ReviewsReview: Empires of the Undergrowth

Review: Empires of the Undergrowth

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The animal kingdom is a fascinating place. No matter their position in the food chain, they are all fighting to survive. Instincts are all that keep these creatures alive, yet some have the intelligence to give themselves a head start. Empires of the Undergrowth reflects the hectic nature of our surrounding world as you battle for survival.

Developed and published by Slug Disco Studios, this is a real-time strategy title. The action plays out across two distinct modes of city-building and standalone missions. You must control an ant colony that will dig, hunt, and expand its nest deep underground. The concept is brutal, intriguing, and will make you look at the animal kingdom in a whole new light.

Empires of the Undergrowth is remarkably easy to play. 

I’ve played RTS titles for as long as I can remember and my initial concern is always the learning curve. However, fortunately, Empires of the Undergrowth is remarkably easy to play and simple to pick up. The game opens on your ant colony within its Formicarium. This is the central hub where you’ll keep returning to expand your home and to open further missions. From here, you can build the nest of your dreams, upgrade your forces, and unlock further ants. You’ll need to play each combat mission repeatedly as this gifts you resources to complete any improvements.

You open with the choice of two missions that have set objectives. As you complete gateway tasks, further missions become available. Each has a difficulty setting and a further challenge mode once you’ve completed them. After you ticked off every task and you’ve achieved victory, you must choose your prize! Do you pick more territory tiles, food, or Royal jelly? This sounds straightforward, but believe me, it isn’t. Depending on how you are expanding your colony will influence your decision.

Supply the Queen and the colony survives.

Resources make the world go round! 

Territory tiles allow you to dig out tunnels and create chambers. Here you can build food stores, nests, and more. You must plan your design thoroughly, otherwise, this will create weaknesses and will slow your ant army down. Mistakes will happen, and a methodical mind is needed to ensure you don’t waste these limited supplies.

Food is essential for your eggs to hatch and your army to keep respawning. You must have an ample supply, otherwise, a raid on your colony could be devastating. In the Formicarium, the food lies on the surface and workers must venture from the safety of the nest to gather it. Players must use quiet moments to fill their stores, as you don’t want to be collecting supplies when you are under attack.

Finally, Royal jelly, the nutritious link between upgrading and buying new troops. This rare resource is essential to improving the capabilities of all your creatures. Without it, you’ll struggle to reach the latter stages and your troops will be weak. You can improve speed, health, attack, defence, and more. It was fantastic to see how much the upgrades improved your army and the different tactical advantages they gave you. 

Fighting overground reduces the risk to your colony.

Empires of the Undergrowth is all about planning. 

If you are a fan of this genre, you’ll know that the gameplay is all about planning. Unsurprisingly, Empires of the Undergrowth is no different. You must use each of your troops to complete specific tasks while achieving victory. I loved burrowing through the soil to ambush my foes with an army of aggressive warrior ants. It was thoroughly enjoyable watching my swarm of insects dissecting the bodies and returning them to the Queen. The animal kingdom is bloody brutal and the fascinating warfare has been captured perfectly during every mission.

The array of tasks on offer help to keep the gameplay fresh throughout. The inclusion of a challenge mode added a hectic curveball that split your focus and adjusted your approach. This was an excellent way to add longevity and gave the gameplay a hardcore element that veteran gamers will yearn for. These harder missions reward you with greater resources and are essential to expanding your colony.

It’s reminiscent of classic RTS games.

Using a top-down perspective is nothing new in the RTS genre, and Empires of the Undergrowth is reminiscent of many classic titles. Its basic camera angles and limited zoom function give you an excellent viewpoint to watch each battle unfold. I equally liked how key areas were highlighted in the fog of war. The use of exclamation marks demonstrated danger and question marks, resource sources. This simplistic mechanic made planning much easier and I applaud the developers for their user-friendly approach. 

The UI is simple and clean-cut and this allows you to focus on the task at hand. Thanks to its uncluttered appearance, you can enjoy the detail of each character model. Moreover, the developers have invested a lot of time into the realism and each animal is lifelike and excellent to look at. Their movement through the corridors and the horrendous combat was smooth and wonderful to be observed.

The drama of each battle is brilliantly complemented by the hard-hitting audio. The aggressive soundtrack is full of energy and matches the danger of each situation. The music was supported by a crunching mixture of sound effects that bring the fighting to life. You’ll hear creatures crunching as each ant army rips through the other. Further still, a brilliant use of narration warns you of intruders, danger, and more as the game progresses. The aesthetics drag you into this dark subterranean world and you’ll fall for its brutal charms from the opening mission.

Protect the Queen no matter the cost.

Clever mechanics make it easy to control. 

With an array of ants to breed and choose from, this could have been a messy experience. Fortunately, the developers countered this with some clever mechanics. You can group any type of creature into different categories and these units move by following a pheromone trail. If any enemies approach, the ants automatically attack. This made controlling your army much easier. However, you had to ensure your weaker units were held back. Moreover, there is no ability to split the same type of ant into separate groups. This sadly made it harder to attack multiple fronts and reduced the tactical choices available.

Though tactical choices were limited, I still loved every moment. I happily played the same mission repeatedly, and I will keep playing them. Expanding my colony was moreish and the gateway missions are tough and demand a well-designed nest. The developers have done brilliantly with the unique abilities and the number of ants you can introduce to your colony. Splitting the action into two distinct areas was an excellent choice and one that is sure to extend longevity. There are additional modes you can undertake if you tire of the main story, and there are also extra missions that test your tactical approach. Thanks to these options, there is ample replay value and this will keep you playing for hours.

Empires of the Undergrowth is the perfect blend of educational material and RTS.

Usually anything labelled educational turns me off. Fortunately, however, Empires of the Undergrowth gets its balance just right. I adored learning about each type of ant and the tasks they undertake. I also liked the introduction of predators and how each scenario was realistic and challenging. The developers have done a wonderful job with this real-time strategy game and I loved their multilayered approach. It’s an excellent title and I recommend you to buy it here! Complete each mission to get every resource you require, then plan and build the colony of your dreams. 

SUMMARY

Empires of the Undergrowth is a fantastic RTS with educational elements. You must build the colony of your dreams and work your way through the different missions and each of their objectives. You must have a methodical mind and plan your approach at every stage.

+ Excellent graphics.
+ Accurate character models.
+ Hard-hitting audio.
+ Straightforward controls.
+ The educational elements weren't overbearing.
- There is no ability to split your troops.
- I wanted more levels.

(Reviewed on PC using Steam. The game is only available on PC, currently.)
Daniel Waite
My gaming career started on an Amiga and spans many consoles! Currently, I game using an MSI laptop and Xbox Series X. A fan of every genre, I love to give anything a go. Former editor and reviewer for www.bonusstage.co.uk, I'm loving my new home here at Movies Games and Tech. I can be contacted for gaming reviews on the following email: [email protected]

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