November 19, 2001 - I've used the "two great tastes that taste great together" metaphor quite a few times in the past but I was wasting it; this is the game that that phrase is made for. A lot of people will tell you that Galactic Battlegrounds is based off of Age of Kings (known to the wider world as Age of Empires II). But despite their fancy education and their nice teeth, those people are liars. The fact of the matter is that Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds is pretty much Age of Kings right from the start.
So why not go read the Age of Kings review and just take the parts where it says William Wallace and replace it with Chewbacca? Because Galactic Battlegrounds makes a number of changes that add a little fun (and a bit of stress) to the two-year-old RTS that was designed to simulate a world built on medieval technology. (By the way, MS Word does recognize the word Chewbacca but not Wookiee. It also knows Yoda, Skywalker and Darth Vader but not Princess Leia, Obi-Wan Kenobi or Porkins.)
To help orient us to the changes from the Age of Empires engine, the folks at LucasArts have provided a quick summary of the new features:
They forgot to mention that the Blacksmith is now called the War Center or that wood is now called carbon. It's more on the expansion-pack level in terms of innovation but there is enough novelty to catch your eye. Ultimately the engine is fantastic and the licensing is faithful and entertaining, but I'm left wondering if a two-year old game that simulated medieval combat can successfully translate into a Star Wars RTS. There are certain parts where it seems awkward -- like the fact that you still have to farm food in order to build your robot workers. Naturally, as the manual explains, you're feeding the Ugnaughts who build Artoo-Detoo, but you don't see any of that. But none of that changes the fact that you just spent fifty food to build Artoo-Detoo.
Now any self-respecting editor here knows that Star Wars is supposed to have taken place "A long time ago," right? But even if it was "A long time ago," I mean, they had all these lasers and robot-butlers made of gold and spaceships that blew up planets and planets that blew up spaceships. I don't know, to me that just seems more like "A long time from now," you know?
However you put it, the developers certainly had to make a few changes to simulate futuristic weapons. The new flying ships seem a bit out of place in it all, not necessarily in terms of scale (although that is a small problem) but more because they tend to clump up much to close to the action and sit entirely too still. They wind up seeming like archers walking around a level above everybody. Speeder bikes are likewise motionless in combat. Seeing them just sit there shooting at an enemy is kind of anti-climatic.
Galactic Battlegrounds takes great advantage of the Star Wars license in terms of story and incorporates that story into the missions extremely well. While I really enjoyed playing through the battle of Hoth mission (playing on the rebel side is kind of a downer honestly) the game doesn't focus on the action from the movies that much. Instead it provides a compelling view of the action between and beyond the story of the movies.
You get to command Vader and a bunch of stormtroopers as they search for rebels on Yavin. Or you get to learn about Chewbacca's dad or seek out some shard thingy that has something to do with the Force. And like in Age of Kings the campaigns aren't tied together necessarily but they do present a coherent chronological sequence, from the early Trade Federation invasion to the fate of the Wookiees towards the end of the Empire.
And you get to play as the bad guys and the good guys. You start as the swarming Trade Federation and progress through to run things for the industrious Naboo. The naval-focus of the Gungans gives way to the mech-heavy tactics of the Empire. You switch to the pilots of the Rebel Alliance to crush the Empire and finally you get to play as the Wookiees. Each of the campaigns has six or seven missions a piece and ample opportunity to control a main character from the movie. In fact, the whole Empire campaign lets you control Darth Vader right at the start. This is definitely a good choice to go ahead and give people what they want right up front.
The rest of the units are fairly well designed. Jedi (or Sith) knights seem properly balanced against the hordes or troopers otherwise attainable. The destroyer droids and AT-ATs provide a broad range of abilities and uses. The snowspeeders seem to blow the crap out of the AT-ATs with almost no problem though, so the balancing isn't perfect. I was also surprised to see that rebels apparently ride on Tauntauns no matter what planet they're on. I guess I'm just used to seeing them in the snow.
The actors providing the voices for the hero characters really do a good of recreating the voices of the cast of the movie. I also like that the guy who played Lando Calrissian also has a Star Wars name, Obba Baba Tunde. (Of which only Baba is in the MS Word dictionary -- just thought you'd like to know.) The Darth Vader unit got a little out of control with his cues though. Every time I gave him an order he'd say, "Now, I am the master." I did like the emotionless robot medic who consoled, "This will be very painful." The noise that the Nerfs make when you send them off to the animal nursery to provide you with enough food to produce some more Artoo-Detoo units is exactly the noise Dan makes when we told him that his parents have to pay people to hang out with him.
While it's cool to see all of these Star Wars characters interacting with (read: killing with or just plain killing) each other, the graphics do look a bit dated. I was pleased to see the detailed styling on the buildings and unit sprites but I was bummed that the characters could only face in eight directions. Since the beam from their weapons goes straight to the target the trajectories can seem a bit strange. Animations and explosions are pretty rough all around.
A competent computer AI will provide a reasonable challenge (that ramps up after the first few missions). In another nod to Age of Kings, turrets are immeasurably useful on defense so you'll often find yourself combining units who are good against structures with those that are good against other units. You'll have to deal with a few annoying pathfinding issues where your units will try to cross broken bridges or fail to get out of each other's way in narrow corridors.
Once you've beaten this AI there are a number of other options you can try. And that number is seven. There are random map modes and a full scenario (and campaign) designer. These features seem to be pretty much the same as they were in Age of Kings. Monument construction races, and monument capture and defense missions add a few more options to the mix. There's also a "Terminate the commander" mode where each team is tasked with eliminating one single commander unit from the opposing armies.
The combination of a great game system with a great presentation of an appealing world is hard to resist. Players of Age of Empires II won't find anything really new here in the way of gameplay but they will get a chance to trade in their militia for stormtroopers. As a pretty solid Star Wars strategy game Galactic Battlegrounds definitely has a winning game model and a great license and, while it's not exactly revolutionary, it's enough innovation for me.
-- Steve Butts
|out of 10||click here for ratings guide|
A great use of the Star Wars license but it still seems more like Age of Empires than anything.
It's definitely an old-engine but the characters and vehicles from the movies are handled pretty well across the board.
Great effects and some fantastic voice acting lend a real air of authenticity to the title.
The adaptation seems a bit superficial but the same dynamics that made Age of Empires a hit are at work here.
The campaigns are definitely engaging (and numerous). Multiplay is a bit more fun but you may find yourself going back to Age of Empires before too long.
(out of 10 / not an average)
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ESRB Content Descriptors: Realistic Violence
Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds: The Clone Campaigns
2MB graphics card
Pentium 266 MHz
64 MB RAM
4 MB DirectX-compatible video card
Media Size: 1 CD