KKND (Krush, Kill 'N Destroy)
If the old saying is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Westwood Studios and Blizzard Entertainment should be flattered, but more for the thought than the result. Red Alert to date has sold close to 2 million units; the same for Warcraft 2 -- major moola in the gaming world. Naturally, lots of competitors are looking to snag a share of the real-time strategy gaming audience that Westwood & Blizzard almost single-handedly created. But remember the history of imitation that we gleaned from the Doom phenomenon: the original was awesome, but it took 2 years for a real challenger to come along. I can tell you definitively that as of this writing there are no true claims to the C&C throne. This little dissertation is a long-winded way of saying what you've no doubt already guessed I was going to say: I know Red Alert, I've played Red Alert for hours upon end, and KKND is no Red Alert.
"But that's the point, stupid!" I can hear some of you thinking already. OK, granted, it wouldn't be fun to play another game that was just like Red Alert or just like Warcraft 2. But KKND is so far removed from its competitors in both its sophistication of gameplay and its technical construction that I really wish it was a lot more like the games it is seeking to emulate.
The upshot is this: there's been a nuclear war ... the survivors went underground to bide their time while the not-so-fortunate stayed in the nuclear winter, mutated, and waited for the survivors to poke their heads above ground so they could rip them off. Now it's all-out war with the mutated ("evolved" to their way of thinking) sporting such troops as two-story-high beetles, plasma-hurling scorpions, and (my favorite) giant crabs with surgically-implanted machine guns. The survivors have more mundane troops; basically anything that you saw in Mad Max is in the survivors' arsenal. They even all have an Australian accent to boot: "G'day mate, I'm gonna have to toss your giant crab on the barbie."
If you've played other real-time wargames, KKND will be a snap to pick up. If you haven't played other real-time strategy games, suffice it to say that with beginning to intermediate mouse skills and a little studying of the manual, you'll have no troubles.
Gameplay is very straightforward: wipe out your opponents. You get resources by sending oil rigs out into the field to search for oil caches. Once you've set up a rig, your oil trucks meander to and fro from your base to collect the goods. Oil is cash, cash is life -- while the oil flows, you'll do all right. A word of warning, though: the oil trucks are very stupid. You must babysit them at all times to have any chance of keeping your cash flowing. On the flip side, though, unlike the other real-time wargames out there, KKND allows you to queue the production of units, so you just tell your barracks to build 10 shotgunners, and (money permitting) the AI does the rest. This is a huge plus, as it allows for less micromanagement of your forces, which equates to more time for you to be out hunting down the enemy (or looking after your oil trucks). Also, it means that while you're out fighting, if some of the bad dudes backdoor your base, you're much more likely to have a fresh squad standing around waiting for somebody to shoot at.
As in C&C and Warcraft, you will also encounter the "straggler" problem in single-player missions, wherein your goal is to utterly obliterate your enemy. You'll go out, perform famously, then be left with a seemingly empty map and no end to the mission. The problem, of course, is that somewhere out in the wastelands there is one last enemy who just happens to be napping under a tree -- where he stays until you stumble across him and kill him 20 minutes after every other battle has been won. The only game to have solved this problem thus far is Lords of the Realm II with its "mop-up" feature that allows for a quick resolution once the main fight has been decided. I wish more real-time games allowed for such an option.
Have you ever played a game against somebody who's lots better than you are, and therefore goes easy on you and lets you win a few before mopping up the floor with you? If so, then you'll know how it feels to play KKND -- the first several missions are cakewalks, as the computer sends wave after hapless wave of cannon fodder into the teeth of your defenses and lets you happily mow them down and feel unnecessarily proud of yourself. But then it wises up. In mission five, the computer suddenly descends on you with a half-dozen unit types you've never encountered before and basically wipes you off the map. And it only gets tougher from there. I'm not sure what the AI programmers were thinking, because there is really no learning curve here, just missions a six-year-old could win or missions that will have you swearing at the computer for being unfair -- nothing in between.
Problems here. Big time. Once (and if) you do get connected with someone, don't expect your troops who are sauntering across the map to remain in the same space-time continuum as the rest of the game -- it is not uncommon for a whole phalanx of foot soldiers to go AWOL, only to pop up a second later halfway across the map from where they just were. Sometimes this gives you a great and unexpected advantage, but more often it just pisses you off and confuses your strategy. And as I alluded to earlier, it is a royal pain in the neck just to get a simple modem game going. It took us seven attempts to even get to the first game screen, and then several more attempts to get beyond that screen going black and hanging both systems. This is, by the way, with name brand 28.8 modems.
This is one area where KKND does quite well -- a lot of work was expended to come up with creative scenery and strategically challenging maps. This alone might be enough to sell some real-time gamers on KKND, as the maps take on three dimensions on several occasions, allowing troops to cross bridges high overhead or land atop mesas for a later drop in your enemy's base. Unit graphics are not bad either, although I found them less sophisticated than either Warcraft 2 or the C&C line.
The audio in KKND is adequate during battles, and the soundtrack is a kind of pop/synth with a funky beat that keeps the mood light even when your guys are getting pummeled. What I really liked, though, were the voiceovers in the between-mission cutscenes -- like the nervous private who looks like he just stepped from behind a McDonald's counter to suit up for service: "Um, commander ... hi. This is a great base you just built, and we really like it and everything, but see, um, well, the thing is, we're about to be overrun." Much better than some Raul Julia look-alike in a secondhand Saddam Hussein shirt any day.
MS-DOS 5.0 or greater (Windows 95 compatible), Pentium 90 or faster, 28 MB disk space, 16 MB RAM, 1 MB VESA-compatible video card, 4X CD-ROM drive, keyboard, 100% Microsoft-compatible mouse
Installation & Documentation
OK, I've got to say that I loved the manual for this game. No, I'm not being facetious; it is funny, witty, and one of the better elements to this game. The descriptions of the various creatures and weapons are all well done and make what would otherwise be yet another boring booklet quite entertaining.
Installation, on the other hand, while easy to accomplish, didn't quite accomplish what it should. In Windows 95, everything worked pretty well (with a minor sound card tweak), but in DOS (supposedly the native OS for this game), little worked -- no videos, no sounds, and a game executable that only fired up and got into the game about 1 in every 3 attempts. After a reinstall it seemed to work better for a day or two, then began encountering sound and video problems again, especially at the end of missions, resulting in the loss of the mission since the crash precluded saving the scenario as won. A major bummer after a difficult campaign. I'd recommend keeping it inside a box under Win 95 -- it ran fine like that; faster even, I'd say.
KKND is an OK strategy game. It's fun to see the new terrains and unit types, and it helps to sate a diehard C&C fan's appetite for something fresh, but that's as far as it goes. The AI is too inconsistent in single player, and multiplayer play is too buggy to be acceptable. There aren't enough unit types, nor are the ones present properly weighted to one another. If you need a real time strategy fix and you already have Red Alert, M.A.X., and Lords of the Realm II, then you certainly could do worse. If you're new to the genre and are considering being taken in by KKND's pretty box and claims of superiority, keep on walking down the aisle until you get to Red Alert and buy that instead.$
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