Field Commander

By on October 20, 2006

A breath of fresh air or a stagnant rip off?

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First Impressions
My reaction is

A first of its kind on the PSP, Sony Online Entertainment presents Field Commander. This is a good old turn based strategy game, a welcome change from all the racers and ports on the PSP.

They say imitation is the biggest form of flattery, and SOE gets great inspiration from a certain Nintendo handheld title called Advance Wars. The game, when it was going to be released, initially met with a lot of criticism, with people saying that Turn Based Strategy just wouldn’t work in an era where Real Time Strategy was all the rage. Advance Wars shut them all up with gameplay that was not only deep and intuitive, but perfectly suitable on the handheld (GBA). It comes as no surprise then that the gaming public has eagerly awaited Field Commander. Skeptics may say that this is just Advance Wars with pretty graphics. Not so; Field commander manages to hold its own with some unique gameplay features.

The game sees you as a new recruit working your way up in a secret organization called

‘A.T.L.A.S.’ which thwarts the evil deeds of world domination of ‘Shadow Nation’. The tutorial hand walks you through everything to show you how things work. Moving along, there is a large array of combat vehicles that are all pretty well balanced. You soon realize that the terrain plays as important a role as managing your units. Hills provide more visibility but can only be traversed by foot soldiers, not land vehicles. Swamps and wooded areas can slow your vehicles down but can be blown away to make way for your army to cut through the map. On the same note, you can damage a town so that only half the money is earned by the enemy forces, unless you capture it. Another interesting feature is that both land and air units can stand together on one square. Should your air vehicles run out of fuel, or if you’re desperate, you can command the air units to do a kamikaze dive on enemy ground units destroying everything in the process!

One of the best, and nastiest, units is the snipers. These can completely hide themselves and can only be visible once a unit of yours is right next to them. Hidden, these units provide devastating attacks and can often be frustrating if you didn’t see where the fire came from. Very realistic indeed. Another unit type, are the Spec Ops who can not only do ranged attacks but also plant mines on key areas such as bridges, providing a very efficient choke point. The mines are of course a double edged sword where your own units can be damaged as well.

These are just some of the units that put a really nice twist on different situations, and strategy players will love this. What they won’t love however is that each Division has a unique power. When used, this special power can totally turn the tables where winning a match becomes child’s play. For instance you can choose to land multiple soldiers on any square on the map, taking over the enemy’s HQ in only two turns!
This brings us to another problem: the game feels really slow. In fact it is. With heavy graphics come frequent frame rate drops, and the fact that units move slowly every time you move them around doesn’t help either. You get frustrated when you want to finish off the remaining units and the only thing between you and victory is the slow pace of the game.

Speaking of graphics, the maps look nice and detailed from above, but zooming in everything looks muddy, with the vehicles in particular having low res textures up close. The sound on the other hand is excellent, with orchestrated military themes playing all around you, and the sound effects in particular are really satisfying whenever you shoot or blow up and enemy unit. The game is usually small in size, that is the map size never exceeds 20 x 20 squares. Thankfully this isn’t a problem given the variety of missions and units to play around with.  

Finally we come to one the best aspects of this game where it really shines, the multiplayer.

From ground up this game was built with multiplayer in mind, but that’s obvious given that SOE was developing the game. Multiplayer options include ‘Hot Swap’ where your PSP changes hand between players; the standard ‘Ad Hoc’ and ‘Infrastructure’ options, and finally ‘Transmission Mode’. The later needs a special mention because with this mode you can send a move to the SOE servers, where the other player can then make his move whenever he wants, ideal for those who are busy. As such a single game can take anything from days up to weeks at a time. This is a first for the PSP, but very common for other Turn Based Strategy games on the PC.

In the end, Field Commander falls short of greatness because of the way it feels. It tries to give a serious tone but fails due to its childish antics and predictable storyline, coupled with other technical issues. With this, veteran Turn Based Strategy players might find Field Commander average as a game, but first time players will see this as a blessing for the PSP since this is the only one of its kind.


The Scorecard
GAMEPLAY
9
Many features and unit types provide an engaging experience.
GRAPHICS
7
Good looking but frame rates suffer.
SOUND
8
Great BGM and SFX really pull you into the game.
VALUE
9
30 mission single player campaign with excellent multiplayer.
FUN FACTOR
7
OVERALL
8
You will either love it or hate it.

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