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Reviewed: Force Commander
Author: Patrick Wilcox        Date: April 11th 2000
Page: 3

The local AI in Force Commander has something to be greatly desired. The units do the classic 'Harvester Dance' that we saw in the first Command and Conquer, and it really kills the professional respect I had for the game. Now, I am not talking about the combat AI. That's fine. The problem is the way that the units actually handle themselves while moving. It looks pretty weird to see an AT-AT doing circles in the middle of your command center, and the rebel heavy tanks will just stop what they are doing and spin in the spot that they are at. This just can not be done in a game nowadays. I guess that we will just have to wait for the patch to fix those glitches.

Combat AI in FC is excellent, almost too good. Try a few skirmishes and you will be having fights in the same spot on the map over and over; that is, if you can get started against the early waves of trooper rushes. There are not difficulty settings that I could find in the multiplayer mode, just one script of combat AI for the whole game. The computer will use tactics like trooper rushing your turrets to turn them against you and will attack in well-designed waves of both ground units and air support. It does make for a fun game, but it will take a long time to finish a match.

Clear a path
Get used to this screen
An ordinary day in the neighborhood

Instead of playing Droids (that is what the computer players are called), FC has support for many types of face-to-face games on the internet. There is a set of lobbies at the MSN Gaming Zone dedicated to FC, but they are just match makers not dedicated servers. Among the other supported protocols are TCP/IP (Internet), Modem (Direct Dial-up), and IPX (most Networks). IPX and TCP/IP supports up to 4 players while modem and serial games only support 2 players each (kind of hard to support more). The lag on the internet is not bad, considering that it is being hosted by a client. There were small, noticeable pauses when ordering troops to move, and that was with four people on 56k internet access. I'm sure that cable and DSL users will have no problem with lag on the internet.

Once skirmish mode is selected (either by a game on the Zone or a match vs. a computer) there is a selection screen which allows for game customization. The players get to pick their color and what side they wish to fight as (Rebel or Empire), also there are options for team play. There are four different teams available: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta. In free for all matches, each player is on a separate team and the game commences. One feature that FC has, that many other strategy games do not, is a human-computer ally option. This is one feature that was impressive. The computers will not talk to you like in Unreal Tournament or Quake 3, but they will attack the enemies with a lot of vigor. Once each player has signaled that they are ready, the game commences.

Hey, it's a young you!
Battle in the sky
Multiplayer choices

The 3D graphics in Force Commander are amazing. The detail cannot really be seen when the camera is zoomed out, but zooming in will show the detail that is on the units. The machine that I am running Force Commander on is barely meeting minimum requirements, but it is running the game smoothly once in a match or mission. All of the buildings are rather plain, but the mobile units are textured well. The landscapes are masterfully modeled with lots of little dips and hills that your forces can use as cover. All of the ground rolls smoothly and is curved when needed. The grass is green and the desert has its variety of rocks and pits. With the landscape being very rolling, there is much opportunity for surprise. The whole game is line-of sight. The player sees what his/her units see. The landscapes are created in such a fashion. Taller units can see over a hill faster than units on foot, and the probe droid's scanner can detect any object not behind rock or metal.

Some of the qualms that came up with the graphics in FC were with the animation. The walkers seemed to be moonwalking forward. The body of the walkers moved extremely smooth and unrealistic while the legs looked realistic and jerked their movements. This is something that is easily noticeable on the AT-ATs and AT-AAs. The huge walkers' movements were very smooth, and not naturally jerky like a 100 ton hunk of metal on four legs. The legs seemed to slide along the ground like they had wheels on the bottom. This is a moderate mistake on LucasArts' part: the model's textures are detailed, but their movements are not.

Take 'em down!
It's possible
Smoking is bad for your health

Other things about the graphics are minor. You cannot change texture setting or display devices in game. Instead, you have to use the 'Options' button in the game launcher. It took a few tries to find it the first time around. I desperately searched how to change adapters as all of the video settings were defaulted to the lowest possible. The video settings that you can set in game include level of detail, distance based fog, hardware cursor, and MIP mapping. These options are enough for on-the-fly stuff, but there are more options in the launcher that allow you to toggle 32-bit textures, 32-bit Z-Buffering, low-res textures, and the hardware cursor. In the same screen you also set your display adapter and screen resolution. A feature that would have been nice to have in the game was the ability to take screenshots. When going to write this article, the screenshot function was not found. Players could make some really neat movies of the action of Force Commander if they could only take screenshots.

The audio in the game is somewhat 3D, and the player will be able to tell where something is coming from and how far away it is. The voices are realistic and there are enough clips to make it not too repetitive. Ambient sounds such as the 'Computer' and the weather add to the levels. Sand blows in the desert and the snow wastelands feel and sound as empty as they are. It is little things like that which make the game more enjoyable.

Shields
Mission objecties
Detailed textures

John Williams' music makes up the bulk of the score with some new rock remixes that are scattered through out. Electric guitar and bass strum the "Imperial March" in a few different ways through out the game and a few of the classic themes are played during cut scenes. The music is basically entertainment, like in other strategies. There is not anyway to really theme the music to every in-game event. Gamers can expect a soundtrack from the music of FC to come out soon. Otherwise, the background music creates a general feel for the location and personality of the game. All of the music is done in a compressed wav format, similar to the mp3 compression. The voices and other sound effects are done the same way. There are two different options for sound quality. 8-channel sound is available for low-end systems, and 16-channel sound is available for those who can handle it. The difference in quality between the two is minimal.

Another detail that was overlooked by the LEC team was the music synchronization during the cut-scenes. Especially in the opening scene does the music not fit the event of the movie. It felt like the action was behind the climax of the music, you could hear the music before the event actually happened. This is yet another minor detail that was over looked in the development of FC.

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Added:  Tuesday, April 11, 2000
Reviewer:  Patrick Wilcox
Score:
Page: 3/5

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