Z became very popular amongst strategy fans and in 2001, a modern 3D-accelerated sequel was published by EON Digital Entertainment. The sequel was called Z:Steel Soldiers, differentiating itself from the first game. Unable to satisfy the expectations of fans, the sequel was criticized for adapting modern RTS mechanics that were very different from the first game.
The player’s aim, as the commander of a robot force, is to annihilate the enemy forces and to conquer each planet. The enemy on each planet are disposed of in one of two ways. Players can either destroy all of their soldiers, or infiltrate an enemy headquarters. Experience the war alongside the trigger-happy Commander Zod and two notorious robot slackers from the Red Faction, Brad and Allan.
Unlike many contemporary real time strategy games, there is no base building or classic resource management. More similarly to the MSX and Genesis proto-RTS Herzog series the objective is to defeat the enemy by capturing territory and either destroying all the enemy units or infiltrating the enemy’s headquarters. The original game is also extremely slow, with emphasis on strategy and building tension, but with Z95, they offered the option for faster gameplay. Along the way, the action is complimented by the voices of the player’s comrades.
In Z; gathering resources, building bases, and creating army units, are handled automatically, The gameplay focuses on action and micro management. Instead of creating buildings, players capture the territory that a building is encompassed by and it will automatically begin producing allied units. This means that enemies can potentially capture the player’s territory right before any units are produced and vice versa. Players are able to choose what units are manufactured by each individual factory, but the rate of production is determined by how powerful the unit is, how much territory has been conquered, and how much damage that building has taken. The terrain can be deformed, with sometimes surprising results. Rocks can be exploded and the debris will fly up in the air and can kill units if they get crushed by it, the same is true for anything that explodes. Bridges can be destroyed to distract the enemy, factories can be destroyed to delay reinforcements.
Units will express emotions related to their orders and the player’s decisions – this includes expressing calmness, anger, terror, anxiety and desperation. This acts as a way of communicating with the player on a more understandable level and less intruding manner. For example, if weak units are sent against more powerful ones they will respond hesitantly.
- Intuitive control interface, pick up and play
- Detailed graphics and animation
- Many different capturable buildings like factories, radar and repair installations
- 6 robot types and 11 types of hardware from tanks to artillery
- Over 30 minutes of animated cutscenes with voice-overs
- Conditional music system blends one theme into another to fit the action
- Fast and Frantic gameplay with up to 4 players over the Internet or Local Area Network
- Real-time sprite scale and rotation enabled through automatic hardware scaling
- Improvements made to the A.I. and unit balancing
- Three levels of difficulty and three speed settings
- Up to 4 player multi-player support with a single CD-ROM (ZExpansionXP improves multiplayer support)
- 35 single player, 25 two player, 15 three and four-player maps.
- Multi-Player level editor
- Bonus Windows 95 theme pack included
Combat takes place on several planets, with 4 missions on each. When one is successfully captured, a space ship transports the robot army to another. Worlds are divided into the following types:
A dry, open and scarcely vegetated environment, in which units have little trouble moving around freely. The player encounters rivers and islands as they progress through the battles on this planet. Some territories are controlled by flags on islands.
A much more hostile environment. Lava flows are an impassable barrier.
A frozen world of snow and ice spanned by glacial rock formations.
A verdant world of menacing swamps and impenetrable chasms. Crocodiles in the swamps eat robots hanging around the mud.
A decaying industrial complex where danger lies around every corner. Monsters in sewers will ambush robots moving through water.
- Grunts – Weakest units, quickest to build. Equipped with rifles, they can be useful to have besides a vehicle so that if the driver is sniped, players have more units to control the vehicle. Grenades make them significantly more powerful. Other than out of desperation, these guys are best avoided in favor of stronger units.
- Psychos – Moderately powerful, slower but also quick to build. They carry rapid-fire machine guns and can quickly eliminate un-guarded grunts.
- Tough – Strong and as implied, they have the best armor. Not very intelligent, they carry missile guns comparable to the turrets of a tank, however they are unable to snipe enemies out of their vehicles and should be put aside if players hope to capture vehicles instead of destroying them.
- Sniper – Equipped with a rifle, they are able to shoot enemies out of their vehicles and artillery guns from a distance and more effectively than grunts, making them less of a target. Extremely intelligent.
- Pyros – Expensive but effective, especially against tanks. These units are semi-intelligent and only slightly less protected than Toughs.
- Laser – These units carry lasers. Vulnerable due to their slow reloading time, however their weapon packs quite a punch. They aren’t very intelligent and take the longest time to build.
Drivers can be shot out of vehicles, allowing them to be captured by the enemy.
- Jeep – Common early in the game, but are generally ignored in favor of tanks later on. Jeeps carry machine guns and they are fast, it is possible to dodge grenades and wipe out weaker units.
- Light Tank – The lightest tank is also the fastest of the bunch, will easily make mince meat of large groups of grunts but may struggle against any kind of artillery or multiple jeeps. Vulnerable to being taken over, thus becoming a tough enemy, unless players keep their own robots nearby.
- Medium Tank – Faster than Heavy, stronger than Light. May be preferable over Heavies when speed cannot be entirely compromised.
- Heavy Tank – Strong but very slow to build. On top of their tough armor, they also have extended firing range making them effective against almost anything.
- Mobile Missile – Very expensive compared to other vehicles. They’ll take a long time to build and they’re extremely slow but pose a huge threat, capable of destroying missile artillery with ease due to maneuverability.
- APC – Used to transport and protect robots, the vehicle adapts to the units it carries and its weapons will vary as such.
- Crane – The crane is used to repair destroyed buildings and bridges. Vehicles still need to use the repair factories.
Effectiveness of artillery is based on the intelligence of the robot unit operating it.
- Gatling – Gatling guns are equipped with machines guns which offers rapid fire but it cannot resist a lot of damage, usually being destroyed by even the weakest units.
- Gun – A gun is turret equipped with rockets that is capable of destroying light tanks, they are faster than Howitzer and Missile artillery and have better armor than gatling guns.
- Howitzer – Excellent range and good damage. While they’re slow to build and weaker than the gun, the enemy usually won’t get close enough to deliver enough damage. Extremely slow rate of fire may allow units to get close enough to deal considerable damage.
- Missile -Stronger than heavy tanks, high armor for an artillery. Generally equal to the mobile missile but being stationary puts it at a disadvantage.
There are six different weapons, some are used by multiple unit types.
- Rifle – Used by the grunt and the sniper, the rifle doesn’t offer much damage against robots, but when aimed at a vehicle driver too busy to defend himself, can kill him and make the vehicle unoccupied and available for capturing.
- Machine Gun – With its increased fire rate, the machine gun easily gives the psycho a serious edge over rifle units.
- Missile Gun – The most damaging robot weapon, the toughs weapon is extremely powerful, comparable only to the tank’s turrets.
- Flame Gun – With a good fire rate, the flame gun is one of the tanks worst enemies, and can easily put down robots.
- Laser – The most powerful robot weapon, with high reload and tank-piercing properties, the laser weapon is a sight to behold.
- Grenade – Available scattered around the map, the grenades can be thrown at long range and enable weak robots to destroy rocks, buildings and bridges, and inflict serious damage on tanks.
There are eight different kinds of structures.
- Headquarters – The player’s fortress can have up to 4 artillery units deployed on its corners, if an enemy destroys the headquarters or sends a unit inside, the game will automatically end.
- Radar – Once captured, players will have an overview of the entire map. If the player’s radar is destroyed, they will not be able to easily keep track of the environment or enemies.
- Robot Factory – Builds robot and artillery units, can be destroyed.
- Vehicle Factory – Builds vehicle units, can be destroyed.
- Repair Factory – Send vehicles to the repair factory to have them repaired, the penalty for manufacturing new vehicles can be high, so it is useful to keep units in good condition.
- Bridge – Used by units to cross swamps, robots are capable of moving through the swamps but this can be dangerous. However if destroyed, vehicles will either be forced to change their route or to repair the broken bridge in order to cross it.
- Rocks – Act as a barrier. Can be destroyed by tanks or robots equipped with grenades.
- Swamp – Can be hazardous and only robots can cross them. There is a chance that robots will be eaten by crocodiles.
Z was in development for roughly 3 years and was likely influenced by the early Genesis RTS Herzog Zwei and Dune 2, a game that popularized the RTS genre.
The game was known best for its sense of humor, excellently rendered cinematics and its polished graphics and animation.
It was released alongside other big names in the real-time strategy genre, such as Warcraft 2 and Command & Conquer.