Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Star War: Empire at War. The Nostalgic Review

By Kanrei

It was such a long time ago...

I remember the days when Star Wars always brought a smile to my face. Sure, I was twelve, but still. The movies were not even that important to my smile, although I worshipped them more than the Pope does G-d. No, it was the feeling of playing with my action figures and vehicles and recreating my favorite scenes.

As I grew up, all I was left with was the movies (people stared at me when I played with my toys in college). The problem was Lucas could not leave the movies alone. He had to re-edit the original trilogy. Then he had to make a new prequel series, only he doesn’t make it for his fans (now in their late 20’s), but rather goes for the toy market again and makes children’s movies.

The only positive aspect of Lucas making those movies has finally revealed itself to me. I was in a store (rather not give a free plug) and saw the yellow spine of a box sitting in the computer game section. The “S” joined into the “T” in the first four letter word. The “R” merged into the “S” in the second four letter word. There was a new Star Wars videogame out. Normally this would not have caught my eye, except that this one was in the Real Time Strategy(RTS)game section.

Star Wars releasing video games is nothing new. Some even don’t completely suck I have heard, but I am not a fan of shooters. I like strategy games. Command and Conquer, Warcraft, Starcraft, LOTR: Middle Earth: I loved them all. The idea of building bases, building troops and squads and sending them into battle was so much like playing with my action figures as a child, only this was virtual and not as awkward to be caught playing.

The only real problem the vast selection of RTS games had was none of them really dealt with my childhood fantasies. Most were geared towards the Dungeons and Dragons crowd and that was not really me. I was Star Wars. Starcraft came close, but the story and sounds and everything was just not right. That is why Star Wars: Empire at War has made me so very happy. My inner-child feels like giggling insanely, but he knows it scares me when he does that.

Star Wars: Empire at War is a surprisingly good product from LucasArts. I do not mean to upset the fan boys, but Lucas has sold me out to many times for me to say “it’s Lucas so it must be good”.

The game takes place between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. As the Rebels, your main objective is to gain allies, steal empire technology, and destroy the Death Star. As the Empire, your main objective is to stop the Rebels and take over planets. Lucas was at his best when he did not worry too much about things like plot.

The game play can really be broken down into two games, so I will take each one separately.

To take over a planet, the first step is a battle in space over the planet. If defending, you have a station that the enemy must destroy to win. If you defeat all their forces or make them retreat, you win. Each side has “points” that limits how many ships they can have at one time. The stronger the ship, the more points it uses so the less ships you can have out at one time. This keeps the sides fairly even regardless of who has the most money.

The next step in planet conquering is the land battle. Not as strong as the space battle, but still fun. Same basic formula as the space battle in that each side is limited to how many troops they may have out at once, and the defender has a base that must be protected. The main difference is, while space reinforcements can be deployed in any area you control, land battles have a limited number of “landing zones” that must be held to bring down more troops. A land station is also composed of multiple buildings instead of the single station as in space.

That is how it works, but now you probably want to know if it works.

First, let’s get the bad out of the way. There are not enough ship types and the graphics are only fair. The single player campaign can also be completed far too quickly.

Now, it is time for the good. The sound is amazing. The sound effects and musical score are straight from the original movies. The voice acting is very effective and well done. The actor playing Han Solo sounds so much like Harrison Ford that you will forget it is not him.

One issue most people have with RTS games is the building of resources. Either hiring miners or building farms can really slow a game down. In Star Wars, all you must do is build a mine or two. Upgrade twice and you are done. No worries, no fuss.

While the graphics are weak, this does not detract from game play. In fact, in space, it will not even matter. The only real graphic problems are in land battles and that is just that I kept thinking "this is good for the mid-90's, but".

The one unique feature they offer to compensate for the fair graphics is a “battle cam”. This turns the game into a movie, complete with musical soundtrack, that you can just sit back and watch the action you started. Don’t worry; the AI is good enough for you to do this in short periods, although I would not recommend it during online play unless you are sure you have won.

Speaking of online play, the community is surprisingly kind and helpful. There are those cocky-game pros who love to mock new people, but their shallow pride is laughable, so don’t worry about them.

Overall, if you are like me, and really miss being a child and playing with your Star Wars toys, then this is the game for you. Few things will make the hair on your neck stand up like controlling a battalion of AT-AT’s or flying Luke Skywalker to the Death Star. Lucas has restored some of my faith in him. I remember why I loved Star Wars in the first place.

Grade: A-
Good: nostalgia, sounds from movies, fun game play, good online community.
Bad: average graphics, short game, and not enough variety to types of troops.

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