Windows - 2001
Description of WarCommander
"Rangers go in first!" - so reads the tagline for CDV's new strategy game, War Commander, presumably trying to invoke a gung ho image of your soldiers storming enemy positions, mowing down soldier after soldier, barely getting scratched in the process and clearing the way for the other soldiers who aren't nearly as hard. But set during World War II, a war with battles resulting in a great number of casualties on both sides, the tagline might seem a little inappropriate. Mind you, that's coming from someone who's been going absolutely ape in Playstation2's Grand Theft Auto, nicking vehicles and getting up to all sorts of hyper-violent shenanigans, call me a tad hypocritical.
War Commander is a real-time strategy game that puts you in command of a battalion and charges you with guiding them to victory across two campaigns, supposedly based on real WWII campaigns. War Commander comes across as some sort of cross between Command and Conquer and Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. It has a top-down semi-isometric (albeit zoomable) viewpoint, similar to C&C; and also sports sprite-based characters which is a bit unusual given that a large number of RTS games these days plump for 3D characters. However, whereas in Command and Conquer you could produce new units to replace your fallen ones, any units you lose during a mission in War Commander are gone.
War Commander is more about keeping as many of your soldiers alive as you can and outflanking the enemy. True, you can construct buildings such as watchtowers and the like (providing the mission you're on gives you an engineer), but you can forget about building missile silos and launching rockets at your enemy from a great distance; or building lots of structures, since there's no resource-gathering in this game. You're specified a set number of structures to place each mission and that's it.
War Commander gives you two campaigns to play through, with about 25 missions in total. Both campaigns take place in the same period and both begin with an assault on the Operation Overlord beach. From there on in, you get two different sets of missions although the general objectives are fairly similar -- defend x, attack enemy force b, that sort of thing -- pretty much like every other RTS, in fact. Along with the designated soldier count, you sometimes have the odd truck or other vehicle at your disposal. The equipment your soldiers sport is determined for you by the computer before the missions.
The bulk of your forces are made up of standard soldiers who wield standard guns that can fire about 10 shots every minute. Plus, you usually get a mix of special units - these are often slower to move than standard soldiers but carry extra equipment, like flame throwers, heavy machine guns, medkits, sniper rifles and rocket launchers. You may also get a pioneer, who can build the aforementioned watchtowers, hospitals where your units can be healed and other useful, but non-offensive buildings. Then there's the scout, who can camouflage himself and check out enemy positions, and the commander, whose primary ability is his war cry that heals units around him. The game doesn't usually end if he's killed so you can send him into battle without worries. Well, apart from the guilt of sending him to his death, but this is only virtual, so that's okay... isn't it?
Okay or not, having some of your soldiers die is pretty inevitable - although the ones that survive gain experience and get a little bit better at their jobs during a mission. Oddly, they don't seem to take that experience with them to the next level. They all have some basic skills to start off with, and you can choose whether they should act defensively or aggressively when they meet an enemy. Aggressive mode is recommended, though, because they tend to let the enemy shoot them otherwise - hardly very defensive. You can also tell your troops to crawl which makes it a bit harder for the enemy to hit them.
Unfortunately, while your units are good at shooting and crawling about, they're not much cop when it comes to finding their way about. They have a tendency to take the long way round any obstacles and, if in a group, take two different routes to reach the same point with no obvious strategic advantage to doing this. They'll sometimes even wander into enemy fire rather than taking the safer and more direct route you'd expect.
Thankfully, while your troops may have the sense of direction of a decaying monkey, provided they're in aggressive mode, they're pretty good at spotting the enemy coming; if you build a couple of watchtowers and put snipers in them you can usually keep the enemy at bay. Until, that is, the enemy tries to flank you or gets the sense to stay out of sniper rifle range - the AI in War Commander is pretty decent and you're guaranteed a challenge, especially as the game progresses and the levels get harder (and the body count goes up).
Aside from the single-player levels, War Commander sports a multiplayer mode for up to eight players on LAN or online, and you can set computer players up as your opponents, effectively for a skirmish game. This mode is also handy if you want to play around with tanks and vehicles, since you can configure a game where one or more sides starts with several tanks at their disposal. But be warned, the vehicles in War Commander are pretty ropey looking. This is due largely to the game using sprites instead of polygons, as mentioned earlier. This isn't a massive problem with the small soldier characters, but the tank sprites are jerky and poorly animated, making South Park look a summer Disney flick in comparison.
Despite its dated visuals and wonky pathfinding, War Commander is actually a pretty entertaining game. It should keep you playing till you've finished the single-player campaigns and the multiplayer mode will give it a little extra mileage. It's certainly refreshing to play a strategy game where winning isn't just a case of churning out unit after unit and you actually have to think about how best to deploy the troops you have. Granted, it's not a particularly realistic WWII title -- when was the last time commanders had magical healing powers and you could build concrete watchtowers on the go? -- but if you're looking for a fun real-time strategy requiring a little more brainpower than usual, then War Commander fits the bill nicely.
Review By GamesDomain
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