I decided to try to conquer my severe phobia of real time strategy (RTS) games. Plus, tonight’s game looked genuinely interesting, and its MobyGames entry needs screenshots besides. My first exposure to the game Star Wars: Force Commander — an RTS set in the Star Wars universe — was through a trailer scavenged from some other LucasArts title. I have uploaded the trailer to YouTube for your review. The thing that will strike most Star Wars fans right away is the curious re-imagining of the standard Imperial March theme with a decidedly edgier arrangement:
The game opens with a cinematic of a fleet of Imperial star destroyers descending on a planet for an invasion. Inside a troop transport bound for the surface, the game establishes two characters by showing two stormtroopers without their helmets. One is telling the other to be careful out there. Wouldn’t you know, when the invasion is winding down, one of the characters gets shot. He recovers while the other character gets promoted to a command position. This is your character.
Star Wars geek note: The opening intro depicts TIE Bombers flying in an atmosphere, something I don’t remember ever seeing in a movie. In fact, I think I read somewhere that TIE starcraft can’t fly in atmosphere.
The game proceeds to tutorial mode where a senior officer instructs you on how to control a unit of soldiers from the safety of your command console high up in an orbiting starship. Your team starts off small — just a few sandtroopers, some riding dewback, and also Dellis– the dude who was shot in the intro. This is where you get to learn the camera controls and there are a lot of them. My used copy of the game still includes the cheat sheet for mouse and keyboard commands. It’s quite detailed and intimidating, naturally. But the senior officer patiently walks me through the essentials. After I bumble my way through these basic exercises satisfactorily, the officer actually states that he has never seen anyone learn as fast as me.
Star Wars geek note: The preceding praise explains so much about Imperial management.
The above screenshot shows your command console as well as your unit getting dropped off on a certain desert planet in the Star Wars universe for the training exercise. The story cleverly intertwines with the primary SW arc as the senior officer advises you to check out an escape pod that is known to have landed close by. The cargo? 2 droids carrying stolen, top secret Imperial data. I was a little confused about how to proceed at this point. So I just started marching my guys around the big sandbox. Sometimes, some Tusken Raiders would appear and — rather foolishly — try to start something with my crew. This was good practice for how to react in a battle situation. The rest of the time was spent getting used to controlling a bunch of soldiers at the same time.
Doing anything in this game gets annoying pretty quick since the troopers feel it necessary to give obsequious auditory feedback in response to every order received. What they lack in brainpower and initiative, they compensate for with loyalty, enthusiasm, and boundless positive morale:
Me: “Move 10 meters in that direction.”
Sandtrooper: “For the empire!!”
But I’m being unfair. True, the guys can get stuck near trivial obstacles on occasion. But they’re smart enough to stay out of the Sarlacc-looking pit even if you direct them to walk in that general direction.
So after wandering around for a half hour in a game engine-designated patch of desert that probably measures less than a square kilometer, I eventually trip over a giant crate that the game labels as “escape pod”. When the finely-tuned soldiers touch it the mission is finally over. Next, I am told to… I don’t even remember now; something about finding the droids. The instructions are delivered verbally and whiz right past my mind that’s still reeling over the magnitude of the keyboard guide. The game does give the player an option to review the current objectives. However, when consulted, they just inform me to A) follow the captain’s orders (yeah, and what were those again?) and B) keep Dellis (your buddy) alive. I can’t shake the feeling that this game is going to be the Star Wars variant of Saving Private Ryan.
Out of desperation, I tried out some other buttons. I pressed ‘J’ for “open builder shuttle inventory screen”. I have no idea what that is, but the ‘J’ key might as well be a BIG RED button since the senior officer sternly scolded me, “Don’t do that.”
That ends tonight’s RTS endeavor, but I just might try this game again some night. I have at least one other RTS title in the queue, plus I might be inspired to give Gender Wars another shot.