SunAge was an abymsal game that couldn't have been any more broken on release. The entire mutliplayer mode didn't work and it was impossible to finish the single player campaign and it remains the worst game I've ever reviewed even now those bugs are sorted. The 5/10 score on the site is actually incorrect, I gave this game 2/10 when I reviewed it.
I’ve just struggled though the main meat of the single player campaign of Sunage. Right now, all I can think about is grabbing a pen – the written word is more personal, after all – and writing a very disappointed letter to the small team that has been working on Sunage for over a decade. That’s more than ten years. Imagine what you could achieve in the next ten years. Ok, maybe you don’t have big plans, but you’ve got a long time to think about it, just like Vertex4 had a long time to think about Sunage.
A part of why you’ll find me being quite so harsh on the game is that it’s let the side down. Normally I’d be far less disappointed when a big budget game producer releases a bugged movie licence game or a rushed-to-release piece of nonsense you can’t take seriously. I wouldn’t be any happier, nor would it affect the final score I would give a game, but I wouldn’t be disappointed. You come to expect these games every now and again, and sometimes there’s something underneath that’s genuinely worth fighting for, and sometimes you just push them aside because even without their problems, they are nothing special. I just didn’t expect it from such an independent developer.
So, the game then. Sunage is an RTS. It’s a no more complicated than that, and that’s how the developers intended it. The idea of Sunage was that modern RTS’ had become to convoluted with glitzy graphics and particle effects and had lost their way while chasing polygons and adding features and gimmicks that a true blue RTS simply doesn’t need. Sunage was meant to be a low-tech epiphany for RTS players. That’s a sound idea. It was always going to turn some gamers off. The ones that are right up there with the big companies looking for the next game to max out their SLI rig were never going to give a second glance to Sunage, but who needed them anyway? If Sunage was really going to teach us a lesson we’d all forgotten, we can ignore those people, right?
The game opens promisingly enough. The cookie cutter sci-fi plot is portrayed – thankfully – in comic strip style with some nice looking art and one of the most generic action game voiceovers I’ve heard in my life, leaving me smiling half at the vague stupidity of the plot, and half simply in thanks that Vertex had opted for a nice, simple, comic style intro and not tried to make an FMV intro that they didn’t have the budget to make look good. As the game started, I remained very hopeful. The graphics were exactly what I had expected. Sharp, quality 2D images with excellent 3D effects. The game instantly achieved its desired effect of making me nostalgic for the ‘good old days’.
Now, if I had gone to review school, there probably would have been a class about making proper segues in your writing, and not turning your review into a long rant about the problem with the games developer, but luckily I never did attend that particular academic institution, so I can tell you without further delay: Sunage is broken. It’s really broken. It’s Battlecruiser 3000 broken. It’s ET on the ATARI lets-bury-it-in-the-desert broken. The unpatched, commercial release of this game hates you. It doesn’t want you to play it. The time I spent with Sunage felt more like talking to a technical helpdesk while smoking drugs than playing a fun retro style RTS game. From the very first bug – I couldn’t complete the first mission because a unit I needed to complete an objective was destroyed – to the slow infuriating battle through corrupt save games and crash to desktop errors, Sunage just wouldn’t go. Oh, and did I mention multiplayer doesn’t work at all unless you use Hamachi or another third party application to create a VPN.
I couldn’t even begin reviewing the game until I got the patch, and even that is no miracle cure. It manages to hold the game together just enough so it doesn’t fall apart around you, but even with the major bugs swept under the carpet, you’re left with a poor interface and some of the flakiest controls I’ve ever seen in an RTS, modern, retro themed or otherwise. I’m all for getting back to my roots the way Sunage intended, but not if that means struggling with a control scheme that would have seemed near archaic even ten years ago. Most importantly though, the removal of the major bugs allows you to play the game for long enough to realise it wouldn’t even be anything special if it was working perfectly. It certainly wouldn’t be a bad little attempt, but even at the games best it just made me want to play the old big budget RTS games again. At least they had some real style and flair, even if the world has moved on. Even in a perfect world, Sunage would have been a minor diversion.
This might seem like a particularly scathing review, and I’m aware that I haven’t gone into a lot of the detail I would usually talk about with a game, but what’s the point? If the game is broken, it doesn’t matter how good the sound is, or if the AI is intelligent or not. I’d like anyone reading this to know that I tried my hardest to give this game a chance. I let it into my home, I admired the box and the mission of the developer to bring something back to a genre that had lost its way, and even when the game started to falter, I propped it up on one leg and I continued to drag it back home, every step of the way. Sunage doesn’t care, though. Take a trip to Vertex’s forum and you’ll find two types of people. Firstly, those who are angry they paid hard earned money for an RTS that still – over a month after release – doesn’t have working multiplayer, a key component of the genre. Secondly, those who spend their time getting angry at the former group and telling them they need to have ‘patience’, and that Vertex are ‘only a small developer’.
These are incredibly poor excuses. They are still charging us money for this game, and no matter how quickly they try to fix all these bugs, they’ve already shown how much respect they have for their customers. Being a small company means you limit your scope and you work too sensible goals you know you can achieve. It doesn’t give you carte blanche to laugh in gamers faces.
If Sunage comes out in North America with multiplayer working and the problems still plaguing the game fixed, fire up the demo and see how you feel. It’s at that point you’ll probably see the big sites giving the game middle of the road review scores. We know different, though. Europe has not only been forced to pay money to beta test and fix someone else’s mistakes, but has been ripped off on the sale of features listed on the box and the website that the game simply doesn’t have. You waited over a decade guys; couldn’t you have waited just a little longer and given us something we could have played?