Reviewed by Mark Isaacson
After two previous attempts at strategy titles (Supremacy/Rebellion and Force Commander), LucasArts have teamed up with Ensemble Studios, the minds behind the great Age of Empire series. And the result stands as the best Star Wars RTS so far, but there are areas that can still be improved upon.
Galactic Battlegrounds (GB) begins at the Battle of Naboo, and goes through the history of the movies and books up to and including the events just after the Battle of Endor. 6 scenarios featuring the Rebel Alliance, the people of Naboo and the Gungans, the Empire, Trade Federation and the Wookiees may be played, each with their own set of missions to complete.
Put simply, GB is Age of Empires (AoE) in the Star Wars universe. Certainly nothing wrong with that. AoE has long been a part of the changing face of strategy games, and still sells well despite the many newer and brighter games on the market. This sets a very stable base for GB to work from, with many of the tech trees, setup menus and options similar in style and function to the recent AoE title, The Conquerors (an expansion to Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings).
Each of the 6 scenarios available (as mentioned above) allows you to play through some of the most important parts of the Star Wars saga. Granted they won't be exactly the same, but the idea here is to show you the different points of view to each event compared to what you have already seen. You start your journey as the greedy Trade Federation, at the time of the blockades above the peaceful planet of Naboo. Once you complete the 6 or so missions here, you get to play through the aftermath of the battle in Episode 1, re-establishing many trade routes to the planet and creating a peaceful society once again. You then move on to the Gungans, followed by the Empire, Rebel Alliance and the Wookiees. You will notice here that the Wookiee missions begin after the destruction of the second Death Star. So although many moments you will remember, there are those that you have yet to see. This, I believe, adds to the game even further. The fact that missions aren't tied to the movie's completely gives you something to play for, to find out what happens, and to get a new angle on the aftermath of 'The Return of the Jedi' events yet seen.
Being an AoE based game, you would expect the control systems to be top-notch. Thankfully this is the case. Keyboard and mouse controls are simple in some areas, and technical in others, but not in a way that you get frustrated. For example, clicking on a character then telling them where to go is the most basic of moves that you really do need to know (no, really). From here you can select more then one person at a time, assign a group number and formation, then use the multiple paths towards your enemy and corner them.
In terms of troops, each faction has particular types of units. Some do the same as others, while some have unique attributes. One of the major differences lies between special units. These can range from the Jedi, Sith and Bounty Hunters. Jedi, of course, will fight only for the good side, while Sith is the opposite. The Bounty Hunters, meanwhile, can fight for just about any side since they are freelance fighters. Other important units include AT-ATs, shield generators, destroyer droids (one of my favorite's) and the ever important Stormtroopers and snowspeeders.
Speaking of snowspeeders, unlike AoE, GB has flying units available (such as the X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, etc). This adds that little bit more strategy to the game, allowing for bombing runs on targets below (much easier then simply sending in the troops and a little time saving as well). And as usual in an RTS, anti-aircraft defense systems are also available.
Out of all of the units though, the best moment comes from controlling Darth Vader, or Luke Skywalker, and leading your forces to victory. Chewbacca, Princess Leia, Han Solo, R2-D2 and many others are also out there. The voice acting also adds to the atmosphere, and is nicely put together (considering the original actors weren't used, not bad at all).
An important inclusion these days in video games of any genre is a multi-player mode, and Ensemble have included plenty of modes to keep people happy either on the internet or over a local network. The usual deathmatch modes are included, as well as a few different types. One, called 'Terminate the Commander', has you finding and destroying one particular commander from an opposing force. This will keep everyone going for a long time (it certainly did for me, and will continue to for some time).
Another addition is the mission/map creator. Many will be happy with this, especially those in the mod scene. Finally you can build your own version of the Battle of Hoth, or create your own unique war featuring every unit in the game (now that would be something).
You're probably wondering why I didn't mention the graphics in my above assessment. Yes they are good, solid textures and backgrounds with plenty of little touches to the buildings and units. But I'm a little annoyed that Ensemble didn't build GB with the new AoE engine, which will be used for Age of Mythology (AoM). This new engine will go head-to-head with those seen in recent releases, using a new 3D engine with plenty of lighting effects and way more texture detail. Looking at GB, I can't help but think how much better it would have been using the new engine. I'm not criticizing Ensemble for this, just pondering what could have been.
Something that many other people have criticized is the fact that it resembles Age of Empires too closely. Some argue that this would have been better as a mod itself. I agree, and disagree. Galactic Battlegrounds does have a little too much in common with Age of Empires, and those AoE fans looking for something new yet similar may wait for AoM instead.
However, I disagree that this should have been a mod. GB by itself is a very large package, with plenty packed into it. Counter-Strike, for instance, was good as a mod mainly because it was solely for multiplayer purposes. GB, however, has 6 campaigns, map editors and multiplayer modes. It works as a separate title to AoE.
Back to the game itself, there are a few gameplay issues I had problems with. The aircraft units feel more like normal soldiers sitting higher then everyone else. They just sit above the target and fire away. Something more like a proper bombing run, where they do it themselves without you to tell them to go back and forth every few seconds.
Ground units also have their problems. Depending on where you want them to go, they may find themselves stuck at a point (say a broken bridge or tree) and continue to move in that direction. A slightly brighter AI may have been useful for this, but it doesn't get in the way that often.
Galactic Battlegrounds will finally please those who have been waiting for a Star Wars Real Time Strategy game that actually does the license justice. However, there are areas that could have been better developed, such as the graphics and AI, to improve the overall appearance and playability of the title.
For those who have played Age of Empires to death, and everyone who was hoping for better from Force Commander, this is a must buy. Let's hope this isn't the last.
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