The Game: Brenn Tannor, Imperial Army officer, is in command of the might of the Empire, enforcing the Emperor’s will across the galaxy. From the safety of his Battlefield Control Holographic Interface, Tannor directs Stormtroopers, mighty walkers, and other exotic weaponry into battle. But as he becomes aware of the true nature of the evil Empire, Tannor struggles with a decision that could land him in the camp of the Empire’s most hated enemy, the Rebel Alliance. Will Tannor help the Empire enslave the galaxy…or help the Rebel Alliance free it? (LucasArts, 2000)
Memories: The long-anticipated real-time strategy game set in the Star Wars universe is finally here. After three years in development, Force Commander is on the shelf and armchair Imperial Warlords and Rebel Generals everywhere finally have the chance to see what they’re made of.
This game has gotten quite a bit of bad press since its release. It’s also received quite a bit of praise from Star Wars and RTS fans alike. This is one of those games where you either love it or you hate it. Personally, I love it. However, I should note that this was really the first real-time strategy game I’d ever sat down and played (I’ve since been working my way through the excellent Starcraft). I think this made me a little less biased, actually, as I didn’t go into the game with a bunch of preconceived notions as to what an RTS game should encompass.
One of the main complaints leveled against Force Commander is the camera system used to control the player’s view of the 3-D environment. The camera angles can vary from zoomed in close at ground level, to a “god’s eye view” well above and behind the units. Control is either via the keyboard or with a combination of keyboard and mouse. For me, I keep the camera zoomed out to the maximum most of the time. It’s the only way to really keep an eye on the battlefield and still have some semblance of control. Although I do confess that selecting units can be problematic, especially small units or units that are grouped very close together.
Control of the units themselves (once selected), isn’t too bad. Movement involves simply clicking the desired destination on the map, although a fussy AI sometimes leaves units running around in circles to go around a turret. To help alleviate that problem, waypoints can be designated, telling the unit what path to take. This is especially helpful for maneuvering around terrain or keeping units out of the enemy’s detection range.
Force Commander has a wide variety of Imperial and Rebel units from which to choose. Most units will be instantly recognizable by anyone familiar with the Star Wars universe, but there are many units in the game not even hinted at in the movies. Both sides have basic infantry units, artillery, transports, scouts, and armor.
Unlike usual RTS fare, Force Commander does not focus a commander’s spare time on such mundane tasks as mining natural resources and building units. Instead, a “Command Point” system is used that more or less represents a commander’s standing with his superiors. If a commander is successful in completing mission objectives and destroying enemy units, points are added. Of course, if a commander is incompetent, losing troops and materiel left and right, points will be taken away. This system adds a definite element of “strategy” to RTS in that a commander cannot be careless and expect to be able to call down an endless supply of troops (although the total number of units allowed at one time is 60).
Delivery of units is rather simple. A player orders up units from an orbiting capital ship, and the units are delivered via transport. However, only one group or type of unit can be ordered at once. For example, only six infantry can be called at a time, even if a commander wants 18 or more. They must be brought down six at a time. This can be a bit frustrating (especially when calling down fortifications at the beginning of a mission), but once again forces a commander to think ahead and use a little “strategy” in marshalling his forces.
Missions vary widely. In most scenarios of the campaign, the objective is not to simply annihilate the other side. Primary objectives range from capturing enemy structures, to delivering a computer expert to an enemy complex, to “acquiring” enemy equipment for study, to slaughtering Ewoks (not as much fun as one would think), to capturing or freeing a certain Rebel Jedi Knight. This variety definitely keeps the game interesting and adds a high level of challenge.
On the note of graphics, the units themselves look nice. I’ve read complaints about “low polygon count,” but to be honest, it didn’t make that much of a difference to me. The game looks fine even on my low-end system (bare minimum to run the game). Besides, it’s gameplay that really counts.
In the end, Force Commander is a great game for Star Wars fans. Hard-core RTS afficionados will most likely be turned off by the command point system, camera controls, and older-looking graphics. But for those of us who wish to fight epic battles a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, this game delivers.