Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
A few days ago I sat through The Phantom Menace -again. By the time the epic final sequence came to an end, I wasn't quite sure what was worse - the film Dr the violent attack of the squits that had kept me off work for three days and stripped me of a stone in weight. The clincher was the Gungan army, that stupid race of bungling alien halfwits who take on an army of laser-wielding robots with catapults and slings - good plan boys. Wouldn't it be great (I thought) to lead their race to an ignominious end, a massacre of such epic proportions that we'd never be bothered by their annoying high-pitched voices and incomprehensible phrases that sound like someone catching their fingers in a slamming door? Of course it would, and with LucasArts announcing its latest Star Wari-based RTS, Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds, you'll have the opportunity to do just that. Well, kind of anyway.
Using an enhanced version of the Age Of Empires engine, Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds will span the entire Star Wars saga, which means you'll be guaranteed an opportunity to mash up some annoying aliens at some stage, especially if you decide to play as the Galactic Empire. You'll also be able to take charge of Wookies, the Rebel Alliance, Royal Naboo, the Trade Federation and yes, those bloody annoying Gungans too. In all there'll be 300 different land, air and sea units and structures for you to research and construct. This large diversity of units will allow you to take part in epic battles, based on any number of battlegrounds, be they an asteroid belt or an underwater city, with armies reaching sizes of up to 200 units. Let's just hope that we're not subjected to another C&C type game though, in which you simply mass your forces before charging the enemy. LucasArts has likened the gameplay to AOE2, so hopefully all the depth and charm from that game will also be present in Galactic Battlegrounds.
There'll be plenty of races and units that will be instantly familiar to any Star Wars fan. We've been promised that bounty hunters, storm troopers, X-Wings, AT-ATs, snowspeeders, AT-STs, Wookie Kas tanks and droids will all be making an appearance, and best of all, you'll be able to send Jedi Knights into the heat of battle. 1 don't know about you, but I've always fancied seeing Yoda in a ruck, and it'll be interesting to see how the pointy eared midget fares in a fight. No doubt ankle-biting and lightsabre kneecapping will come into the equation at some point.
Each side will have a unique collection of upgradeable technology. They'll also have special skills, such as Jedi stamina. As well as the individual campaigns, Star Wars Galactic Battlegrounds will ship with a scenario editor that will let you create your own single or multiplayer levels to kick the force out of your mates on. You'll be able to throw in any combination of sides, settings and units into your creations, which will give you a near infinite amount of possibilities when making your ideal map.
It's still early days for this project, but the Star Wars licence will undoubtedly guarantee its popularity. As for the game itself, it's too early to make a judgement, but the fact it runs on the Age Of Empires engine certainly bodes well, even if it's already showing its age. Let's hope LucasArts makes a better job of this than it did with the dire Force Commander. Although, that's hardly going to be difficult, is it?
Download Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Learning from previous mistakes that may or may not involve the words 'Force' and 'Commander', LucasArts has taken the unprecedented step of using someone else's technology to get back on track in their latest foray into the Star Wars universe. And quite a tidy little job it is too. Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds combines Ensemble's Age Of Kings engine with the most popular sci-fi brand on the planet, to produce a real-time strategy experience fit for Yoda himself.
Is This Really Happening?
If you're a Star Wars fan, it's sheer heaven. Name a character from any of the films - Galactic Battlegrounds has them. Name your favourite battle scene - GB has it. In fact, just to prove that they've left nothing out there's a handy databank on the main menu which contains details on everybody and everything in the game, not to mention profiles of all the races. No doubt about it, LucasArts has crammed in every last detail, but it didn't have an engine to program so it had some time to play with.
And time is what GB is all about. This epic journey through the history of the Star Wars universe contains six campaigns that each focus on a particular race. Wookiees, Rebel Alliance, Gungans, Galactic Empire, Trade Federation and The Royal Naboo all get their share of glory in equal amounts - it's what you might call galactic equality.
Setting Aside Differences
One thing we were promised with GB was that each civilisation would have unique tactical strengths and weaknesses. Thankfully we haven't been disappointed. The Gungans for example are not the greatest of flyers and don't pack anywhere near the overall high-tech strike power of the Trade Federation. When it comes to long-range artillery attacks though, the sneaky Gungans are the undisputed masters. These irritating floppy-eared kids' favourite are also the only race capable of building underwater cities. While this proves handy in setting up the ultimate secret base, it also means the Gungans possess wicked Bongo submarine stealth units, by far the best Naval force in the game. And then you have the air superiority of the Empire. Any Star Wars fan knows the Empire has no equal when it comes to flying around hurting people. The Rebel Alliance meanwhile can produce Jedi Knights who are fearsome in close-combat situations and also act as priests by converting enemies. Only Wookiee berserkers and Sith Lords come close to matching the Jedi's fighting prowess.
King For A Day
Clearly the AoK engine will bring quality to any RTS game, but there's still plenty lacking. It would have been nice to see a few multi-map missions; alas the toft technology doesn't appear to allow it. With this being such a massive feature of Earth 2150 and more recently Conquest: Frontier Wars you have to say it's a major failing. Supply routes and ammunition refills are also nonexistent; yet this is another angle more ambitious RTS developers have been experimenting with for quite a while.
Finally pathfinding on large groups of slow-moving units (and for some reason artillery in particular) is often quite wayward. Why does this keep happening? Surely developers have sussed the art of moving a blob safely from one side of the screen to the other by now. You may also be interested to know that your units can occasionally get blocked in by computer-controlled allies. At one point a Gungan grenade-thrower stood frozen for about half an hour between two buildings before letting my Jedi Knight pass.
Lucas Aren't Everything
As well as tactical differences, GB has plenty of graphical variety between the races. Building architecture epitomises this by emphasising the personality of its home race. All Empire constructions for example are very angular. Rebel buildings have very soft edges, and Gungan cities all have a kind of ethereal, bubbly look to them that makes you want to punch them repeatedly over and over again until they fall down.
That said, the graphics are not particularly pleasant. LucasArts has opted for only 256 colours in order to have more units on screen at once. While on one hand this allows for the kind of battles Star Wars is famous for without your processor grinding to a halt and screaming for sweet mercy, the downside is that frankly it can look a bit shit -even if there are more than 300 different unit types.
It goes without saying that if you're the kind of person who enjoys rippling water and the odd swaying tree with their strategy games, you'll feel pretty gutted with this. Large explosions are the only real notable graphical wonder, although the shimmering and dazzling display of the shield generator comes a close second.
On the plus side you don't need a graphics accelerator card to play it. Though considerate to those select few who still run their PCs with some kind of medieval configuration, it's basically a hollow gesture for the rest of us who were forced into that essential hardware purchase years ago.
You have to say more was expected in terms of scale too. The AT-ATs are much smaller than they should be compared to stormtroopers and other ground units. There are also no Imperial Star Destroyers, and you can only assume this is in part due to the scale problems such a gigantic spaceship would create.
The similarity of some units (most notably droid workers and droid troopers) is a more serious flaw. Using a magnifying glass to work out who's got a gun and who's got a plum can take up valuable seconds on the battlefield. If you're sensible you'll assign your troopers to squadrons before you send them into battle. You'll then make use of the rudimentary behavioural commands and hopefully avoid any drag-and-grab calamities.
As you would imagine there are no problems with the sound. The Star Wars theme races along whenever it gets the opportunity and the thousands of voice samples (a mixture of original and acted) add atmosphere as well as a few unintentional laughs. Darth Vader gets all the best lines of course. At one point he throttles a particularly dense officer to death for misunderstanding orders and then icily asks: "Does that make things any clearer for you?"
Stars In Their Eyes
GB closely tracks major characters and scenes from all tour Star Wars films: Han, Chewie, Luke and all the traditional favourites are there. LucasArts has also managed to squeeze in some original missions of their own creation. The resulting mix is a pleasant blend of 'fact' and 'fiction'. As well as reliving the exhilarating Battle of Hoth you can enjoy a more rustic experience in the company of Wookiees - an experience that can only be described as 'velvety with a hint of figs'. Each campaign contains around seven varying missions. Subtler missions such as escorting Naboo's Nibian bombers with a squadron of N1 - starfighters or finding five animals for a Gungan feast sit comfortably alongside the usual fare of resource-collecting and base-building. Add to this the hugely atmospheric ground battles such as the aforementioned scrap on Hoth, as well as the Gungans climatic ruck versus the Trade Federation on Naboo and you've got some fairly interesting scenarios to deal with. Those with astute eyesight may even notice the larger than necessary gap on the campaign menu screen between Episode I (The Phantom Menace?) and Episode IV(Star Wars:A New Hope), so expect a timely add-on pack when the next film instalment hits our cinemas.
Star Wars Mania
Galactic Battlegrounds is unlikely to win any awards for originality, but that's not what this game is about. GPs strength lies in its tried-and-tested gameplay. massive variety of missions and richly detailed universe. Throwing in a scenario and map editor for good measure is also sure to add to the multiplayer side of things, as well as improve the longevity in general. It's also a coup for Star Wars anoraks; if you ever wanted to recreate the Deathstar or pitch an army of Sith against an army of Jedi (and we know you're out there) now is your chance.
60 may not reach the same levels of depth as Earth 2150 or Conquest: Frontier Wars, but when it comes to sheer playability it's easily up there with Red Alert 2. Galactic Battlegrounds is a fine RTS game and one of the best Star Wars games to grace the PC in a long time.
Galactic Battlegrounds (GB) is the junction of two successful entertainment franchises, one for the PC and one for silver screen. It's the marriage'and a happy one'of Microsoft/Ensemble Studio's Age of Empires (AoE) series of ancient war games and George Lucas's Star Wars films. You, the player, will also be happy because you're getting the stability of an established mature game engine and a lush science fiction universe that has become a part of modern folklore.
For those not familiar with the AoE series, the games are continuous action (no turns), conflict simulations where players build ancient and medieval communities into empires and control the units (both builder/peasants and warriors) of many of the big ancient cultures (Romans, Greeks, Persians, among others.) As each community improves (builds certain structures) and accumulates resources (like food and wood) the civilization "graduates" to the next of four ages where more advanced structures and units are available.
And for those who may have been encased in carbonite (a fate that befalls Han Solo) for the past 25 years, Star Wars is a little series of space swashbuckler films cooked up by one George Lucas, founder of LucasArts, the makers of this game.
Instead of Greeks, Romans or Persians, etc. you'll control one of six major "civilizations" in the Stars Wars saga'the forces of the Rebellion, the Empire, the Naboo, the Trade Federation, the Gungans, or the Wookies. Along the way are some of the incidental races, like the Jawas and the Tuskan Raiders, which inhabit the landscape and harass your forces.
In GB, instead of ages, you proceed though four technical levels: Techs I through IV. Units, equipment, structures and abilities improve as you graduate through the levels.
You can control over 300 Star Wars units and/or characters, some familiar'like the X-wing fighter and Princess Leia'and some not so familiar'like the genetically engineered weaponry of Episode I's Gungans. Star Wars initiates will notice just a few minor gaps. Where's Jabba the Hutt? Where's that ol' Death Star? But there's more than enough Star Wars unit action to satisfy the most devoted fan.
Like the parent series, this software offers numerous styles and options of play. You can choose a random game and base the map on some standard type or choose a Star wars locale terrain, such as the ice planet Hoth or the desert planet Tatooine. And there are six linked campaigns. These are groups of pre-built scenarios. You move to the later scenarios after achieving the victory conditions set forth in the previous one. The campaigns trace out narratives such as Darth Vader's search for the rebels or the subjugation of Naboo.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
Controls and interface are exactly the same as the AoE series. Left click to select a unit. Right click to give it a destination or target. Drag a rectangle around multiple units to move a group. Doubleclick a unit to select all units on the screen of the same type. Group them into formations or give them simple tasks (e.g. guard, follow) or other unit-specific tasks with the available buttons. Click a building to bring up a list of what can be built there.
Recognition of the buildings might take some familiarization for experienced AoE players, because they're all futuristic style'although there are a few details that might indicate their purpose. For instance, the Empire's airbase has a couple of those tie fighter solar panels laying up against an outer walls as if those slacker empire factory workers just leave them laying around like spare wagon wheels. In the AoE series you could pretty much tell what represents a stable. Finding the Troop Center in GB on the other hand at first may take some study. Better to learn the hot keys, and they're mostly different too. You'll have to get used to hitting CTRL-T to get to that Troop Center instead of the CTRL-B that takes you to the AoE equivalent, the Barracks. CTRL-A will take you to the Air Base, where your fleet of X-Wings or Tie Fighters can be created. CTRL-F will take you to the food centers. Hint: Buildings for processing resources are color-coded Red for food, blue for carbon, green nova crystals and purple for ore.
The resources used for building are also changed. Instead of gathering wood from trees there's carbon in the ground (but sometimes there's trees that give carbon too.) For stone to build walls and such you gather ore. Nova crystals are like gold. Food is food and can be gathered from farms, fishing or from hunting or herding. Nerfs are one sheep-like creature available as a food source. So with this game, it is possible to experience the insult Princess Leia once hurled at Han Solo and be a true "nerf herder." Different amounts of each resource are needed to build the buildings that build the units, to advance through the tech levels and to research improvements for both units and buildings.
Multiplayer in the AoE game series is so stable and logical that there must not have been any need to change a thing between this game and its predecessors. Multiplayer worked well over our two-node home LAN. You can choose the number of open slots for human players and the number of computer controlled players. Play a random set-up game or a multiplayer scenario you've devised yourself. You can choose from a multitude of starting set-up combinations, including team play and locking teams (to prevent shifting alliances.). All of the multiplayer games that this family of Star Wars fans have played, the game has been stable and nimble. The only crash was probably the fault of one of the computers in use. Hint: Be careful; of the X at the top right. It will exit the game without warning.
For internet play, Microsoft's The Zone has an area devoted to the game and during one recent business day there were over 120 players online.
Considering their association with movie makers, I'm sure you can imagine the standards that LucasArts has for visuals. This is nice looking game. Units are crisp, colorful and easily distinguishable from one another.
The soundtrack of the game is a high quality reproduction of all the famous John Williams Stars Wars compositions from the "Imperial March" that accompanies the appearance of Darth Vader to the haunting "Duel of Fates" from Episode I. Audio cues for when a unit are built and other events (like the death rattle sound when a farm is exhausted) are much more than atmospheric. They are integral to game play.
The small handbook covers the basics and gives a good synopsis of all the units. There's also an extensive Star Wars databank with information that goes beyond the game.
Learning the game can be accomplished through tutorial campaign (a series of scenarios designed expressly for taking the beginning player step-by-step through the simplest commands up to more advanced concepts. Even experienced AoE players might consider whipping through this one time.
There's nothing that improves over the innovative AoE series here. It's basically the same game, except the units fire beam weapons instead of shooting arrows.
Worth mentioning is the absolute best scenario/campaign editor encountered in any software. You can draw a map or generate a random one, and then pit two or more forces against each other in a simple slugfest. Or create a complex narrative using the extensive built-in trigger language. Complex combinations of conditions and effects can be applied to any of the units in the game. This feature could double as a novice's introduction to object-orient programming. For a Star Wars fan, this is the ability now to paint on clean canvas with nearly the whole of the Star Wars character and unit pantheon. The ability to set them out on the face of planets in any desired manner and have them react to events you devise can't be beat.
Solid game play of Age of Empires built on the lush story line of the Stars War universe. My young kids/playtesters/co-reviewers'big Star Wars fans and AoE veterans'wholly approve and heavily influenced the game's great score.