Publisher: Sierra Interactive
Developer: Southend Interactive
Release Date: 2008
When you think about it, Xbox Live Arcade is really amazing. It offers countless titles ranging from classics like Contra and Pac-Man to brand-new titles like Geometry Wars and Feeding Frenzy. While most of these games are quite fun, though, there is a certain lack of depth to them. They're mostly twitch-style games that one can play for five minutes or so, but nothing you can really sink your teeth into, barring the occasional Band of Bugs. Luckily, Xbox Live Arcade players who are looking for something a bit meatier won't have to wait much longer, as Southend Interactive and Sierra Online team up to satisfy eager gamers with Commanders: Attack of the Genos.
It's almost impossible to describe Commanders: Attack of the Genos without giving experienced gamers déjà vu, so I'll get this warning out of the way right now: A lot of what you're going to read here sounds an awful like lot I accidentally mislabeled a review of an upcoming Advance Wars title, but I promise you, I'm discussing Commanders. The similarities between the games are nearly endless, and the basic gameplay of the two titles is almost identical. Players take control of the commander of a ragtag army and have to battle their opposite-colored opponents until one side achieves victory. Victory, naturally, is achieved by either eliminating the enemy or, in certain cases, by capturing a specific objective.
Of course, victory isn't quite that simple: The only units that can capture an objective are the weak infantry units, and the enemy tends to outnumber you by quite a substantial margin. Thus, players will have to traverse the map, capturing oil pumps to earn money to create new units from likewise captured factories and airports. Unfortunately, the enemy is going to be trying to do the same, and so it will come down to whichever Commander has the superior tactics to carry the day.
Many of the units found in Commanders are going to feel quite familiar to veterans of the Advance Wars series. You have your location-capturing infantry soldiers, powerful tanks and long-distance artillery, all of which can be mapped almost identically to its Advance Wars counterparts in usage. There are a few key details that keep things from being too similar. First and foremost is that many of the unit types come in two versions: light and heavy. Light units tend to be weaker and can be purchased for less money, but are able to travel farther, while heavy units tend to have fewer weaknesses and greater firepower, but with a matching increase in cost. It's not a tremendous difference, but it adds an extra layer of strategy that can be the difference between glorious victory and ignoble defeat.
The most powerful unit you can field is a one-of-a-kind unit called the "commander." A giant spider-tank, the true purpose of the commander isn't in its armaments, but rather, in its pilot. Not unlike Advance Wars, each commander has a special attribute he can grant to any unit within a specific field around them, ranging from improved defense to health regeneration. Each commander, of course, has his own unique superpower, ranging from turning all nearby units invincible, doing massive damage to any foes, or even summoning reinforcements. Once the commander's Power Bar has reached maximum, he can use his special commander power. Commander units come with a few hefty drawbacks, though. You can only have one at a time, so if you choose to split up your units, one group is going to go without the benefit of the commander's power. For another, if a commander dies, he can only be revived at your home base and at an extremely hefty cost. While commander units are tough, they're nowhere near invincible. However, these drawbacks are a small price to pay for such overwhelming power.
One area where Commanders introduces quite a few new elements is in the Action Points system. Unlike Advance Wars, combat in Commanders isn't a simple point-and-click affair. Instead, every action that your unit takes uses up a set amount of its Action Points. Movement and attacking both take up a specified amount of AP, and if you overstep your bounds, you may find yourself moving into a prime attack range, only for your poor unit to lack the AP to fire his gun. Thus, traversing the game field becomes a careful exercise in managing your AP for each action you take. Careful planning will let you use your AP to attack twice in a single round, which can be absolutely devastating to an unprepared enemy, or allow a cunning planner to perform hit-and-run attacks by dividing his AP carefully between movement and combat. It's a rather refreshing callback to games like Fallout, and it's very welcome in a strategy title like Commanders.
There are a number of various game modes available to players in Commanders: Attack of the Genos. First and foremost is the game's story mode, a series of increasingly difficult campaign missions revolving around the war between mankind and the artificially created human replicas known as Genos. This mode serves as an interesting single-player campaign and an effective tutorial, slowly introducing new elements of gameplay and additional commanders with each passing mission. For those who've finished the campaign mode, Commanders also offers a health dose of plotless battle maps, which offer their own challenges to would-be master commanders.
Nothing the game's AI can dish up can compare to the challenge of taking on another opponent, and thankfully, Commanders offers multiplayer mode, too. Players can take the battle online against others via Xbox Live, allowing campaign-tested veterans to pit their skills against other living, breathing human beings. For those who'd rather see the look on their opponent's faces as they are crushed, Commanders: Attack of the Genos also offers hotseat play, allowing gamers to battle their friends from the comfort of the couch.
The art style in Commanders: Attack of the Genos is a rather delightful throwback to 1930s-style "futuristic" designs, with everything having a rather art-deco look to it, from the polished and retro-looking machines to the characters themselves, all of whom could have stepped right out of an old pulp comic book and onto your screen. It gives the entire game a sort of "Buck Rodgers" meets "War of the Worlds" feel, which does quite a good job of making it stand out. The animations are all quite good, with each unit having its own particular attack that stands out quite well. My favorite is the rather lengthy bomber attack, which is a bit silly to watch, but rather satisfying when you watch it unleash its deadly payload onto some unsuspecting Genos.
Commanders: Attack of the Genos is shaping up to be yet another excellent addition to the Xbox Live Arcade lineup. Combining charming 1930s graphics with fun tactical gameplay and online multiplayer, it'll keep players busy for quite a while. The lengthy tutorial and helpful campaign mode should be enough to allow new gamers to get a grip on basic tactics, while the wide variety of strategies and units should be more than enough to keep hardcore tactical gamers happy for a while. While Commanders doesn't have an official release date yet, gamers will want to keep an eye out when it hits Xbox Live in the upcoming months.
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