Review by Spidee

"Conquer the Galaxy."

For the most part, Star Wars video games are hit or miss. Some are really good like "Rogue Squadron," "Bounty Hunter," or The Star Wars Trilogy arcade game (my personal favorite.) And then there are those that really stunk like "Battlegrounds" or some of the early Super NES games.

When "Empires at War" was announced, I was quite skeptical. And I was well justified in being skeptical. Even when I heard that those who made the "Command & Conquer" games were involved, I was skeptical. Even when I heard that one of the main creators behind StarCraft was involved I was skeptical.

So how does "Empires at War" stack up? Let's break it down.

*Graphics*

The graphics for the game are very well done. The scale is very small but you can zoom in to focus on just a single storm trooper if you wish though this really limits your field of vision. The environments are well rendered and vary from ice and snow to desert and rock. You may even have a snow or sand storm blow through. However, one thing I hate about 3D environments does show its ugly pixelized face in this game. Sometimes, creators think it's a good idea to make mountains, rocks, or pillars, so tall that even if you zoomed out as far as possible, you still had to maneuver around them. I do not care for this. But on the plus side, there is only one angle to view the action from so you don't have to fight with a 360-degree camera to view the action. The game also offers you a cinematic view where the camera will randomly focus on one ship or ground squad's point of view before shifting to another. Sometimes, it switches angles so quickly that it is confusing to watch.

*Sound*

The sound is superb! All of the usual Star Wars sounds you would expect to hear are here as is the traditional score from the movies. In all fairness though, I have yet to encounter a Star Wars game that has ever gotten the sound wrong. One thing I do take issue with is that with some character voices, it is obvious the actor is just reading his lines from a script and not even attempting to act.

*Game play*

"Empires at War" takes place after the events of Episode III (minus the bad acting.) The Galactic Empire has been formed and a small rebel force has begun to crop up opposing the Emperor's rule. Will you aid the Empire in establishing control or help the Rebellion as they begin to free the galaxy?

Game play is simple with the point-and-click interface. Click here to build something. Click here to attack. Select multiple units by holding down the mouse button and encompassing them in a big square. Easy as that.

Unlike StarCraft or Command & Conquer, you do not need to create units to gather resources so there is less micromanagement. By placing a fleet in orbit or on the ground of a planet, you automatically begin to generate credits, which you can use to build more space or ground units. Some planets provide more credits then others but you can always build a mining facility on the planet to boost the amount of credits it provides. Capturing planets adds to your total unit capacity so the more planets you have in your control, the more units you can create. If the Empire takes a planet from you or your fail to complete a scenario, you'll have to replace the units you lose and that takes time. Some planets offer unique advantages. For example, one planet may fully hide your base so that the only way the enemy will know you have a base there is to land a ground force on the planet thus making those Imperial Probe Droids useless. Another planet may offer a 25% reduction in price of certain units. Some planets may be more suited for the Empire while others are more sympathetic to the Rebellion. Units have to follow flight paths from planet to planet and some planets are not accessible unless you control one nearby. Planets also have unique weather. Heavy rain or a fierce sandstorm could affect ground fire from your troops or make your missiles less accurate. Unless you have the upgrades to overcome this vulnerability that is.

Each side also has a selection of hero units and each one has special abilities. For example, Mon Mothra will reduce production time on any planet she's stationed on. R2-D2 and C3PO can override Imperial turrents and have them open fire on the Empire's bases. R2 can also repair mechanical units. The Empire can train high-ranking officers that will add to storm trooper's accuracy on the ground. Darth Vader can use his Force Push to mow through all the Rebel troops around him and even crush vechiles to the size of a tin can. Of course, he has his lightsaber too. The Emperor can reduce production times on any planet he is overseeing and General Tarkin can make the Imperial fleet perform better in combat. Most units also have special abilities. Corellian Cruisers can increase their movement speed but sacrifice shield regeneration and weapon firing rates. Star Destroyers can up their weapon firing rates to full power for brief periods and the Death Star, well, it can destroy planets! Although still insignificant against the power of the Force.

You can produce your units whether they are space vessels or ground troops based on your level of technology. The Empire merely has to do research at a research facility to upgrade but the Rebels must steal technology to obtain their upgrades. But the Empire and the Rebellion are not alone. Pirates and smugglers inhabit the galaxy. They may attack to get a piece of your action or you might have to "wipe them out, all of them" if you want the planet they control. A planet's population might become your ally and supply you with bonus troops or new technology. The Rebels can hire smugglers that can sneak on to planets the Empire controls and steal credits from right under their noses. The Empire could find this out and hire a bounty hunter to come and eliminate the smuggler. There are also neutral units and technologies that either side can use that are waiting to be found. As you can see, there is an awful lot to do if you want to control the galaxy.

The game features a campaign for both the Empire and the fledgling Rebellion. There is also a Galaxy Conquest mode. Pick a side and blast through in an attempt to conquer the galaxy. There is also a multiplayer with an engine that will connect you to a game server and choose an opponent for you.

*Replay ability*

The game offers three levels of difficulty and the multiplayer function can keep the game fresh for you for some time to come. I feel confident that this one will keep me busy for a while.

*Overall*

As Star Wars games go, this is a leap in the right direction. The graphics could be larger; StarCraft's graphics were bigger then this. The cinematic camera, while a good idea in theory, is a bit too "herky jerky" for my tastes. I would not have been put off at all if I had to gather my own resources. Hey, I do not mind hiring my own team of Ugnauts! Why should Calrissian be the only one to deal with labor issues? And while I really enjoy the space battles, I hate that if you move a group of ships, one unit always seems to maneuver way outside of the main group. The computer AI always makes a beeline for that specific ship when attacking. It is a simple matter to move the stray vessel back into formation but why should I have to? Follow the leader, you nerf herder. I rank this game a 9 out of 10. A solid effort.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 02/28/06


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