I really enjoyed running around as a tiny ant in this upcoming RTS


Empire of the Ants is a real-time strategy game, but I failed to do much serious strategizing when I got the chance to play it at GDC last week. I was enjoying walking upside down too much.

I've never played an RTS quite like Empire of the Ants. As an ant, I explored a realistic Unreal Engine 5-rendered park, directing infantry units to attack and secure ant hills. Once conquered, each hill could support one more unit and a small number of improvements that, among other things, boost resource extraction, give me new intel, or bestow my ant general with pheromone-based powers with which to buff or support my armies.

In a singleplayer campaign and in PvP, the challenge will be to balance securing and managing your ant hills with commanding units on the front line. There's no zooming out and scrolling around like in a typical RTS: If you want to tell your troops to attack a certain anthill, you have to be able to point to it. (With your antennae, I assume, since ants don't have fingers.) And you can't tell a far-away base what to build next: you have to stand on it, causing a somewhat awkward radial UI to appear on the ground.

I didn't fully grasp how a complete skirmish will play out in Empire of the Ants, in part because my demo wasn't long enough to get me into a proper war, but also because I was enjoying the novelty of being an ant slightly too much.

As an ant, you stick to surfaces, so you can walk up the trunk of a tree, or in loops around a fallen log, or up to the tip of a leaf to observe a battlefield. I was struck by a new appreciation for the vastness of an ant's multi-plane domain, to the ant.

Sprinting brings you back to earth, decoupling your little ant legs from whatever you're clinging to, but lets you make mad dashes between your hills, which is fun in its own way. You can also leap, and if you fall, you just tumble to the ground unharmed, as ants do. What a treat it is to have a body that only weighs a couple milligrams.

Empire of the Ants is based on a series of French novels (you're not alone if it's news to you that there's a very popular trilogy of French novels about ants) and developer Tower Five says it used photographs from the actual setting of the books to texture the environments, which aim for photorealism.

I think it's an effective choice. As in Pikmin or 2016's Unravel, when the world of the small is magnified, you want to see the texture of everything in 8K, so that pits and bumps become caverns and mountains, while delicate things look lighter than air. The translucency of leaves and the ants themselves is particularly nice.

Empire of the Ants seems like it could be a sophisticated, unique RTS, and I can imagine it producing dramatic PvP moments with both players perched atop twigs on either side of a battlefield, observing their insect armies like ancient carapaced generals. I didn't get a good enough feel for its tactical possibilities to say more on that front, but regarding the experience of being a little ant, I definitely think they're on to something.

Empire of the Ants is scheduled to release on Steam sometime this year.