RTS-FPS hybrids are not a new thing, but they are not the most successful projects in history either. Well, Arma 3 Bohemia Interactive developers are trying to blend the two genres with silicon, in the hope that you can shoot and command everything with equal good. This is the first project to emerge from Bohemia’s incubator program, which helps indie developers create exciting games.
Silica is largely the product of one developer, Martin “Dram” Malicharek, who previously led Bohemia’s Take On Mars. After reeling from Silica for over an hour, I struggled to see if the RTS, hybrid FPS could truly deliver the best of both worlds. However, it makes being an extremely good crab.
It’s hard to form thoughts about Silica, because the build I played seems to be an extremely early one, and much of things that are not fully formed, or formed at all. That’s not a criticism in itself, it’s just a forewarning to a series of thoughts that may or may not have much of an impact on the final product. My thoughts at the moment are mainly related to crabs.
Silica’s model as a RTS-FPS hybrid allows the player to jump into the cockpit as a commander giving direction from an aerial perspective or appear on the ground as a soldier/ Aliens engage in ground combat. After taking an hour-long online session with a bunch of other magazines, I wasn’t sure if it would live up to my lofty ambitions.
The servers are set up for us by PR, but it’s basically a three-way battle between two teams of humans (which actually appear to be identical) and an alien team. We can assign ourselves to any of them, with one person on each team being able to take on the role of commander. If no one chooses the commander, the AI will take over. The others, on the other hand, are a boot on the ground, with each team’s starting base randomly distributed across a large desert map.
I never got a chance to try out the commander role in the online session… but I did play an alien crab. Being a crab is amazing, because I can bite people with my little jaws or I can lunge at them from the top of a cliff like a jet-headed crab. Others have to play as the bigger scorpions by finding them and pressing a button to transform into their body whenever a commander spawns a scorpion. I can’t figure this out, which means the game could use more instructions, especially for players like me who aren’t familiar with the RTS bits.
However, being a crab brings a lot of benefits. One of the crab’s best assets is its ability to switch to first-person mode, and while it’s a bit disorienting, pretend you’re a race car with a penchant for stabbing people. You can also stick and move around surfaces like a spider, which really gives you the impression of being a deadly creature as opposed to a slightly dull guy holding a gun. The moment you switch to a non-crab entity, to be honest, you realize that humans are a bit tough. You just control a generic sci-fi guy who shoots a hollow sci-fi weapon.
Admittedly, a crab-based society is meant to be completely crushed by much stronger bipedal forces. Crabs can be amusing, but they are not strong. The Dram developer mentioned that he will work on balancing the aliens a bit better, as the human army can destroy us with projectiles from a distance, which does more than just damage for us but also slows down our approach. With a little more power, I could see the aliens finally becoming a threat to humanity, and perhaps a more viable option as well as an interesting one.
Sadly, my time as a crab also feels pretty disorienting. Yes, I can pretend I’m a hard shell racing car and yes, there was a time when I attacked on my own, infiltrated a base, then gnawed on a giant Harvester. enemies help them gather resources) until the humans found out I went into full goblin mode. But after these adventures, I fell into a constant state of bewilderment. I have a feeling the game – or the commander – is trying to steer us by pointing us to small goals, such as “take down scouts” or “shoot the reaper” but they fluctuate continuously. continuously as we move across the map , it’s almost as if they automatically switch depending on the distance. Up until now, I didn’t really feel the impact of the commander as a low-level army. Perhaps this will change over time.
It seems that most battles are decided by war of attrition, where one team will overwhelm the other with more manpower. In the end, battles were more like rams butting horns, as opposed to rams, who, when they rams, signaled their fellow rams to maneuver the barn maneuvering pincers. enemy camps and burn their haystacks. Silica in its current state doesn’t make me feel like I’m part of an all-out conflict between two or three giant factions. It was like a few scattered skirmishes in the middle of a barren land. I suppose I’ll keep saying: given enough time, maybe this will change.
After fiddling around with it, I set up my own offline game with the bot and jumped into the commanding role, just to give it some fun. Unfortunately, it’s very confusing. There are no tooltips or instructions to help you, so I clicked everywhere and pressed a lot of buttons on my keyboard to see if they had any effect. From what I can gather, you can select AI units and send them to locations. You can harvest crystals scattered across the map that act as your resources, then use them to build barracks and other things. I’m sure all will see a huge amount of improvements and tweaks, but it’s rather confusing and rather sketchy.
If you’re the commander of the alien team, the setup is pretty much the same, except that you can place buttons. Now, in the online preview, I remember Dram mentioned something about this being a unique way for aliens to invade the map. Again, I can’t figure out how they work, no matter how hard I try. The cool thing is that it’s possible to jump into the body of a soldier or alien if you swap commander roles.
If Silica wants to marry FPS with RTS, it will take a lot more time, frankly. And to be fair, Dram didn’t shy away from that fact. The game is set to be in early access on Steam for about a year, with no other plans yet. While it’s a bit unsettling that the version of the game I played seems pretty straightforward, at least he made the skeleton, which is a feat in itself. The swapping between ground and command units is relatively smooth, and there’s something quite special about the two working together in some – any – ability.
My biggest worry is whether the hybrid will also ambitious. The commanding role doesn’t feel too important, and playing as a ground troop doesn’t feel much of an impact. The RTS and FPS halves may be harmonious in that they fit together nicely, but each lacks depth, so the strategy section is a bit shallow and the shooter a bit empty. Given time, I hope Dram can prove me wrong by launching early access.