Total Annihilation

After 3000 years of galactic scale warfare the remnants of two once great armies duke it out for the total annihilation of the other in this 1997, critically acclaimed RTS.


Total Annihilation (TA) is a 1997 RTS game developed by Chris Taylor’s now-defunct Cavedog Entertainment and published by GT Interactive, which is now part of the Atari brand. It is unique in that it was the first RTS to use full 3D models and maps with height data (though they are still rendered in 2D) a year before the cult hit Starcraft was released, which still used 2D models. It features large scale battles over large maps (the largest maps were so massive that they required a lot more RAM than the minimum requirements for the game); 150 unique units, later expanded to 230 with two subsequent expansions ( The Core Contingency and Battle Tactics), with tools available for users to create their own units to add to the game; and up to 10 player online or LAN multiplayer. It is renowned for being years ahead of its time in scope and mechanics. The game was subject to numerous Game of the Year awards; praised for its deep and unique gameplay, soundtrack, and first use of 3D models in a RTS.

The game is still played more than a decade after its release by an active fanbase, and has been remade by two notable projects with full 3D engines: as a mod for the Spring Engine and as TA3D. The game is considered the spiritual precursor to Chris Taylor of Gas Powered Games’s Supreme Commander and the upcoming Planetary Annihilation.


A screenshot from Total Annihilation
A screenshot from Total Annihilation

There are two factions in Total Annihilation: The Core and the Arm. Though they have differences in ideology that are explained in the story campaign, the two sides are largely similar in terms of gameplay. Both collect the same resources and have mostly the same types of units, though they do differ in some unit selections and gameplay options. The Core, for example, gets an advanced mech unit with a fast-firing, close-range flamethrower, while the Arm's analogue is a mech with a powerful, single-shot lightning gun.

Grand Scale Conflict

Though it was inevitably outdone by the Total War franchise, Total Annihilation's scale was monumental when it was first released. With the ability to support up to 500 units in a battle, as well as having map sizes that are still large even today's standards, TA brought the concept of massive combat to life. Instead of sending skirmishes of 15 or 20 soldiers as was the M. O. of its competitors, notably Age of Empires I and Command & Conquer, battles between Arm and Core ranged from scores to hundreds of fighters; forces of this size are often necessary to break the ironclad defenses of the game. The concept of a nuclear missile as a game-ender was first brought to life in Total Annihilation, the first game to take place on a scale large enough for the blast to even mildly resemble a real one. Along with Warzone 2100, it's also one of few RTS games to have a very strong focus on long range artillery, both stationary and mobile, the most powerful artillery in the game could reach several game screens - which could be the entire map for the smaller maps, and almost halfway across the largest maps.


For a real-time strategy title of any era, Total Annihilation's static defenses are remarkably powerful and plentiful. From the Light Laser Tower up to the Doomsday Machine (a three-story multi-swiveled weapons platform), the game offers both factions are wide variety of effective anti-invasive options. These defenses, coupled with the map-independent resource gathering system, make Total Annihilation mostly a base building game and make turtling a persistent strategy. There are even anti-nuclear missile interceptor systems for thwarting the mother of all weapons. Armies must be large and hard-hitting to deal with a decently protected base; luckily, the unit cap of 500 encourages this kind of play.

Steady Income System

The flow of gameplay in Total Annihilation was unique for RTS games at the time of its release. There are two resources for players to collect: Metal and Energy. Metal is collected by placing metal extractors on metal deposits, reclaiming the wreckage of destroyed units or building metal makers, which use Energy to generate metal. Energy is collected in a variety of ways--it can be collected by solar collectors, wind generators, tidal generators, fusion reactors and in other ways. Units and structures usually have a metal and energy cost associated with them, though they tend to cost much more energy than metal. Placing resource collection structures adds to the amount of that resource being collected per second, and building units or structures decreases that amount. Players can also build resource storage buildings to increase the amount of metal and energy reserves that they can hold.


Players begin the game in control of a single Commander unit, which is the personification of the player on the battlefield. This Commander unit builds structures, reclaims resources and has a D-Gun, a one-hit kill weapon on any target. If the Commander is destroyed, the match is lost unless specified otherwise. The Commander is easily the best builder in the game and must be prioritized well for success, even occasionally in the late game.

There are many different types of units, from K-Bots (infantry), vehicles, airplanes and ships. Some specific units blur the lines between the categories as well--amphibious units are an example. Units are built from specific factories, and each type of factory builds a construction unit which can build the next tech level of buildings.

Terrain Effects

In Total Annihilation, terrain matters more than it does in many RTS's today let alone its chronological rivals. Units cannot shoot through terrain, they must shoot over hills and peaks; a major drawback to laser weapons is their line-firing nature, which can't be used without proper elevation; units with mass weapons will actually try to hit targets by firing at an arc, resulting in missed shots and collateral damage effects that are still absent from many modern games. Units see through Fog of War in a small radius which can expand if they are on top of a hill or at a high elevation. Players can keep track of enemy units more reliably by building radar towers, though players can also wage stealth warfare by utilizing radar-jamming, cloaking or submersible units. The primary benefit that KBots have over vehicles is their mobility on rough terrain where vehicles can get stuck.

Sound Effects

One common criticism leveled at TA is its lack of flavor, derived from the robotic nature of the game's armies. The explosions and gunshots are standard fare, but the "voice-acting" consists entirely of mechanical noises that repeat constantly.


Total Annihilation's soundtrack was composed by Jeremy Soule and performed by the 96-piece Northwest Sinfonia orchestra. It is noteworthy for its sweeping cinematic orchestration and is considered to be Soule's first major work as a gaming composer. The soundtrack was awarded 'Best Music' by GameSpot.

The first of the two game CD's has the soundtrack embedded in CD player format, allowing it to be played in a portable device or stereo. The game also had features in place to help the user who would want to listen to their own CD's while playing the game, the player could assign tracks on a CD of their choosing for all the situations in the game - exploration, construction, battle, victory and defeat, and the game would then play the chosen music in the appropriate situations. In order for this to work the game had to be launched with one of the game's CD's, which could then be switched when at the main menu or in-game. The original soundtrack contained the following 16 tracks:

#Track NameDuration (Total 32:32)


Brutal Battle



Fire and Ice









The March Unto Death



Ambush in the Passage



Forest Green



Death and Decay






Licking Wounds



Futile Attempt



On Throughout the Night






Charred Dreams



Where Am I



Blood of the Machines


Digital Distribution

On March 3, 2010 Total Annihilation was made available exclusively on the Impulse service by Atari for 9.99 USD, and on August 17, 2010 the Total Annihilation: Commander Pack was released on for 5.99 USD.