Star Wars Rebellion
Meet some rebels with a cause
by Jason Ocampo
04/07/1998
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NEWS: Musings Of Rebellion
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Let's face it—Star Wars has been screaming for a strategy game. After all, action fans have had more than their fair share of the, well, action. All of LucasArts' previous efforts have taken the more intimate point-of-view, from starfighter dogfights to running around Imperial Star Destroyers. That left strategy fans to only drool at the thought of a Star Wars game for them… to only imagine what it would be like to command the massive Imperial and Rebel fleets across an entire galaxy. That is, until now.

Shot One Sensing this tremor in the gaming community, LucasArts has delivered Star Wars Rebellion, a massive real-time strategy game set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. And no, "real-time strategy" does not unequivocally mean Command & Conquer. At least, not in Rebellion's case. Despite all the obvious implications, LucasArts continues to apply "real-time strategy" in the description of the game. This is something of a misnomer, as the more appropriate term would be "continual-time strategy." On the family tree of gaming, Rebellion really fits under the branch that includes Harpoon. In both games, the player has the ability to slow or accelerate time to best fit the pace of events.

So what exactly is Rebellion? To say it's a blend of Harpoon and Master of Orion is only scratching the surface. The game is an unusual beast to pin down. At first, it seems like the incomprehensible work of madmen. It's complex, it's not like other games in the genre, and the damn thing won't stop for turns. It would be easy to blame the design team for all of this; after all, members of the developer (Cool Hand Interactive) were responsible for the micromanagement nightmare that was Harpoon II. However, spend some time with the game and the inspired genius of it all manages to come through. At that point, Rebellion becomes addictive.

Shot Two More than 90 percent of the game is played out in the Command Center. From there players control the workings of the Galactic Empire or the Rebel Alliance. The galaxy is divided into sectors, with each sector containing 10 systems. Since games range in size between 10, 15, and 20 sectors, there can be 100, 150, or 200 worlds. On each world, depending on the number of available energy and mineral slots, players are able to plop down a number of different structures. Construction yards build every type of planetary facility: training facilities train the ground forces needed to seize and hold planets; shipyards allow the construction of ships and fighters; and, more critically, to build and maintain both buildings and military forces, mines and refineries supply the fuel of empire (or rebellion). Like most strategy games, Rebellion is mainly a game of resource management. Since there are only a limited number of energy slots available on each planet, players need to concentrate on building and protecting a few dedicated shipyards and construction yards. Meanwhile, most worlds will be tasked with providing the maintenance points required to support the vast numbers of ships, fighters, troops, and buildings needed to win the game. Each side has up to 19 different classes of fighters and capital ships to construct. Not all of the classes will be initially available, as some will require research before they can be built. Ships can be banded together into fleets, which can destroy opposing forces and take over worlds.

Shot Three Planets can also be converted through diplomacy. Generally, it's better to convert neutral planets this way, as brute force can generally lower your popular support throughout an entire sector should you inflict collateral damage. Still, force is sometimes necessary, so players will need to build and assemble an appropriate fleet filled with capital ships, support ships, fighters, and troops. Characters can be assigned to command the fleet and its fighters and troops (assigning Admiral Ackbar to a fleet enhances the performance of ships in battle, for instance). When a fleet arrives at an enemy planet, it must dispose of any defending ships, and then hope Special Forces can knock down any planetary shields. That done, troops can land and assault the planet, with or without a bombardment from space. This won't make the locals happy, though, and they'll likely rebel. Thus, diplomats need to be then sent down and pump up popular support. At the same time, the opposing side may try to take the planet back through force or dispatch Special Forces to incite an uprising.

This is the kind of strategic complexity that makes Rebellion so exciting. It has so many layers to its gameplay that take into account the rich mythology of the Star Wars universe. If a player builds a Death Star and moves it into a sector, popular support for the Empire rises out of pure terror. But if you obliterate a planet, watch support for the Alliance skyrocket around the galaxy. What good is the Death Star then? Well, it can also be used in tactical battles against the Rebels. Just remember that thanks to a stupendous design flaw, all the Alliance needs is one spare fighter squadron to blow the whole thing up.

Shot Four Another important aspect of the game is the inclusion of characters taken from the movies and the Timothy Zahn novels. Depending on their skills, these can serve as diplomats, researchers, saboteurs, or commanders. The more successful they are, the more experience they'll gain and the more effective they'll be. However, they are also vulnerable. Send them on a sabotage mission and they risk being captured or killed. Worse, if they're too good, the other side may target them for abduction or assassination. Characters are also wild cards. Some will defect if you're losing the game. Others will leave when it serves their own purposes; Luke, for instance, always takes off at some point to train with Yoda on Dagobah.

When opposing ships meet, the game drops into a three-dimensional tactical module. Finally, after years of countless space strategy games with two-dimensional battles, someone finally realized that space has three dimensions. The implementation of tactical battles is a somewhat mixed affair. On the plus side, it's wonderfully innovative. Its true 3D tactics are challenging, it allows players to issue commands while the game is paused, and those who saw the movies countless times just for the space battles, it looks incredibly cool. On the down side, battles against the computer are a fairly mundane affair, as the AI will usually just charge straight ahead. The interface is clunky and more control over fighters is definitely needed. And while it looks neat, the graphics just don't look as good as they should. In fact, they look dated in the era of 3D acceleration.

Shot Five The overall interface is both brilliant and inept at the same time. To be fair, Cool Hand seems to have thought out every aspect of this game and put in a lot of handy features. Want to build 12 X-Wings on Planet X and have them delivered to Starship Z orbiting Planet Y? With a few simple clicks, the task is laid out. With mastery of the keyboard shortcuts, it's even easier. So what's the frustration? The game only runs in 640x480 resolution, which not only means it starts to look a little chunky on big monitors, but it also results in an almost constant juggling of overlaying windows. One of the great features of Harpoon II (provided you had a large enough monitor) was the ability to open lots of windows and spread them about the screen. This kind of feature would be a godsend in Rebellion. Another interface issue deals with the message filtration system. This game needs one, as the current one basically inundates the player with everything or nothing at all. And there's no way to turn off random events, which are usually crippling (and cryptic) natural disasters.

The game is also schizophrenic at times. Depending upon the characters the AI starts with and the galactic conditions, the computer seems to waffle between being passive and aggressive. If it's the former, expect a cakewalk; the latter, expect a struggle. The computer also doesn't seem to know how to take over uninhabited worlds, which can eventually lead to it getting outnumbered by the player.

Undoubtedly, some turn-based strategy fans will rail at the "real-time" nature of this game, but just because it's not "conventional" doesn't mean it's blasphemous. For the same reason Harpoon is exciting, so is Rebellion. The sheer fact that the clock is running adds tension to the game. Indeed, it can almost be fatiguing at times keeping up with all the events that unfold. At that point, though, it's only a simple matter of slowing the game down to a crawl and catching up. And despite the extensive length of time that a full game requires, the multiplayer game works far better than expected. Players need to be dedicated to complete an entire game, but the save game function is a lifesaver.
Shot Six All in all, this is a marvelous game that succeeds because it takes some rather large risks that pay off. The game's execution is nearly flawless, and it comes with the high polish and finish that LucasArts is known for. Rebellion is good enough that it can trigger the kind of game lock usually associated with turn-based games such as Civilization and Master of Orion. Gamers will just have to come up with another term other than "Just one more turn" to explain their sleep deprivation.

LucasArts

Requirements:
  • Windows 95
  • 90 Mhz Pentium
  • 16 MB RAM
  • 4X CD-ROM
Multiplayer: 2 players, Internet, LAN, modem, serial

©1998 Strategy Plus, Inc.

Rebellion PC BOOK 04/98 $12.99
Rebellion (Star Wars) Windows 95 IBM CD ROM 03/98 $28.99