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Reviewed: Force Commander
Author: Patrick WIlcox       Date: April 11th 2000
Page: 2

In the opening sequence (which is quite lenghty) you find yourself, a lonely storm-trooper, ready to disembark a shuttle on a planet-side incursion. The scenes displayed are awesome, the panning and views of the AT-ATs and Hover Tanks are amazing. It's like a fifth movie, the animation is smooth and the classic "Imperial March" is playing in the background. After watching the movie, I looked up and saw the poster (that was included) of Darth Vader pointing his gloved finger at me. The poster went up immediately after opening the box. "Victory is ours! You will join us," was the caption. Talk about a weird feeling. The end of the movie gives a revelation as to how you, a storm-trooper regular, actually gain control of an assault squad. From there the story moves on to the basic plot of the Star Wars movies. Eventually, even you defect to the Rebel Alliance.

The whole game is controlled by the Battlefield Holographic Control Interface (BHCI), which is an easy way for a commander to control planet-side troops and vehicles. The first few campaign missions are really tutorials for the BHCI as well as a lead in to the main plot. The best game to compare FC to is StarCraft, by Blizzard. Just as in StarCraft, the player is in charge of a squad of troops and a neighborhood of buildings from some distant place. Even some of the controls are the same. A StarCraft player will have an easy time entering into Force Commander and learning the controls. The one thing that does set FC apart from the rest, though, is the camera movement. Controlling the camera is weird at first. Using experience from other 3D games like Homeworld, it was fairly easy to jump into. The camera controls are setup like a FPS's movement controls. In fact, the controls for the camera are just translated one key over from my alternate controls (which I use when sniping) in Half-Life. But, I've found that you find a camera angle to stick at, and do not move it very much. It's good to have your zoom key handy though for those trooper battles and know where the rotation keys are for looking on the other side of buildings, because often a building will block a unit on the other side. After the tutorials and thinking a bit about how the camera is handled, it will become second nature to command the camera.

Stormtroopers ready for action
Imperial command center
Get the power station

In the first mission (which is the first tutorial), you are assigned to Tatooine. Remember the original movie and the storm troopers in the Dune Sea? That is the very first mission, complete with Davin Felth saying his famous "Look sir, droids" after seeing the tracks in the sand. The game progresses from there. The fans of the Rebels will be slightly disappointed, as there is only one campaign. The player starts off as an Imperial officer that defects to the Rebel Alliance about half way through. Supporters of the Rebellion will just have to 'suffer' through the campaign of the Empire first. The story line follows the movies closely, as far as I can tell. There are a few more deviations from the original plot and large battles that may have a mention in the movie, but were never displayed. You actually participate in the Jawa slaughter on Tatooine, pursue the stolen information about the Death Star, fight the Battle of Hoth, and get some Ewok helpers on Endor. There are many missions in between that stick to the story line well, with more than a 'kill em all' objective while still creating large conflicts full of AT-STs, storm troopers, Torpedo Tanks and Anti-Infantry cannons.

One thing that gamers thought could not be fixed in the Star Wars universe was play balance. The Empire was always stronger in the movies and always will be (die Rebel scum!). As young as the Rebel Alliance was, they had a good amount of resources coming in, but they had no chance against the massive production that the Emipre had. One of the many things that the LEC developers did an excellent job at was making the Rebel forces explicably equal to those of the Empire. For example, there are more units for the Rebels than there were in the movies. In FC the Alliance has older units such as tanks and hover vehicles which are remnants of the Clone Wars etc. They are a lot like the tanks in Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, but they can not be found in the original trilogy. That is where most of the Force Commander action is. And of course, the Empire has its array of walkers like the AT-ST "Chicken Walker" and the huge AT-AT walker that was used at the Battle of Hoth in the "Empire Strikes Back". The AT-AT owned the Rebels then and still does in Force Commander, as it is the most powerful unit. There are 14 controllable units for the Rebels and the Empire each. Both sides have a balanced variety of units available, each with their strengths and weaknesses. A particular unit may be good at fighting vehicles and infantry, while another can only attack air units. There is some unit equivalence. For example, the Imperial TIE Fighter and Rebel Air Speeder could be considered equivalents because they are both airborne air-defense, but they each have their own strengths and weaknesses creating unique units.

Such a waste of art
AT-STs on the move
Just 'round the bend

While with the Empire, your commanding officer mysteriously disappears, and you take his command several times (a new commanding officer each time). The mood of being in the Galactic Empire is the same as in the movies. Force Commander does an excellent job of keeping the overall feel of the game consistent with watching action parts of the movies over and over again. Everyone in the Empire has a sharp British accent with everything being very clean and polished. In the Rebel Alliance, there is a really rustic and laid back feeling, again, just like the movies.

Actual combat is something that is astonishingly realistic. Your infantry can infiltrate enemy buildings and take control of them. Nice strategies to use when attacking are to rush transports full of troopers to the enemy's turrets, and have cover fire from your other vehicles taking out immediate threats. You simply order your troopers to enter a turret to fight the enemy units in that building in a mini-battle, which is displayed in the status bar when you have that building selected. Then, after you win the mini-battle you have control of that turret and can fight with a stronger force versus your enemy. You can take in as many units as the building allows. If both sides put units in the building, each side may have a maximum number of units equal to the building max. Many of your objectives in the campaign are to capture a building, bunker or mine.

Blowing dust
Mission breifing
What is this?

Something that was interesting to work with at first was the way that units were 'deployed' rather than built. The player requisitions units from the overhead Star Destroyers or Rebel Cruisers rather than gathering some fictitious resource that magically turns it self into a tank when you put it in a factory. Another twist is that your enemies can destroy your dropships and transports. This will cost you dearly. A transport costs 1000CPs. For comparison, requisitioning a trooper costs 50CPs or an AT-AT at 850CPs. So, you will want to defend your transports when they are delivering your goods. The number of units that you can call is determined by your "Command Points." Basically, CPs acts as your pull with in the empire/rebellion to get the units that you need. You expend Command Points like money. You gain command points by capturing buildings, killing enemies, and accomplishing goals. Simple as that, yeah right. Many times, a player can get stuck in a game because they have depleted their units and command points. There is no way out but to start the level over. This prevents mindless assaults and over defending a base. There is an alternate way to get command points, though. Throughout many of the singleplayer maps (and in almost all of the multiplayer maps) there are bunkers. These bunkers will give you command points just for occupying them.

To make sure that FC was not just another RTS collecting dust on the shelves, there is a unit-cap. In the earlier missions they limit you to 60 units. Each unit counts as one unit, rather then the supply-count like in StarCraft. Theoretically, you could have 60 AT-ATs romping the map. Where as in StarCraft, you could only have 25 Battle Cruisers or Carriers because of the tonnage that they had. In all of the big battle-missions I hit that unit limit fairly early. It made for a seriously fun game. The limit stops the player from building up massive army and swarming the semi-stupid computer. Instead, in FC, all the combat is done in waves. During many of the missions (and multiplayer games) it is necessary to attack many times to obtain the end result. This forces the player to use strategy in combat, rather than collect resources and get the most units out quickly. Combat is the key.

Big dropship
This is what comes out
Rebels stand no chance

As far as actually controlling and selecting/managing multiple units, it is exactly like StarCraft. Left click is your select and right click is order. All of your selected units are displayed in the BHCI, and you are able to modify the group just like in Starcraft with in the window. This interface is very handy and familiar. There aren't many new controls to learn, except the camera that I have already covered. One problem that I did notice was that it is hard to select units from behind other, larger units. This problem is remedied by rotating the camera, but it is a nuisance.

There aren't many gameplay issues. Force Commander really does put you into the Star Wars universe, and allows you to easily control the battle from above. There is enough variation in mission types to make this game not all that boring.

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Added:  Tuesday, April 11, 2000
Reviewer:  Patrick Wilcox
Page: 2/5

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