Every Saga has a begining...
A Star Wars RTS....? Haven't we heard this before, "Command the greatest armies of the Star Wars universe", "Rewrite Star Wars history". What other rubbish was Lucas Arts going to dangle in front of a very demanding group of fans, who in previous years have had their hopes of a quality RTS game dashed. Force Commander any one?! And then there was Galactic Battlegrounds, Age of Empires wrapped in Star Wars clothing; to say I was let down was an understatement.
A New Hope
So to the autumn of 2005, Revenge of the Sith has successfully rescued the Star Wars franchise and the fans get news of Star Wars: Empire at War (SWEAW). "Command the greatest armies of the Star Wars universe" they say, "Not again" the fans say. "But wait, space battles" they say, "Ooooo" the fans replied.
Within the following months the tension grew, trailers of vast landscapes filled with opposing factions. Nebula filled space battles, played out in all their glory. The heart pounding Star Wars music timed perfectly as a Rancor rips a Rebel soldier in two. It looked like Star Wars, sounded like it, but did it feel like Star Wars? Only time would tell.
Valentine's Weekend approached, and SWEAW was released. Many a girlfriend/boyfriend were unhappy with the half hearted attempts at a gift from their Star Wars loving companions....SWEAW had consummed the partners, there was no hope.
Set between Sith and ANH, Lucas Arts and Petroglyph have to be comended for their work. Not only is SWEAW truly enjoyable, it had put the fun back into Star Wars gaming.
The Structure of SWEAW is as follows: Skirmish, Campaign, and Galactic Battle. Skirmish rolls out the normal skirmish carpet, battle against the opposing faction on a map of your choice then gain reinforcement points to increase avaliable unit numbers. The Campaign follows events leading up to Episode 4 in a story driven mode based around the Galactic Overview. Events happen in real-time and being caught off guard by the Empire is a distinct possibility, and yes the Death Star is included...! Finally the Galactic Battle takes the form of the Campaign with the management of resources and battles, but with the exception that there is no main story to follow. Re-write Star Wars history. Wait, wasn't that one of the unique selling point's quoted by Lucas Arts?? It was, and it's true...! The Campaign and Galactic Battle modes also allow the player to Auto-Resolve battles if the are non-story driven, ie random battles that occur throughout the Universe as each factions attempts to gain a foot-hold. This can lead to the player becoming a tank-rush commander. With all the auto resolved battles this reviewer has encountered, large volumes of units will always win, whatever the type of unit/hero involved.
With the game split into 3 distinct sections; the Galactic Overview, Land battles and Space conflicts, there was potential for an outstanding game. Though the personal opinion of this reviewer is that maybe they tried to do too much.
The Galactic Overview acts as the management interface. Here the player builds both land and space components and moves the said units around the Star Wars Universe. Easy to use, the details of fleets/groundunits/planets are only a click away. So far so good.
The Land battles are the usual point and click RTS we've all grown to love, select some units with the draggy-a-boxy method and move them here, repeat. Both faction's units are largely similar disregarding the animations, and each have their pro's and con's. But I still feel like it's any unorignal RTS...Ah yes, the AT-AT's. Disappointly small, but terrific fun none the less. Stomp a few Rebels, destroy a few shield generators, trip up on a tow cable...it's all there. In a slight change from the norm, SWEAW throws away base building. That's done on the Galactic Overview. The land battles are exactly that, land battles. Land the troops and battle! By ignoring base building, the player is then able to concentrate on tactics. Light of sight plays a large role, as does ensuring that there is the correct split of the different types of unit on the battlefield to do the appropriate task. Get it wrong, and the battle will be lost. Throughout the maps there are Reinforcement points. By capturing selective points on the map, the player increases their unit count thus enabling more units to be dropped to the battlefield. Not only do these reinforcement points increase the count, they also act a strategic locations from which to attack the enemy. Different types of unit count more towards the overall unit count, none more so than the Heroes. Get Han and Chewie on the battlefield and there is a distinct advantage to the Rebels, but counter that with Boba Fett and his jet pack and it's all even again. With the Heroes ranging from R2 and C3PO to Mara Jade to old dark helmet himself, Lord Vader.
So to the space battles. Upon viewing the trailer, one was expecting battles on a 3-D plain...hey, that's what the trailer looked like - curse that cimematic viewpoint button! Instead, the developers have taken the basic engine of the land battles, put a starry backdrop and replaced the troops with starfighters and capital ships. Throw in the odd asteriod field as an obstruction and some fancy looking Nebula that disable shields, and it's all a bit of a let down. It's no Homeworld, if thats what people were looking for.
"Do or Do not...There is no try."
So in conclusion, Star Wars:Empire at War is a good RTS game, that will undoubtly please the majority of Star Wars fans. Away from a content point of view and game engine lacks with regards to the space battles. A 3-D plain would've be ideal but trying to do Management, Land and Space battles all in one game was a receipe for let-downs.
7 / 10