Overall Score 88%
Space War Commander
Graphically underwhelming, but brimming with cerebral gameplay, Space War Commander is a real time strategy title that deserves more attention. Play centres on dominating the galaxy by destroying other race’s starbases and defending your own. At first glance, the layout of the play area might mislead some to shrug off SWC as just another Risk clone in space, but a closer examination reveals a deep strategic game that is extremely replayable and highly addictive.
Set in the distant future, the player assumes the role of an artificial intelligence controlling fleets of unmanned drones against many hostile life forms in the galaxy. I won’t spoil too much of the storyline, as it is quite a good tale, presented in a storyboard fashion at the completion of each level. As the player progresses through the game, more and more is revealed to them over time. It’s a good way to hook the player in for “just one more turn” for hours on end.
Simply described, the game progresses by the player buying a small amount of ships to start the scenario with (some levels see the player allocated ships to begin with), and then using them all over the game board in various missions as required. The whole game runs in real-time, but the action can be paused at any time if the player is feeling a bit overwhelmed. I really like the way that orders to multiple units can be queued even when the game is paused. A constant stream of income is required to build up a massive fleet capable of destroying the other faction's starbases. The money can be earned in a variety of different ways.
The player may build their fleets from a selection of 7 ships, all vastly differing in specification. One of the main appeals of SWC comes from the wide range of strategies available to beat any given galaxy. Some players will dominate through trading of vital resources between asteroids, planets and tradestaions, while others may choose to scavenge wreckage from enemy ships that have been destroyed, or play a game of domination, where territory under control provides taxes to boost the coffers. As you might assume, not every map will gravitate to any one given style though, and to beat all of the 30 included scenarios, a player will need cunning, lateral thinking and lots of hours to burn!
The difficulty level of the campaign becomes quite hard very early on in the piece. This game will probably not appeal to the more casual type of gamer. After a good few weeks of play, I’m stuck in the 19th scenario of the campaign missions. The time available to solve each scenario is limited by the fact that the player’s starbase is on a slow self-destruct sequence (details are revealed in the storyline), and therefore this prevents the player from simply hunkering down and playing an overly defensive game whilst building up a massive assault force. In fact, each scenario does have a puzzle-like element to it, and although the player is not limited to any one strategy, often a bit of trial and error is needed until a successful outcome can be reached. Luck does have a small part to play in both combat results and overall AI attack priorities.
After you’ve successfully beaten the campaign (or as a break from it, as in my case) there is another mode of play called the “Gauntlet” that presents the player with a set amount of cash in the form of a “war chest” and a series of randomly generated battles. Players need not only consider the strategy in each individual battle, but also the meta-strategy of which maps on which to allocate large amounts of the war chest funds, and which maps to save a few bucks on. Again, the difficulty level is generally speaking, very high indeed. In fact, I’ve never even beaten the easiest level.
Graphics and sounds as well as music can best be described as adequate. The 2D top-down playfield is comprised of bitmaps and sprites, with very little animation and no real special effects. You’ll hear explosions along with clicks and whistles, beeps and dings, but being a fan of a deep gameplay experience over a flashy presentation will help you appreciate the game with a lot more ease. There are limited options available to configure the colour of the player’s faction, sound and music volume, display resolution, mouse sensitivity and so forth, but sadly no way to adjust the brutal difficulty level of the game.
This is another game that I personally bought on the strength of the demo quite some time before we were offered a review copy at Bytten. Its underlying appeal comes from a robust strategic experience that can be enjoyed in a session as short as 20 minutes or so, along with an enduring replayabillity and addictive quality that will keep you coming back to the game time and time again.
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