PC REVIEW: STAR WARS: EMPIRE AT WAR

You don't have to be a Star Wars fanatic to enjoy playing Empire at War, but you will most likely become one after playing it. by Mike Chasselwaite

February 22, 2006 - The Star Wars universe reaches far beyond the movies, merchandise and nerd conventions. There is an entire Star Wars videogame subculture out there in case you didn't know. Star Wars has been exploited in virtually every gameplay genre including FPS, RPG, space shooter, action and RTS. While not really known for its strategy games, Empire at War is bound to change all of that. It was only a matter of time until some developer nailed it and Petroglyph did just that.

Play as either the Rebellion or the Empire. Both have different attributes but are evenly matched once you learn how each operates. The gameplay is in real-time so you'll have to get used to the fast pace if you're moving in from the turn-based neighborhood. Each side has around 10 planets that they can control. These planets support factories, mining and other resource harvesting industries in addition to space stations and high-tech weapons such as ion cannons and super-powered laser towers. There are different advantages to the various planets. Some planets are cheaper to build on while others won't let you build certain items such as large ships. The object of the game is to control all of the planets in the galaxy.

Battles take place on land and in space. It gives the game much more depth. Controlling multiple planets is one way to generate income which you can use to purchase more troops, weapons and technology. The Rebellion knows exactly what systems are in place on the planets controlled by the Empire but the Empire must send drones in to recon the Rebellion which is smaller and capable of reaming hidden. The Empire is able to secure much more money than the Rebellion which may seem to give them the advantage to buy their victories with huge armies, ships and an abundance of weapons. By comparison the Rebellion is poor and can't generate as much money as the Empire. For this reason they are more challenging to play as and I would recommend playing as the Empire first just to learn the lay of the land - so to speak. The Rebellion can steal money and technology away from the Empire. They can slip under the radar of Empire-controlled planets and relieve it of treasures and resources. It takes a bit more work but they are fast and flexible and add a different dimension to the gameplay.

Combat takes place in space and directly on the planet itself. Huge Imperial Star Ships and small TIE Fighters and X-wings battle it out in epic scenarios that look as good as any of the Star Wars movies. Weapons such as the ion cannon can be fired from the planet directly into space and do a lot of damage. The space stations hovering over the defending planet also take part in the battle, shooting torpedoes and lasers or whatever weapons it's outfitted with. The space station can be destroyed but how much damage it can take is determined by its armor. The ion cannon however, remains protected on the planet.

Like the space station, Capital ships don't have to be totally destroyed to render them ineffectual. By targeting specific areas such as the weapons systems, armor generators and hanger bays you can seriously cripple your opponent's efforts. If you target large ships' engines, for instance, you can really slow them down which can help you to focus on more difficult-to-reach areas of the ship that you may not have been able to target at higher speeds. What you choose to destroy, in what order, plays a large role in your strategy scheme.

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System: PC
Dev: Petroglyph
Pub: LucasArts
Release: Feb 2006
Players: 1 - 8
Review By Mike