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Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
A Solid Foundation
For some time now, LucasArts has been in desperate need of a polished real-time strategy game set in the Star Wars universe that would allow fans of the franchise to control all of their favorite characters. I'm happy to say that Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds is that game. Developed for LucasArts by Ensemble Studios, it is strongly based on the engine used for the Age of Empires series, and it shows. Not that this is a bad way for LucasArts to go. Force Commander was a miserable gaming experience with more flaws than you could count, possibly giving LucasArts a wake-up call that they could not necessarily march into any genre and expect Star Wars enthusiasts to adore it. This time around, LucasArts chose to go with the experienced team at Ensemble Studios and utilize refined technology and gameplay.
How deep do the similarities between Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds and Age of Empires go? The resources of ore, nova crystals, food, and carbon directly correspond to those of stone, gold, food, and wood. Units can only point in eight different directions, meaning that projectiles don't always follow the way in which a unit is facing. And the graphics are beginning to become a little outdated in comparison to the detailed 3D visuals of more modern RTS titles such as Empire Earth. A massive technology tree including 300 units makes up the gameplay of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, and I must say that combat is quite balanced, even if it doesn't seem to have continuity with the movies.
An enjoyable scenario and campaign editor in shipped with the game identical in appearance and functionality to the one many are accustomed to from Age of Empires. Perhaps this will win over some of the users who created fantastic campaigns for Age of Empires and increase the longevity of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds. Another minor, yet appealing feature is the DataBank, which offers background information on the planet and races available in the game.
Beginning with the days of X-Wing, LucasArts's games have been know for their superb use of Star Wars music. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds continues this tradition with musical stings from Episode I as well as the three original motion pictures. While you can tell that the budget for this title wasn't large enough to include bringing back Liam Neeson as Qui-Con Jinn, but the voice acting is good nonetheless. The character of Qui-Con Jinn guides you through the tutorial campaign in which you command the Wookiees against the Trade Federation.
Unfortunately, the combat experience can be somewhat less than stellar. Everything burns with the same fire animation and the sound of a blaster going off gets a little tiring by the end of a scenario. Although buildings and units are drawn in very high-resolution, they are all rough around the edges, not exactly fitting into their surroundings. I believe that the visuals of Age of Empires II were more polished than they are in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds.
Six campaigns are offered as part of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, one for each of the races. You begin by commanding the Trade Federation as they invade the Royal Naboo and end by taking control of the Wookiees after the Rebel Alliance has fatally wounded the Galactic Empire. The other race is the Gungans, whose gameplay is decidedly different due to their nature as an underwater species.
Here, air units have been introduced by Ensemble Studios. These make strategy a little more complicated, because walls will no longer totally defend you. In order to combat fighters and bombers, the player must fill his/her base with anti-air units and turrets. Just as they did in Age of Empires, turrets play a critical roll in defense. Units can be garrisoned inside turrets to increase the firepower of the turrets and provide some protection for the units. However, the air units aren't as dynamic as I would have hoped. They simply float several meters above the ground, not constantly in motion as they are in RTS games like Ground Control.
Proximity is something that you will have to monitor as a commander in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds. Power Cores make surrounding structures dramatically more efficient, and Shield Generators provide a protective layer to units and buildings within their range.
While the tech tree is quite immense, including four diverse technology levels, it doesn't change enough from race to race to make gameplay differ greatly. Essentially, only difficulty and storyline change from campaign to campaign.
Despite their detail and large size in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, structures are built with alarming speed and come down at a snail's pace. The only thing that makes destruction of an establishment quicker is a large army of troopers and mechs. Thankfully, you typically have one of these at your disposal. Troopers are created at the Troop Center, where they are also advanced from Trooper Recruit to the Repeater Trooper and from the Mounted Trooper to the Advanced Mounted Trooper. Similarly, mechs are created at the Mech Factory the source of Strike Mechs and Mech Destroyers which are upgraded in the same manner.
Workers are the collectors and buildiers of society. When an attack is imminent, you can call them all back into your Command Center with an alarm from where they can fire some weapons, and send them back to their tasks when the coast is clear. You will find yourself sending them all over the map in search of resources which appear to be rarer than they were in Age of Empires.
In case campaigns are just not your thang, other game modes are part of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds. Terminate the Commander involves seeking out and killing a particular unit in the enemy force. Death Match is a scenario in which resource gathering is not a major issue because you begin with a huge abundance of ore, nova crystals, food, and carbon. Monument Race and Defend the Monument ask you to be the first to construct on monument or protect the one that you have for the longest time.
The manual of Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds is thick and informative, covering units, technologies, control, and the basic workings of the game. It even contains a foreword comparing and contrasting the title with Age of Empires II. In the earlier parts, it discussed the advantages and disadvantages of each race. For example, the Rebel Alliance is the best at gathering food from farms, while the Gungans have the strongest navy in the game.
Many fans of the Age of Empires series will be after the multiplayer, of which this game has plenty to offer. With a 200-unit limit and up to eight players, you can go at it through Internet, LAN, or Microsoft's Zone.com. Microsoft and LucasArts have had a successful relationship for years, and when I checked, there were always many ongoing games in the rooms at Zone.com.
Pros & Cons
Speaking relatively, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds redeems LucasArts for its failure with Force Commander. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds does not bring anything new to the genre, nor does it take Ensemble Studios to ground they have not traversed in the past. It does, however, offer an entertaining way of putting all of the races, characters, locals, and technologies from the Star Wars universe into a single real-time strategy game.
Both single player and multiplayer are well developed and enjoyable. You'll get plenty of hours out of the campaigns, plus more if you choose to take advantage of the map editor. No need to worry about stability issues or problems with the code because we're talking about an engine that has been perfected over the years with Age of Empires and Age of Empires II. A v1.1 patch has already been released, but aside from one issue with crashing in the map editor, it simply helped balance races more precisely. Too many RTS titles in recent months have had their strongest assets in visuals and sound. I'm glad that Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds has its strongest assets in gameplay.
Re-Printed From SLCentral