Release Date: February 16, 2006
The first hotly anticipated real-time strategy game to be released in 2006 is none other than LucasArts’ Star Wars: Empire at War. Developed by Petroglyph, the same developers who made Command & Conquer one of the best and most beloved franchises in the history of strategy gaming, Empire at War is looking like another leap forward for the genre and another notch in the belt of Petroglyph. Focusing on Episodes 4, 5 and 6 in the Star Wars series, Empire at War offers players the opportunity to take control of the most familiar characters, settings, and units from the films. Having recently gone gold, the game is complete and really looking sharp at this point.
Empire at War offers the standard set of game options: skirmish, campaign, and multiplayer modes are all available. Campaign mode provides the meat of the game, having the option to play as the Rebels or the Empire, and weaving the story as it proceeds. Upon choosing the Empire or the Rebels, you’ll start your game on the Galactic Map, which is the main screen through which all your big tactical decisions will be made. The Galactic Map basically displays all the planets in the galaxy, which you’ll then attempt to control. Certain planets are immediately visible, allowing you to try and take them over right away, while others remain out of view until you’ve captured a bordering planet.
This is where the battling action begins. Before you can get down to the planet’s surface to take control, you’ll have to clear any orbiting vessels with your own ships. The amount of resistance you’ll encounter in space depends upon what kind of defenses or stations the enemy has deployed there. Debris fields, asteroids, and nebulas force you to use strategy when deciding what ships to move where and how to anticipate the enemy attacks. Space combat can be a beautiful thing, with X-Wings, Star Destroyers, and other familiar ships strafing and firing lasers, taking damage and blowing into pieces. Start viewing the action through the cinematic movie camera, and it’s almost like being a part of an interactive battle scene straight out of the films.
Fight your way to the surface, and your ground troops might face AT-AT walkers or fight against the wookie population of Kashyyk. Darth Vader might show up to wield his force powers against some sand people. It’s quite a nice touch to have the various planets be home to their specific races, and crushing those pesky wookies under your bootheels is quite satisfying. Ground combat is where the battle for the planet is won or lost. Once you’ve taken control of the planet, it provides you resources that you can use to further build your army, as well as a steady supply of income each turn or other bonuses. Conquering planets is what will win or lose the game for you. Without the income, you can’t build units, and without units, you can’t defend yourself.
Space battles are all about completely eliminating the opposition so you can land your ground troops, but the ground battles take a completely different strategy to win. In order to produce additional ground troops, you’ll have to capture control points on the ground. Even your space fleet above the planet can benefit your planetside battle, so it’s a good idea not to hold back when invading. If you’ve got the right ships in place, you can call in a bombing run to eliminate the enemy on the ground. The amount of strategy involved in a successful battle is amazing, and the depth is fantastic. The interface is a bit cluttered, but manageable. Overall, I’m quite impressed with the mechanics and polish found in Empire at War
Equally impressive are the graphics. Ships are detailed and appropriately scaled, so you’ll see an AT-AT stomping high above your troops or X-Wing fighters zooming across the surface of a Star Destroyer. Also impressive is the scale of the battles. The amount of units that can be on screen at once really lends to the feeling of an epic battle on par with the ones found in the movies. The game is geared to run on a broad range of systems, but if you’ve got the hardware, Empire at War has got the goods. Shadows, lighting, textures, it all looks incredible. Add the cinematic camera angle, and you’re practically creating new scenes for the films. There’s no doubting that this is the new standard for real-time strategy.
If the visuals are stunning, the sounds are miraculous. Utilizing and complementing the original score are some brilliantly created musical themes. If you are a fan of John Williams’s music, you’ll b hard pressed to find something to complain about here. Equally as familiar and great are the sound effects. Lasers, explosions, ships, and other vehicles all retain the same nostalgic sounds that everyone recognizes. One of the best aspects of the audio is the voice work, however. The units are fully voiced and interact with each other realistically, making comments on whatever is happening on screen at the time, really immersing you into the whole experience.
Of course, after completing the campaign mode, you’ll have the option to play a skirmish game against several computer opponents, or head online and battle it out with other Jedi-wannabes. There’s sure to be a large online community built around this game, evidenced by its fine pedigree and the Petroglyph name. The replayability is high, and players will be finding a lot to love here for months to come.
Star Wars has been a beloved franchise for almost 30 years now, and we’re still being wowed by both the films and the games that come along with them. It’s not hard to see why it’s been so successful: Great characters, stories, and visuals as well as impressive music and sound all lend an enormous likability to both the films and the game. Star Wars: Empire at War is sure to be the latest success story for the series as well as a star attraction for real-time strategy fans everywhere.
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