Back in 1996, The Bitmap Brothers created a charming and comedic real-time strategy game called Z (“Zed”), about two warring robot armies desperate for control of 5 different planets. Fast-forward to July 2014, and Z is back on the market with a shoddy port of the original ’96 release, lacking multi-player options, as well as any form of control or resolution customization, or sound controller support. While Z may have been innovative and enjoyable 18 years ago, some things are better left in the past if they aren’t willing to catch up with the times.
In Z, you’ll control the Red robot army under the control of Commander Zod, using everything at your disposal to capture territories and overtake the opposing Blue army’s base. You’ll instantly feel the comedic tone of the game from the start as you’re introduced to Brad and Allan, two slacker robots in charge of landing a Red army supply ship, and the game’s comic relief. Each level has an FMV intro and outro with Brad and Allan, and although some of the scenes are still pretty funny today, they’re direct ports from the original and extremely poor quality. Unfortunately, that also sets the tone for the remainder of the game.
What originally set Z apart from the competition was the absence of resource collection. Grunts and vehicles are made by controlling bases, which is done by capturing and holding specific points on the map. The dated control scheme — and the complete absence of customization options — really doesn’t translate well in modern times, which made separating Grunts and navigating the terrain unenjoyable. The entire interface is extremely prehistoric and could definitely benefit from a modern overhaul.
Z‘s campaign consists of 20 different missions that span across 5 different planets with unique terrain. Even though each planet is different, featuring snow or a jungle setting, their textures haven’t been updated in 18 years. Each map also seemed to suffer from severe pathing issues which caused my squad to stop dead in their tracks quite often, or take the longest route possible to reach their assigned destination. Nothing has changed from the original Z, including the graphics, so if you were a fan of the original you know exactly what you’re getting here.
The problem with the recent port is that there is already a very popular free release known as The Zod Engine, which features updated textures, tons of customization options, a level editor, and the biggest thing missing from the current release — multi-player. Not only does The Zod Engine offer multi-player, but it also offers cross-play between Linux and Windows users, and has no player cap if you’d like to co-op the entire campaign with every single person you know.
I’m not pointing this out because I think Z is a bad game, but rather just an extremely lazy, bare-bones port of some something that released 18 years ago. I’m really just baffled that they would release the game in its current state when there is already a far superior free version that features a laundry list of updates that they didn’t even attempt to add in to their own digital release via Steam. As a consumer, if I had the choice to support a developer’s extremely dated port, or download a free version that is obviously superior, unfortunately I’d be going with the latter.
The good news is that the developers have been pretty active in responding to the criticism plaguing their Steam store page, and it seems they are eager to take notes and update the game accordingly in the future. Unfortunately we cannot recommend Z at this time, but should it eventually address our concerns, we’ll definitely update our review appropriately. The bottom line is that Z is still a decent trip down memory lane, but it was definitely more appealing back in 1996. In 2014 though, there are far better RTS games out there for you to spend your money on.
Recommended for fans of: Mid-90’s RTS games, the original 1996 release of Z.
Bradley Keene is the Executive Editor here at What’s Your Tag?, generally handling news, reviews, and a bit of our public relations communications. He’s an aspiring writer and Baltimore native that can usually be found watching terrible B-movies or knee-deep in a roguelike, a horror game or some sort of point-and-click adventure. His favorite console is the Dreamcast, favorite game is the original Metroid, and he could watch The Goonies for the rest of his life. Contact him by e-mail at the address above, or follow his insanity on Twitter.