flagship? Like, a straightforward tech demo? Because it's hardly selling DirectX 12. Maps are mostly devoid of anything resembling interesting terrain. Units are cookie-cutter sci-fi yawns. Facilities too. There's really no reason to play Ashes of the Singularity if you own pretty much any other RTS.
There's precious little to make your units stand out. No heroes, no special units, no way to customise or level units into an interesting force beyond just cranking more and more units out as fast as possible. No chances to really display tactical genius by using the game's mechanics. Nothing to make you feel like your choices in the campaign make any difference in later maps, or to engross you in creating the ultimate multiplayer loadout.
I mean, it's not actually painful to play. It's a little broken here and there, with one of those perma-map-scrolling bugs that seem to plague RTSes, and a couple of other small niggling technical issues. But what really stands out is the lack of anything interesting or novel. In the rush to market for the accolade of 'First game to utilise DirectX 12' or whatever, they've presumably cut everything out of the game that would have made it stand out from anything else. I guess there is a system of supply lines that can be cut which plays far more of a part in multiplayer games than it does in the single player campaign, but ultimately it's too little to make a difference. This is how we are to be introduced to DirectX 12 - not with a bang, but with a whimper.