Review by gbarules2999

"Die, You Alien Scum!"

A long time ago, in the land where the computers did little more than run Windows 3.1, a game called, “X-Com” came out. Hear the crowd gasp as it is revealed, that the game was actually good! A strategy RPG by heart, it was an amazing game and is considered to be one of the best; unfortunately, the series was shut down, and back in the present we are X-Com-less.

But, dare said, a new game, “Rebelstar: Tactical Command,” was released for the venerable Game Boy Advance. Hold on to your hats folks, because this game is considered by many the spiritual sequel to the days of aliens and X-Com. Does it deliver?

Rebelstar has the great gameplay known by many from the Final Fantasy Tactics Advance veterans to the Advance Wars junkies. The game is turned based, set on a battlefield of varying size and complexity, and your little men run around and attack the other little enemy men. You have a limited amount of things you can do in each turn, and using your resources wisely wins you the game; usually the strategy is very much finding an enemy weak spot and hacking at it mercilessly. Rebelstar is very different in this respect, some ways for the better and others for the worse.

Regardless, the game is much more complicated than most of the same genre, mainly for the sheer amount of options. The characters can move, attack in several different ways with many different guns, turn into a sentry, rally other people, throw grenades, and more. Some of the selections available to you are pretty useless, and in the nature of the game even some of the small things (like reloading) cost you. Build this upon several key elements, like the fact that you cannot see the enemy unless a person is facing him, and you have a very tense and thoughtful game: strategy newbies are not encouraged to jump in. The game is harder than the average bear.

But for the rest of the lovers of the series, the game is amazingly deep and sophisticated for a handheld. Some of the time the screen is too small in general, just to see all of the options, and to add to that the maps are usually very large in scope. You can be controlling a lot of people at one time and be zipping your isometric perspective all over, because you can't quite see the whole grounds. Nevertheless, the game is still very fun and the enemies put up a good fight. It sometimes comes to the point of actually having a Splinter Cell-like feel to the game, where you are sneaking and hoping there isn't an alien around the corner, waiting with a chain gun to rip you apart.

The graphics are a mixed bag, however. While the environments and character portraits look fine for a last-generation GBA game, the presentation is ruined by the lack of changing character sprites. Every alien and person looks pretty much the same, save for the gun in their hands. This becomes greatly confusing in the late game when there are people flying everywhere, shooting and running around with their positions. Many of the key people on your squad cannot die for the game to be completed, so having them look exactly the same was a very rough oversight that can only be forgotten because the gameplay is so good.

The same might be said for the frame rate and animations. What you may be used to in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance isn't applicable; the game runs darn slow at times. When the bullets are flying they look almost like a cheap kind of animation, and it certainly doesn't look polished. When a bullet hits an enemy there is a slight pause, perhaps a loading time, which the game has many of when bringing up a mission. The animations are few and far between, but what is there is a reminder of Tactics Ogre (a near launch title for the GBA, which is low as quality goes). It's pretty choppy and doesn't bode well for the rest of the game.

Ignore those problems, though, and you have a nice looking game. The backgrounds are somewhat detailed and varied but not amazing, yet very nice and clean. Some for the special effects, such as large explosions, look neat. The portraits are nice manga-style drawings that evoke a Fire Emblem, yet Sci-Fi, vibe that really pulls the game along into its intriguing story.

The story is the most interesting part of the game, because although the game isn't that long the plot makes it feel that way. The Earth has been enslaved and taken over by a group of aliens who take away people when they are thirty years of age. Jorel, the protagonist, is a young man who joins a group of rebels, and finds himself more wrapped up in the conflict than he might have guessed. The game goes into X-Files conspiracy territory after that with a few interesting twists that some gamers might not see coming.

The odd thing about the plot is how slow moving it is. The game is split into twenty-five missions, and what happens in one mission can lead to three that detail the same general event. Eventually there's little point in caring about the moderately-well written text, because similar things were usually said last chapter. But worry not, for the game does have a very captivating over-arching story that will please any mystery fan. It ends very nicely, and while the characters aren't overly memorable, they are very interesting and will give any reader a good chunk of text to browse. Fortunately the game is varied as well, and although the setting and concept may be similar, there are some differences in the characters you have and the objective at hand.

The sound, in a dark contrast, is pretty dull. The sound has little deviation from a low key undertone, and it's a good game to play while listening to something else. The composer might have wanted to get a StarCraft-like mood going on, but Blizzard's excellent guitar and orchestration-created energy cannot translate from that above average PC soundtrack. Rebelstar never really breaks the “mediocre” barrier, and it's too low key to matter much. The sound effects are the same way: very cheap and unfitting to the situation. The cries of falling people and aliens are very tinny, like a bag of beans falling to the floor. The booms from a grenade are also small and uninteresting, because even though the game shows a huge boom there is a little “bleah” like noise, nothing that would suggest a deadly explosive.

But at least the game will last you for a little while. As stated before, the game has twenty-five missions, most of which will take form a half-an-hour to two hours to complete. It will last anyone a week, perhaps a weekend of heavy play. There is also a skirmish mode that is in “hand off the system” format, and it's surprisingly fun. You use any map from the game and duke it out with a friend (and it works on the DS, for there is no linking involved).

Well, what is there to say in the end? Rebelstar is a very fun game to some people, but some gamers unfamiliar with the genre may want to get some chops built up first. The presentation is pretty lacking in most areas, but don't let that turn you off: Rebelstar has some really neat ideas and will keep any strategy gamer pleased.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 08/10/07

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