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.
On land, the objective is to take control of the major buildings while combating various ground troops. The number of units that you can deploy and use in battle is determined by the reinforcement points that you control. You will be affected by such things as the terrain and the weather. Enemy troops may take cover behind hills, dunes, rocks and other obstructions while heavy rains and snowfall not only reduce visibility but affect the accuracy of your weapons.
On the planet you will be able to construct turrets, amour generating systems and healing stations for wounded troops. You can even direct bombing raids if you have a fleet of ships hovering over the planet. One thing that you’ll notice with the land battles is that the AI isn’t as much of a threat as they are in space. The AI sends units running toward you which makes it easier to pick them off before they can do the same to you. They do have some ranged capabilities which puts you in some form of danger so it’s not a total cakewalk but once you take over the majority of buildings you will gain more control of the planet and its resources allowing you more places to take cover and more access to more troops and weapons. The AI doesn’t try to force you into areas where more troops are hidden in an attempt to ambush you. This technique is reserved for space battles. They will attack where you are most vulnerable which you will have to give them some respect but you can usually counter this easily by identifying and fortifying your weaknesses.
There is a good assortment of hero units. They are very powerful and should be protected at all costs. They act like bonus features and aid in everything from strengthening attacks to saving you money on construction. R2D2 and C3P0 can hack into computer systems and turn some of the enemy’s weapons system against them. Palpatine and Mon Mothma, allow you to create more buildings using less resources and money. Darth Vader commands the Death Star and can destroy entire planets. These heroes can be very valuable to you and while they are not easy to kill, they will be sorely missed if destroyed by negligence.
Modes include the Campaign Story mode, Galactic Conquest and Skirmish modes. The Campaign is the epic mode that plays out like a movie. The events of this mode take place prior to the very first Star Wars movie, which is the fourth one in the series. The Galactic Conquest mode has less of a story and offers various options such as the ability to limit money earned, weapons systems, the number of available planets and the length of the game. Skirmishes are short, single battles and although you can play all these modes online, Skirmishes appear to be the favored online flavor. You can play the Campaign mode with one other player online but you’re going to be in for a long game. Fortunately you can save it and upload it in its entirety anytime.
Not only is this a great game but like most Star Wars videogames, the production values are beyond reproach. The game looks fantastic. The camera offers an amazing panoramic view of outer space and can be zoomed in to highlight the smallest of details. The trademark Star Wars laser sounds zip, zing and zap from speaker to speaker. The music is lush and empiric as it drives you into battle. The voiceacting is the third addition to the aural component of the game. The good acting quality helps to affirm that we are enveloped in the Star Wars universe.
- Wage war on ground and in space – battle it out in space and then send down your remaining forces to invade the planet.
- All action is persistent – every decision affects the next battle and, ultimately, the fate of the galaxy.
- Real-time strategy (RTS) 3D gameplay set in more than 25 ground and space locations in the Star Wars galaxy.
- Begins several years before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope and including vehicles and locations from both the classic timeframe and Episode III.
- Play as the Rebels as they amass their forces and work to thwart the plans of the Empire, or serve the Empire and crush the Rebellion at its roots.
- Visit a variety of different planets and space areas including Yavin IV, Tatooine and Dagobah – each with its own specific advantage and/or resource.
- Construct more than 15 structures, including space stations, factories and cantinas.
- Deploy more than 20 ground-and air-based vehicles from giant Star Destroyers and Mon Calamari cruisers to swift speeder bikes and X-wings.
- Access a variety of ground troops, including stormtroopers, Rebel soldiers and hero characters like Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, who can be enlisted and brought into key battles.
- Multiplayer includes two-player campaign mode and up to eight-player online skirmish modes.
- All-new game engine created by Las Vegas-based developer Petroglyph, composed of industry veterans responsible for classic RTS titles.
By Mike Chasselwaite
CCC Freelance Writer