Reviewed: September 4, 2002
Released: October, 2002
George Lucas strikes back…again. This time, it’s his LucasArts game, Star Wars, Galactic Battlegrounds Saga, which is full versions of Galatctic Battlegrounds and the Clone Campaigns expansion pack bundled together for convenience and savings.
Galactic Battlegrounds offers these features:
Galactic Battlegrounds, like its predecessor Age of Empires, has campaigns for each of the available races. Varying in degrees of difficulty, the campaigns for the Rebels, Empire, Trade Federation, Royal Naboo, Gungans (hey, don’t blame me, I didn’t write the game), and Wookies are a series of scenarios in which you must accomplish certain goals, such as mining 20,000 Carbon, freeing prisoners, or simply crushing the pathetic Rebels.
The real attraction of this game is playing other humans over the Internet. Then it gets interesting. After logging hundreds of hours playing Age of Empires, both on and off the net, this game was certainly easy for me to pick up on and become an expert. Note: I said that I’m an "expert", not a "master". You should see some of the players on the Internet. Even after my long hours on the game, I can still get my butt handed to me before I can say, “Strike me down with all your hate!”
At any rate, I’ve been playing these games on a stock-model Dell, with a Pentium 4 processor, 516 MB RAM, an in-house 3d graphics card and an equally average Sound Blaster card; more than enough system to run this game at maximum detail and resolution.
That being said, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. This game has the appearance of a mouse-driven game, but don’t be fooled. You need to be like Artoo, and use all of your appendages simultaneously. Well, at least your hands. There are easy-to-follow icons, but to really get these games down, learn to use the hot keys, notably for building structures, moving armies and creating units.
While you spend 3 minutes building a barracks, two houses, and ten troopers, your enemy just built all of that, and a complete artillery unit, supporting air cover, and two shield generators. It may not seem significant, but trust me. Live by the mouse, and you’ll die by the mouse, too. Still, the game is easy enough to run if you choose not to learn the quick-keys, and using the mouse exclusively early is a great way to learn.
This game, while listed as strategy, is really about economy. There are four types of resources in this game: carbon, food, nova and ore. If you’ve played Age of Empires that translates respectively to: wood, food, gold and stone. Build your economics, while slowing and interfering with your enemies’ production. In the process, you can build troops and research tons of technologies that do things like improve your troops’ range, damage, speed, and even allow other, special military units, (like my favorite, the AT-AT).
The combat system is simple, but elegant. As in most wars, the two main things are technology and numbers. While each troop type is effective against another certain type of troop, numbers will forgive most of your sins, if you forget what exactly your troops’ weaknesses are.
For all of its other qualities, this game has one serious flaw. Simply put, LucasArts didn’t put enough work into these games. Having played Age of Empires until my contacts had to be pried out of my eyes, I recognized the fact that the only things they did to this game were to change the music, troop and building icons; add air units; and slap together the cut scenes.
The only fundamental change to the game was the addition of power cores and shield generators, which were both great additions. The power core added a good dimension to the early play of the game — it is now easier to slow down your opposition by destroying their power core. The shield generators add a regenerating, temporary set of hit points to buildings and units in its range. The rest of it though, was taken almost verbatim from Age of Empires.
The graphics for this game are good, but hardly show stopping. Admittedly, it is based off of a game that is four years old, but close inspections show only a few poses for each troop in movement. Also, the buildings look a little “cartoony.”
I kept expecting Marvin Martian to jump out and, as he would say, “blow my Empire up.” The real disappointment, however, came from the cut-scenes. From LucasArts, the company tied to the miracle of the Star Wars movies and many other games, we get…still frames! With scrolling text! That’s right, the best cut-scene shows Saruman, ahem, Count Dooku with scrolling text explaining how he will sabotage the Empire by using the Trade Federation. Gak. They could have done better by freeze-framing images out of a DVD.
While the graphics are hum-ho, the sound is typical LucasArts excellence. Even on my lame sound system, I kept ducking the laser blasts and kept looking over my shoulder for the heavy breathing from Vader’s helmet. My poor dog kept wondering what the hell was making that crazy Wookie growl.
The music is straight from John William’s scores, and was at least different enough that it didn’t get on my nerves after long hours of playing.
Age of Empires had over 20 different races to play, while Galactic Battlegrounds Saga only offers eight. Considering that these games still sell individually for $20-40 I expect more effort than that. Even with the combined packaging of Saga your value is limited.
Your gameplay time will vary depending on whether or not you have played Age of Empires. If you haven’t, this game will last you quite a while. The minimum investment is about 15-20 hours, while most players will have this on their monitors for more than 60 hours.
For those that are enraptured, you’ll be able to go online, and you’d better have a second phone line. The Age of Empires veterans; however, can put as little as 10 hours in this game, or can also put decades into it. I honestly think dedicated AOE players will find this game entertaining, but run back home to mama once the newness of this game wears off.
The end review: pretty good. If you like real-time strategy games, get it. If you loved Age of Empires, you’ll like this game as well. If you’re a Star Wars fan, the Wookie grunts alone make this worth it. If you expect an action game with lightsabers blazing, or starfighters strafing, you’ve got the wrong game. Otherwise, step over Captain Needa’s body, take command, and I’ll see you on the battlefield.