How many billions of units have been lost in the great RTS wars? The battlefields of PC gaming have raged for decades, producing some strange and wonderful warriors and machines of war. Everyone who plays RTS games has a favourite unit. Something powerful that can reliably devastate the enemy, perhaps, or something weird and memorable. We got together to discuss our personal faves. Share yours in the comments.
Katyusha Rocket Truck, from Company of Heroes 2
“Is this thing real?” I thought the first time the Katyusha rolled onto the battlefield. This Soviet artillery vehicle is a truck with a rack of rockets bolted on top. It requires almost no setup time, it simply drives somewhere and starts firing rockets that scream as they fly. It’s about as accurate as you’d expect for such a crude structure, but the volume of missiles blanket-bombs wide areas very effectively. It’s important to to remember that It’s just a truck, so if anything weapon so much as brushes a Katyusha, it blows up. It is still well worth putting one or two out for a laugh sometimes. Hide them in the corners of the map and terrify your enemy with the persistent sound of incoming barrages. —Tom Senior
The pic is from this amusing YouTube video showing dozens of Katyushas firing at once.
Multigunner IFV (Dog variant), from Red Alert 3
Pic via CnC wiki. Dog and the mighty BEAR variant are in the middle of the third row.
This is a pretty basic allied unit—a light vehicle that can transport a single passenger. The twist is that its turret changes based on the unit riding inside. Place a Peacekeeper inside it, and it gets an automatic shotgun attachment. Neat! Even better, though, if you put an attack dog in an IFV, its turret transforms into a huge speaker rig that stuns infantry in a large area of effect. This isn't all that useful, but the image of a dog barking into a microphone so forcefully that its enemies are scared into inaction is too brilliant to not celebrate. Plus it works with bears, too. —Phil Savage
Sardaukar, from Dune 2
I’m still impressed by the variety of units in Dune 2. Not satisfied with formalising the structure of the real-time-strategy genre for decades to come, Dune 2 conjured guerrilla units, monster tanks, weapons that could change enemy allegiance, and mighty sand worms. The latter probably deserves a spot on this list for its unpredictability and horror factor; it scared me half to death every time it popped up to swallow a tank whole. However it’s the ferocious Sardaukar that stand out after all these years. The Emperor’s shock troops are tiny blips on Dune 2’s old pixelated battlefields, but they’re purple—the colour reserved for the highest power in known space. The sinister profile art and their power on the field backs up their fearsome reputation. —Tom Senior
Chrono Legionnaire, from Red Alert 2
Red Alert 2 was an amazing sandbox to Play Totally Wrong in. I would turtle up behind France's Grand Cannons, or build a fleet of grinning Kirov Airships, or spend all my time focusing on elite paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines, inevitably leaving my base ignored and poorly defended against a more efficient counterattack. My favorite high-concept strategy was building a force of Chrono Legionnaires, who could teleport in small jumps across the battlefield and use their Ghostbusters-style particle cannons to phase things out of existence. I'd sneak them onto the outskirts of a base, use an airstrike to take out any nearby defenses, and sic my whole squad on the enemy's construction yard. It took an agonizing few seconds to phase such a large building out of existence, and more often than not a few weak infantry would run over and gun down my squad. But when it worked, oh baby. No conyard? Game over. What an impractical, hard-to-use, utterly badass unit. —Wes Fenlon
Exorcist Tank, from Dawn of War: Soulstorm
Warhammer 40,000’s Sisters of Battle love to burn heretics and aliens, and they are willing to get very creative with it. Naturally you can pack out their front-line squads with of flamethrowers to carpet the battlefield with purifying flame, but you can double-purify the enemy from above with some aid from the absurd and wonderful Exorcist tank. The body of the tank supports a pulpit from which a sister delivers passionate sermons in praise of the God-Emperor. Behind her sits the best backing band you could hope for: a giant pipe organ that shoots rockets. It must be the least accurate warhead delivery system I’ve ever commanded in a game, but it’s so audacious, so mad, that I have to build as many as possible, whenever possible. It really ought to honk out the Phantom of the Opera theme when it attacks, but I’m willing to forgive this oversight. —Tom Senior
Tanya, from Red Alert/Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge
Tanya's ability to blow up buildings or bridges in seconds with C4 and utterly ruin squads of foot soldiers with handguns made her the stuff of legends among my school friends in the late '90s. While Red Alert 1's Tanya is pretty much screwed against tanks or tesla coils or flame turrets, a great strategy in Skirmish mode is taking those out in advance with a swam of tanks, then dropping a squad of Tanya's in by helicopter behind enemy lines, and destroying as many buildings as possible before the enemy rallies enough infantry to counter. In Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge, Tanya couldn't be ran over by vehicles and could C4 tanks as well—making her my absolute favourite C&C unit by default. —Samuel Roberts
Cybran Experimental Megabot, from Supreme Commander
All the experimental units are huge and fun to use but you can’t beat a giant metal spider that fires lasers. When it comes to unit design the Cybrans lack imagination, so it’s important to clarify. I’m not talking about the small ordinary spiderbots, or even the amazing Megalith spiderbots. No, the mighty Monkeylord, lord of all spiders (and monkeys), is my favourite. It evades radar somehow, it can walk on the sea floor, and it can crush enemy units beneath its gangly legs. It also has a huge microwave laser weapon that can immolate enemy robots and reheat a chicken dinner in milliseconds. —Tom Senior
Allied Cruisers, from Red Alert
There's a real problem with balance in the base game of Red Alert, which is somehow made even worse by the additional units in the Aftermath expansion. The Allies simply don't have enough decent heavies, like the Soviet's mammoth tanks, which are an absolute pain to take down without anything but a swarm of medium tanks. What the Allies do have, though, is the cruiser, an absolute brute of a naval unit that just crudely lobs firepower inland after slowly snaking towards the enemy base. If your opponent is foolish enough to set up shop near the coast, sending in three of these super expensive units can basically win you the game, providing the Soviets don't have any submarines to counter. The only problem? Aftermath basically gave the Soviets their own version with the nuclear submarine, so they pretty much dominated on all fronts in Skirmish mode. Still, I'm not going to hold it against a 21 year-old RTS that I've played every year since release and adore. —Samuel Roberts
Siege Tank, from StarCraft 2
I want to watch the Siege Tank TV show; the Siege Tank musical; the Siege Tank’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame. This tank has the presence—the inimitable chutzpah—that other war machines lack. The Siege Tank is the Citizen Kane of tanks that lay siege to stuff. It may lack the range of utility that you will find elsewhere in StarCraft 2's finely tuned armies, but the Siege Tank's chugging animations grant give it more personality—a combination of earnest enthusiasm and, when transformed, a stoic determination to keep firing until victory or death. —Tom Senior
Teutonic Knight, from Age of Empires 2
There's no complex appeal, here: one of my uncles introduced me to Age of Empires 2, and as I watched him play, he pointed out the Teutonic Knights and said, casually, "they're really strong." I took that to heart. After he gave me his CD of Age of Empires 2, I played as the Teutons, arranging my whole strategy around teching up to build droves of these lumbering infantry units, the Darth Vaders of their day. Playing against the AI, it was a strategy that mostly worked: they really were the most powerful infantry in the game, and could wade through an army twice their size… so long as they could catch the enemy infantry, anyway. They must have had swords, but my memory of the tiny sprite is that they seemed to be casually punching their way through armor and horses and leaving piles of blood behind them. If only they could catch those stupid archers. —Wes Fenlon