Eufloria Impressions

Eufloria is being marketed as an exclusive for the Playstation Network in the month of October, even though it came out for PC at the end of 2008. This new release is streamlined and optimized for the Dual Shock 3 pad, but there’s nothing in the PSN version of Eufloria that isn’t better served by any other real time strategy game. Here are some quick impressions.

A disembodied voice commands you to plant trees and spread seedlings around a white, featureless universe. ‘Go forth and multiply’ is the command, and you’re tasked with establishing a presence on big round asteroids found all throughout space. But you’re not the only plant life form in the world, and so you’re challenged to fill the emptiness and not to surrender to the other plants who are encroaching on your property.

It might not be fair to compare Eufloria to other RTS games. It’s not aimed at the market that plays Warcraft, Starcraft, or any other imitator. Abstraction is the order of the day, in that every mechanical component of an RTS is stripped down to the most basic presentation. Units are ‘seedlings’ that look like dots until you zoom in on them, and even then there’s very little customization to do. Bases are ‘trees’ whose function differs depending on where you build them, and again you can’t otherwise customize the type of base that gets built.

The main strength of Eufloria is also its most glaring weakness, in the way that information about your success or failure is communicated. By centering combat around bases only, it becomes very easy to evaluate how well you’re doing. Units are always associated with a base, and while they can travel from one base to another they don’t actively engage enemies except in the context of attacking or defending an asteroid. So moving your cursor to an asteroid immediately tells you how many of each unit are present and whether you’re winning or losing. While that makes for efficient play, it also robs the game of the nuance that’s unique to the genre. Without the complexity of customization, without the build-up and gathering of varied resources, the whole affair becomes a binary, black-or-white decision making process. That will divert but not hook new players, and will do nothing to retain veteran RTS gamers.

Other RTS experiments on consoles have produced deviations from the standard play format that might some day come together in a transcendent game. Tom Clancy’s Endwar has a method of geographic delineation similar to Eufloria. Robocalypse had a unique icon-based command system that hasn’t been imitated. And Sega’s Stormrise has a imperfect but inspired method of moving units around. Eufloria will be considered another one of those stepping stones in the long run. There’s a demo you can try first before you decide if it’s worth the full $9.99.

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