Star Wars: Force Commander
Review By: Gringo

Oh, the inhumanity! Sending five Imperial walkers after one brave Ewok who's manning the only village hut you haven't pounded into the ground. Such is the potential joy of Force Commander : freedom to do whatever you want to whoever you want within the much-loved Star Wars universe. Except that's not quite true. Sure, you can do the merciless act described above, but not freely. Conforming to the basic requisite of PC games, you have to follow a story.

Force Commander starts you off as a lowly Imperial Officer (boo!) battling those darned Rebels (hooray!). As the game progresses, you'll get to play for the underdogs and take on the Emperor, for this game covers the events of the original three Star Wars movies. Yes, like the sweaty Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, you can get excited as it's possible to get with having to find an escape pod on Tatooine. Yes, you have to storm the Rebel base on Hoth. Yes, those little bugger Ewoks are in it. Still, it makes sending an army of many after them all the more satisfying.

The game progresses mission by mission. There's a handy three-part 'training' first mission that eases you into the potentially baffling controls. Although there are obvious limits to the variety of mission objectives, monotony is prevented by such diverse targets as kidnapping, taking command of bases (and keeping them in one piece) and scouting locations for new buildings. Tedious it ain't.

The story moves along nicely with the missions. Most of what you control is seen on a small on-screen monitor, which includes a map and quick access to your units. As with similar games, the maps in Force Commander are pitch black, only uncovered when you make a move or send in a probe droid to investigate. It's really rather funky. There is also a communication window on your monitor, which allows for some great plot surprises halfway through a seemingly routine mission - and even the occasional message from Darth Vader himself, rasping and wheezing away.

Most of the game can be mastered with the simple click of a mouse and tap of a solitary key. You can assign squadrons to different numbers on the keyboard, thus allowing for quick and easy access to your fighting force. Battles are simple: if you have a soldier or vehicle selected, your cursor will turn to a target symbol when passed over an enemy object. Then it's a simple click to destruction.

Where the problems start to seep in to Force Commander's proverbial open wounds are with the graphics of the game. Although control of the units is painless, camera control is tricky and irritating. You can zoom in and out, and spin the map round, but only if you're a deft hand at combining keyboard and mouse in one fell swoop. Repeatedly. Whilst basic unit commands are a simple composite of key and mouse, camera control is a confusing mess, never being what you want it to be. Zoom in too far and the game will move at a snail's pace. Zoom out too far and selecting units becomes a hunt to distinguish black dot from white dot. All very confusing. The camera also has a nasty habit of doing what it wants to, which leaves the player angrily staring at a mountain side whilst his base is blown to pieces.

Unless you're running a top-level PC you'll experience many moments of slow, non-responsive gaming. When the action intensifies, it should be among the best moments you experience, as you try to stave off a manic Imperial attack or charge towards a heavily protected Rebel base. However, get too many fights on screen and you'll be waving your mouse around frantically demanding it to respond. And it won't. For the stealthy, tactical missions (rescuing Luke Skywalker being one) the game moves along at a fine pace. But when you start openly battling the enemy, be prepared for some serious delays speed-wise.

Whilst waiting for Force Commander to respond, in the background runs a typical Star Wars soundtrack: full of bombast (I like clever words), low on subtlety and big on sudden changes in pitch, it's reminiscent of the movies and adds to the atmosphere. There's even a techno re-working of the main theme when you load the game up. All of this is good and an obvious sign of real work being put into this game. Sadly, the nagging problem of the slow engine is always there.

Added to this is the artificial intelligence of the enemy - not exactly bright. They don't come looking for you, which makes evading the bad guys less fun and also makes storming Rebel/Imperial bases less of a challenge. Apparently in this world an Imperial squadron sat on a dearth of TIE Fighters would rather sit still and wait for you to attack - if the enemy came looking for you this would enhance the tension of making it through a mission greatly.

The major disappointment with Force Commander (despite the chugging speed in places) is its ability to make you play again. This is almost nil. Once you've completed the game, and the particularly challenging final set of missions, it'll be a long time before you return to it. I'm still waiting for that moment, and I completed Force Commander three months ago. Which means all LucasArts' hard work only pays off for a few days' gaming, nothing more. Oh the inhumanity!


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