Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: December 17, 2007
The Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series was well thought out, constantly fresh and kept getting better with each installment. The DS has had relatively few strategy games, which seems odd since the stylus practically begs for them. Put those two together, and I had high hopes for Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command for the DS, expecting that it would follow in the footsteps of its console brethren. I could not have been more wrong.
The story is your typical cosplayer's paradise of Grizzled Space Marines facing the ultimate, unambiguous evil of the Chaos Space Marines. It rides on the coattails of the 40k universe enough to keep the story on track.
In Squad Command, you control a small unit of men and vehicles across various war-torn battlefields, against virtually the same enemy units every time, who can be dispatched with the same strategy again and again. I think the developers may be a little confused with the term "turn-based strategy" because even though the first two words are fulfilled to the point where you can almost hear the dice rolling on the table before your next move, the strategy element is conspicuously absent. You get new weapons and a few units, but aside from this, the enemy hardly ever changes its routine. If it looks like you may be winning, Squad Command turns into a protracted game of tag in which you chase the cowardly AI around the map.
My main complaint with Squad Command is that it's just dull; all of the maps feel similar, with the same designs at different sizes and on different skins. As you get further in the game and the enemies swarm like ants at a picnic, it can take up too much valuable playing time just watching the AI make up its mind. All of these may sound like turn-based strategy complaints, but the game problems stem from a boring and faulty story, followed by a myriad of control and gameplay issues, which should really not be problems in a game where you aren't moving in real time.
The graphics are a similar tale of mediocrity and mistakes, albeit with some nice touches. The level designs may be repetitive but they are well detailed; there are decent effects, and the character models and explosions are well rendered. Having said that, the ability to destroy objects is flaunted throughout the game by making even the largest obstacles seem like they were constructed of flimsy cardboard. Also, the supposed ability to shoot enemies through windows is glitchy and never really works out the way you planned due to poor map dynamics and bad animations. Corners of debris will constantly trip up your units, slowing down even the simplest of movement strategies. The camera feels like it's attached to a tetherball post, as it can only spin from one spot and shifts you from one obstructed view to another, hardly giving you the 3D feel that would have benefited the title. The map on the top screen is essential, since telling apart friend from foe is nearly impossible due to the textures looking almost identical when pixelated on the DS's screen.
Not much can be said about audio since there is very little to go around. There is no music during the campaigns, which makes each turn feel like an eternity. Gone is the orchestral grandeur of the Dawn of War series, only to be replaced by repetitive one-liners uttered every time you order your troops to do anything. In addition to being well-animated, the explosions are well represented in the sound department, but there is simply not enough action or sound between the drab shuffling of your squad's feet or the pathetic-sounding bolter fire to make this game seem any better than watching paint dry.
The multiplayer supports up to eight people, but in the very unlikely event that you can find seven friends with this game, I can't recommend spending the three years necessary to complete a match. I suppose it adds some replayability to the game, but it ultimately feels like the tabletop version, and if that's what's attracting you to this title, then I can only suggest you head over to the local Games Workshop and play it there instead.
I would like to think that I'm a patient person, Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command pushes the limits of doing nothing without any gameplay. Unless you really, really love the tabletop game and the Warhammer universe to the point where you won't change out of your life-sized imperial guard costume, then I cannot recommend this game for you. More than anything else, it feels like fan service that just heaps on more narrative to an already novel-filled universe. I suppose I have to give credit to THQ for not flogging the dead DoW horse on the handheld, but I can't help but think that it would have been much better if they had. Squad Commander is a fundamentally flawed title; avoid it if you can.
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