I know quite a lot of people who enjoyed playing Z back in 1996, when I was a mere toddler. To get rights to re-release such a cult title is an honor in gaming, and it’s sad when studios take things like this for granted. While this might not be the case with what we have at hand today, I’m under impression that only minimal effort was taken to get this game released on Steam. Don’t get me wrong, this is Z, and it still comes with its trademark gameplay mechanics, but some features that were available at its original release are surprisingly absent in this version. Let’s take a closer look at what we’ve got here.

When games such as Red Alert and Warcraft II focused on base building to bolster the player’s arsenal, Z decided to take the alternative route by placing player tactics above everything else. Thus, instead of building the vehicles/grunts yourself, you just need to capture the given facility to gain its advantages. Upon capture the resources automatically start flowing towards you, units spawn by themselves and are immediately ready for action, with only minimal input required. In this respect, Z isn’t all that different from the latest Dawn of War games, with their focus on squad micromanagement and rapid assaults over the given battlefield. What this means is that Z is filled to the brim with action, rather than having you babysit a set territory far away from the enemy.

To overcome the opposition, you have to crush any resistance you may come across. This can be done by either infiltrating the enemy bases or outright destroying them. Since the AI is also vying for control over the battlefield, this isn’t an easy task and will often require two or more separate squads working in tandem with one of them taking fire and the other one flanking the enemy. The units and vehicles on offer are simple but effective, and there’s a good chance they’ll grow on you. One thing I’m especially fond of in this game is that, depending on the issued command, the units react accordingly. For example, if you force a puny grunt into combat with three enemy tanks, he will be disgruntled and panicky. There are numerous such reactions for each unit and it’s little touches like this that turned Z into an underdog classic that it is today.

While trudging through the numerous maps spread across five distinctive „planets“ (Desert, Arctic, Volcanic, Jungle, City), you will soon realise that much of the debris, rocks and such can be destroyed to deadly effect. By blowing up the scenery, you can destroy enemy installations or units since bigger chunks of the things you’ve blown up can easily crush them, if the luck has it. On the other hand, this is a risky endeavour since the same thing may happen to your own units. The units are varied enough. We’ve got Grunts, Psychos, Toughs, Snipers, Pyros and Lasers of whom each acts as you may expect from their name. However, note that they can also man differing vehicles in the way of Jeeps, various tanks, APCs and such to overcome the enemy. Interestingly, the vehicle driver can be taken out and vehicles can be captured and used by the opposing force. Otherwise, there’s also a nice selection of artillery installations such as Gatling guns, Howitzer missiles and similar weaponry to be used against the cheeky bastards you’re trying to exterminate.

While Z was a technically sound title back in ’96, this is not the case anymore. I was hoping the new dev would freshen up the experience, renew cinematics and the like to make the whole thing more noteworthy, but this is not the case. What we got is pretty much the same game as it was nearly twenty years ago, for better or worse. And I may be swaying on the negative side more than I’d want to. While the game supports higher resolutions, I’ve come across mind-boggling performance slowdowns when a lot of stuff is animated on screen. Nothing too bad, but it lessens the overall experience. Another thing that bugs me is that the menus are terribly unresponsive – which means you will never be sure you’ve pressed the damned button or not. But these aren’t the main issues, no. The biggest problem of this release of Z is that there’s nothing in the way of multiplayer or map editor available. This is strange, since the original had both and received much praise due to their inclusion. This enforces a simple, yet distressing thought that the „new“ Z I’m reviewing is little more than a port of the recently released mobile version of the game. Still, the devs seem friendly enough and are willing to take criticism into account, so we might get these features in future updates.

To sum the whole thing up – Z is exactly the same experience as it was two decades ago. A fast, funny and accessible game that RTS fans will love. It will be bought for nostalgia, if for nothing else, as it offers an early look at the gameplay that inspired the likes of Company of Heroes and Dawn of War 2. Those who are in love with the original game may want to add 10 points to the final score.