Star Wars: Force Commander puts you in charge of ground level operations of the Empire. Long have Star Wars fans played the many flight and space simulations set in the most popular sci-fi universe ever created. But while the flyboys and a few jedi knights have thus far gotten all the gaming glory, lets not forget that the Empire was built on the backs of those white clad, lightly armored front line stormtrooper grunts. This is the game where they get to shine.
Loading up the game at first was quite daunting. I was expecting an interface more like Bungie Software’s Myth, where a simple point and click sent hoards of troops off in a direction. Force Commander by contrast comes with a fairly sizable manual, and I would recommend that you read it well, since you will need more than half the keys on the keyboard to control your troops in battle effectively. I momentarily cringed, thinking that this just might be another overly complex title like Rebellion.
The first mission you are sent on in the single player game follows the storyline of the original movie, only you see this from the stormtrooper’s perspective. You have to try and locate the shuttle that R2-D2 and C3PO crashed landed in after escaping Princess Lea’s doomed Corellian Corvette. But since you are merely a grunt-level commander, you are only given the basics of the mission, and not actually told the droid’s names or any other details of the mission. Of course you are doomed to fail, or else the Deathstar would never have been destroyed, but your excellent performance leads to promotions and higher ranks, and missions that break from the movie plots all together. Still, I think this is a clever way to get into the game.
The controls are difficult to learn at first. You can rotate the visual camera in any direction, even to directly overhead where your troops are standing. I found that the best angle is probably over the units, but looking forward enough so that you can see pretty far down the horizon. Combine camera management, which can also be done by moving the mouse, with moving your troops and you have a bit of problem getting used to the interface. You can assign groups of units to move together using the standard Shift-Number keystroke. However, it would be nice if the units then carried the designation of the group you assigned to them. Otherwise, it’s difficult to remember the numbers for each group.
The unit balance between the Empire and the Rebellion is pretty good, although at first glance it seems like the Rebellion holds all the cards. Their units cost about the same to purchase, but a lot of the Rebellion units have shields, whereas none of the Empire units do. Shields regenerate over time whereas armor has to be repaired at a special shop. And in the first couple levels of the game, the Emperor does not trust you enough apparently to give you access to higher buildings, like a field hospital and repair shop.
However, this seeming rebel balance is deceptive. If you can put together a strong multi-unit Empire force, you can roll through most rebellion troops. The key is that different units deal different damage. So a tank might be good against vehicles, but poor against infantry. So it’s a matter of building a cohesive force that can deal with whatever it comes across. If you are missing a link, you will go down fast. As an example, when I was rushing a rebel base, I did not realize there was an airfield there. A few airspeeders flew out and tore my otherwise healthy attack platoon to bits. I had to remount a new attack with anti-aircraft support before I was able to crack that rebel nut.
Which is not to say that the rebels are pushovers. Playing in multiplayer mode proves this. The rebel army is generally faster to deploy, and early on can win battles before the empire can gain enough command points (awarded by your commanders and used as a resource) to get the big and powerful units on the board.
Later on in the game, you get to play as the rebels as well, though I won’t give any of the plot away. I found that I could also win most times with the Rebellion, but that you have to use more hit and run type tactics or employ a large force of one unit against Empire troops are not equipped to deal with you.
Also, you have the ability to repair both units and men out in the field, which is a huge advantage because badly damaged or injured units do not have to pull back from the front line to far before they can be fixed up and returned to battle. The rebellion also employs a lot more hover units, which is helpful in some scenarios where walking units can’t traverse certain terrain features. Almost all the Empire units, especially the large ones, are walkers.
Although the game is realtime, it is not as fast paced as most I have encountered. This is not to say it is anything like a turn-based game. But even combat has a bit of a "you shoot, I shoot" feel to it. I like this because it gives commanders more time to think in battle, and keeps the strategy aspect from degrading into a game of reflexes.
It’s also interesting to follow the plot, which involves two brothers trying to climb the ranks of the Empire. You can see how promotions are achieved in the Empire command structure, and why the men at the top are simply ruthless.
Star Wars Force Commander is an excellent addition to the collection of gamers who enjoy realtime strategy and are looking for a bit of a change form the normal rush mentality. This game earns 4 1/2 GiN Gems, with just a bit off the top because of the excessive use of controls and an above average learning curve.
So do your patriotic duty and join the Empire today. Leave all that Jedi mumbo-jumbo alone, cause with a platoon of AT-ATs filled with loyal stormtroopers, you can become the scourge of the galaxy without a lightsaber in sight.