RTS with Ambiance
The heart of Eufloria's gameplay is steady growth and expansion. Each level of the 25 mission campaign starts the player off with a single "asteroid," a circular body endowed with certain statistics of health, strength, and speed. The player obtains units from the asteroid by planting a tree - a process which requires the sacrifice of 10 seedlings - which at the outset produces seedlings at an excruciatingly slow pace but over time develops and grows and eventually pops out units at a fairly brisk pace. The choice the player has to make in planting trees - Retain a few troops now, or generate a lot of troops later? - is a good representative of Eufloria's strategic nature. Throughout the game the player must choose between assaulting small, easy to capture asteroids and big, challenging but valuable ones, between offensive and defensive trees, between developing super-seedlings and slow-moving but powerful defensive flowers. While all units are essentially variations on the simple, basic seedling, the way in which one develops them can have a meaningful impact on the game.
Unfortunately for Eufloria, the game often favors one form of decision-making over another. A distinct home-team advantage for asteroids forces players to account for enemy trees that are constantly generating re-enforcements, right up until the asteroid core is assaulted and finally taken over. With the added obstacle of defensive trees, which deal splash damage enough to wipe out multiple seedlings at once, players must assemble overwhelming numbers to conquer enemy territory. This encourages a fair amount of turtling and eliminates much of the game's strategy. Winning in Eufloria is about outsmarting the computer so much as methodically amassing seedlings, then launching a massive wave.
The "turtling" effect is compounded by the fact that the AI is not terribly bright. During the main campaign, the player starts out with one asteroid and has to conquer an entire asteroid field of enemies. If the computer were at all intelligent it would launch a counterattack (it certainly has the resources to!) but generally it will not put up a tremendous level of fuss as the player methodically takes over its asteroids, one by one. The developer's decision not to build human multiplayer is real loss - the tension and challenge of the game would really ratchet up if the player had to take on a person who actually used strategy.
Ultimately, however, tension and challenge are not what this game is about. The abstract, low-key music, the appealing but simple visual design, are all calculated to generate a peaceful mindset. After a long day of work I found the slow, methodical pace of Eufloria to be wonderfully appealing. Sometimes I would ignore my campaign for expansion, zoom in on an asteroid, and watch the tree I had just planted sprout and grow, splitting over and over in a fractal pattern. It's remarkably peaceful to watch the trees sprout and the winged seedlings orbit slowly overhead. The slow growth of trees is mirrored by the slow growth of one's asteroid empire. Eufloria is less about combat than this slow growth. Often I found myself shocked to realize that I had spent more than an hour on each level.
There is a plot to Eufloria, but it hardly bears mentioning. Suffice it to say that it provides the player, via text box, the bare essentials for continuing on. I finished the main campain about half an hour ago, and I honestly can't remember names of the primary actors. The story, like the visuals, is just plain simple, and the designers clearly didn't try to make it any other way.
Eufloria is an RTS for folks who don't play RTSs. Combat and strategy take a back seat to ambiance in this slow-paced indie game. I certainly consider the $10 I payed for it on a Steam sale to be worth it. Even if you prefer the faster, more complicated and deeper titles in the strategy genre, you might very well appreciate purchasing Eufloria, and watching some trees grow.