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Looking back: Total Annihilation

It's ten years old but still bloody brilliant - our love for the RTS game is rekindled as we blow dust off the classic and take it for a spin

Ten years. It's been ten years since RTS Total Annihilation released, rolling out from developer Cavedog to a heap of applause and accolade for delivering not only a quality strategy experience but breaking new ground in the genre.

Designed by Chris Taylor - now finishing up TA spiritual successor Supreme Commander - it's rightly regarded as a PC classic; and there was I, on the annual clean of my office - i.e. bedroom - last December, and I stumbled across my old copy of the game. It's been, ooh, a good few years since I fired up a game of Total Annihilation for stompy robot action, but fire it up I did for a 2007 spin. And you know what? It's still as enjoyable as ever.

Yep, you can take your Companies of Heroes, Battle for Middle-earths and Warcraft IIIs and stick them up a giant's bunghole. Total Annihilation is where it's at. RTS action at its most raw, a visceral, battlefield-carnage opus packed with plenty of opportunity for tactics and strategy that's addictive as hell in skirmish/multiplayer. I've a fellow fan in the office and, while I swear we has born holding TA in his hand and kicks my backside all over the field of battle, the game's so much fun that I JUST DON'T CARE!

Set way in the future and finding factions the Arm and the Core battling it out with super-tech weaponry and robots, Total Annihilation was the first RTS game to introduce true line of sight, featuring height maps on 2D battlefields. It was also one of the first RTS games to introduce proper artillery fire. Manufacturing Big Bertha, a fixed gun emplacement and the most powerful weapon in the original game, sending out spotting aircraft and raining BB death on discovered enemies is still one of the most satisfying RTS moments there is. And one with monstrous explosions.

I'm a base builder, build-mass-army-then-attack player, so it's construct crazy defences and then unleash a ton of units in one mass assault. Bombers head off under protection of fighters to soften up enemy defences while ground troops and mobile armour advance over the terrain toward my opponent's base.

Meanwhile, I've built the equivalent of the Atlantic Wall around my base, defences bristling with ground-to-air rocket launchers, gun emplacements and further nasty surprises for the enemy army. And behind all that cowers my commander, right in the corner of the map, as far away from the opposition as he can possibly be (he's hoping that, should defences be breached, he's far enough away that he'll go unnoticed, you see).

And when sides meet, it's metallic destruction. Huge battles between tanks, robots, aircraft, scout vehicles, the units colliding in an explosive cacophony, blooms of flame sprouting on the battlefield while exploding units spit out shrapnel. War in Total Annihilation... It's a joy.

Total Annihilation has benefited enormously from the mod community that, while it's dying off a bit now, has extended the life of the game with modifications to core gameplay and a wealth of new units and maps. For example, originally TA supported 500 units per player in a skirmish battle, but that's been fiddled with to allow players to have a whopping 5000 units each. In four-player battles that's just "wow", and the original game engine scales up and copes pretty damn well thanks to some forward thinking from the now defunct Cavedog. Tech trees have been added that have introduced monster new robot unit types too, and you can now have a unit that fires shells as powerful as the original game's nukes.

I could go on. And on. But suffice to say that since digging out Total Annihilation at the end of last year, I've been unable to put it down. It's simply real-time strategy perfection on a disc. RTS fans will surely have played TA to death; but if you're a fan of the genre and missed it, then if you see it second-hand for a few quid, it'll be a few quid very well spent.

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