Ants are strange creatures. We don't think about them a lot unless they are rudely interrupting our picnic and not something we expect to see taking centre stage in the gaming world. However, Liverpool based Slug Disco Studios has taken these humble and collaborative creatures and turned their secret underground life into something truly spectacular with Empires of the Undergrowth. I was lucky enough to meet some of the team from Slug Disco at EGX and learn a bit about this incredible strategy game. After playing Empires of the Undergrowth at the event, I had to play more. Thankfully, the game has made it to early access, where I got to experience the world of ants like never before.
Offering itself as part RTS part Nature documentary Empires of the Undergrowth will see us defending the colonies of ants from all around the world, from the humble Formica Fusca that most of us see at our picnics to the aggressive red wood ant, Formica Rufa. We encounter each of these ants in habitats similar to where we would encounter them in the real world, as we help them through their daily struggles of finding food, building a colony and facing the dangers of the world outside of their nests. Each level in Empires of The Undergrowth has been designed incredibly well. From beaches to underground nests, there is so much going on. Each unique level can offer some insanely tough challenges for survival, too, whether that's facing invading creatures who want to steal your larvae to battling other colonies and even nature itself as we race food and safety.
But this is not all that is on offer, as between each level, we have an opportunity to build our own supercolony of ants which mixes all the breeds we have encountered in a lab controlled Formicarium (ant farm), where 2 scientists push the colony to its limits with trials between each stage. This is without a doubt my favourite part of the game as it really puts your skills to the test, as you face attacks from all angles, with a few curveballs thrown in by one of the other scientists leaving and the other taking a ruthless turn, adding spiders, beetles and other critters to the mix of combatants that you will need to defend your nest and the queen from!
The gameplay, as mentioned above, can only really be described as fantastic, using a style similar to that of games like dungeon keeper, where you build your nest underground by excavating the area around you to create building space for your colony. The experience is then elevated by using your ants to complete missions through behaviours that they would display within their colony, depending on their species. One great example of this is the leafcutter ant which must venture out into the harsh jungle terrain to gather leaf's whilst dealing with the various threats in the external habitat ranging from locusts to the deadly whip spider and even other ant species' such as army ants. Elevating this experience even more, is the voice acting that narrates the gameplay, with two distinct styles. In the Formicarium, we get the humourous tones of two scientists experimenting with a new breed of ant, albeit one is very much like a child and likes to torture the poor creatures during trials. But during missions, we are narrated to by a much calmer voice, who educates us on the ants and their surroundings as if we were a part of a nature documentary. This is honestly such a great addition to the game and really elevates the overall experience. Whilst talking to the team at EGX this year, I also learned that they will be adding a detailed encyclopedia to the game, further adding to the factual side of this incredible strategy experience.
Empires of the Undergrowth is available to wishlist or download now in early access on Steam and even has a free demo available to play. I honestly recommend trying it out for yourself if you haven't already. There will also be a future update coming soon where we will get to try a new species of ant called the fire ant. Honestly, I cannot wait to try them out, along with any other colonies that will be making their way to the undergrowth with the games full release, which unfortunately hasn't been given a final date yet. Be sure to let us know what you think about Empires of the Undergrowth by commenting on this article through our Facebook and Twitter pages, and I will see you in the undergrowth!
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