Reviewed: June 12, 2006
Released: May 23, 2006
Field Commander is a turned-based strategy game that is rooted in the same classic elements as those old Avalon Hill games, only you donít need dice, miniatures, and a big hex-map to play on. I suppose you could make comparisons to some of the more popular RTS games out there like Command & Conquer, but honestly, this game is much simpler in design and execution, making it a pure joy for beginners yet sophisticated enough for armchair generals to relish in their conquests.
Field Commander deals with realistic military operations using realistic military weaponry, for the most part. There might be a few "futuristic" liberties taken with tanks and choppers (I donít think we have invisibility cloaks for tanks just yet), but this game is far from the fantasy or science fiction of most other games.
There are 36 distinctive units for land, sea, and air. These range from the lowly (and disposable) Grunt to the more deadly Snipers and fast-moving Scouts used to peel back that fog of war. As you get deeper into the 30-mission campaign you will unlock new and more exciting units like the Rocket Launcher, Concealed Tank, Submarine, and Stealth Fighter.
Field Commander takes place in the near future where organized crime has grown to the point where it can wage war against the government. You are the newest commander in an elite group known as ATLAS with access to military tech and personal from 50 nations. Think of it as the United Nations Police. Naturally, it's up to you to save the world.
Once you get through the informative training missions you are put in charge of some basic troops and units in the first of 30 missions. The game is entirely turn-based so you can play it at a very leisurely pace. Once you have 20-some units on the screen it could very easily take you 10-15 minutes to move and attack. Iíve been known to play out my half of the turn and pause the game, coming back later to see how the computer will respond.
You start each mission with a base, a few units, and some cash. Your immediate goal is to start capturing and occupying cities to increase your cash flow so you can build more units. It didnít take me long to figure out that wars are quickly won when you control the cash. There are only so many cities on the map and when all that money is coming to you instead of the enemy you will grow and they will shrivel up and die.
But winning by cash flow isnít that much fun, so you will want to start building units at the various factories you can either build or occupy. Units cost a fixed amount of cash but regardless of what you build, it is already ready for action at the next turn. That was probably my only complaint with the game. Logically, it should take twice as long to build some units or train specialty soldiers, but in Field Commander, all units are manufactured equally.
Intimate knowledge of each unit at your disposal is paramount in winning these missions. You need to know what unit works best against certain enemy units, but you also need to plan advanced strategies like building a truck or utility chopper to transport grunts deep into enemy territory to take over cities and factories. You might want to build an escort as well, something like a gunship for air support.
Each unit has a selection of variables like movement rate, vision range, fuel, ammo, and hit points. Fuel become increasingly important in the later levels when your units actually start staying alive long enough to run out of gas. Early on most of my tanks and trucks got destroyed in combat long before their tanks ran dry. Once out of gas land vehicles can no longer move, although tanks can still fire their guns. Aircraft will simply explode and fall from the sky.
The gameplay is quite basic. Each turn you get to move every unit on the screen as far as their movement rate and terrain will allow for. This is indicated by a transparent line of travel. Once you reach your destination you may get to engage an adjoining enemy, or even a distant enemy if you have ranged attack ability. At this point the game starts doing calculations on each unit along with what I expect to be some random dice rolls to determine inflicted damage.
The unit being attacked will always get a chance to counterattack, although these never seem to do as much damage as when you initiate the attack. Often, the game seemed like trading punches. Once you start a fight itís hard to back down or try to reposition or change tactics. You basically go in, do as much damage as possible, and just in case you donít kill them before they kill you, make sure to have another unit ready to replace the one about to die.
To that end, Field Command devolves into an arms race where you initially try to capture as many income-producing properties as you can then build up as many troops as possible. I kept a steady stream of tanks, trucks, and choppers coming off the assembly line until there was a definite tilt of the balance of war in my favor, and then I eased up to increase my bankroll and final mission score.
There are a few fun tactics you can experiment with. One of my favorites was to box in an enemy ground unit so it only had one path of retreat and then have my special ops guy place a mine in that path for a one-hit kill the next time they moved.
As the campaign progresses you will gain access to new troops and divisions, each with their own special skills and division powers. Division powers are a cool concept, kind of like a ďbreak limitĒ attack in an RPG game. As you deal damage a meter will slowly fill and once filled you can invoke your divisionís special ability. It might be something as simple as doubling your movement rate for a single turn or having paratroopers land in areas of your choosing.
The game tries to mix things up by offering varied objectives and there are usually at least two ways to win each mission, but more often than not you will win by either capturing the enemy HQ (the fastest way to win) or by defeating all the enemy units (the most thorough way to win). Sometimes you have specialty targets like a particular factory that must be occupied to win the mission.
As fun as the game is, the repeating concepts did start to wear thin about halfway through the game. Field Commander never seemed to get harder, but rather it just took longer to build up sufficient forces to overwhelm the enemy. Much of my PSP gaming is done in a few 15 and 30 minute segments each day, and some missions were taking me days to win.
Field Commander is created by Sony Online, masters of online gaming, so you know there is going to be a solid multiplayer component in this title and not just for local Wi-Fi. There is a fully functional online component complete with game lobby, leaderboards, and a host of multiplayer modes, not to mention a custom mission designer where you can create and share your own maps.
And for you really old-school gamers (the ones who knew my Avalon Hill reference) who are experience with the PBM (play by mail) concept, Field Commander even has a turn-based mode where you make your moves and those are sent to your opponent who can then respond at his leisure. Those moves are returned to you so the next time you log in you can counter. Naturally, this can be as slow or as fast as you want to make it.
I was extremely impressed that a game this rooted in tactics and strategy would have gone to the trouble to include the quality of graphics found in Field Commander. Sure, the game wonít wow you like the latest 3D masterpieces. After all, itís mostly quasi-3D landscapes with simple 3D models that barely pop off the surface. In fact, the entire game looks like an isometric trick until the attack and movement animations kick in and the camera tilts down to ground level for some truly cinematic moments.
Special effects are actually quite good with all sorts of fire, smoke, and explosions, plus nice debris and even scorched earth effects when a mine goes off or tanks start leveling a forest. The maps make good use of varied terrain and surface details, and all the units have distinctive features that let you easily identify them.
There is a lot of information and data screens and these are simple to read and easy to understand thanks to clean text, intuitive bar graphs, and colorful 3D unit models.
I was immediately impressed with the music, both during the open montage, and during the game. It is energetic and has a good upbeat military undertone to it. Iím sure it starts to loop eventually but I never noticed - it just kind of blends into the background.
The voice work is also of the highest quality considering the genre and the system. The tutorial is completely narrated as are all of the pre and post mission briefings. There are even some mid-mission communications when reinforcements become available or other events take place.
Fantastic sound effects round out the polished sound package. Each unit has unique sounds for movement and attack. Some are more powerful than others and the explosions are rich and loud. It all sounds great on a good set of headphones but it can distort a bit if you crank it up on the PSP speakers.
The solo game will easily take you 20-30 hours. The first few mission are deceptively short but later on it can take you a day or more of intermittent play to finish some of them. And then you have all the wonderful multiplayer options for local wireless, Internet, PBM, and an easy-to-use mission creator that lets you create your own maps and scenarios and share them online.
There is great community support with a nice virtual lobby and online rankings and leaderboards making this one of the best (if not the best) online games on the PSP. There was never a shortage of gamers looking to hook-up whenever I went online.
If you love strategy games, especially turn-based strategy, then Field Commander is going to rock your world. This game takes all of the best elements from pen & paper war gaming and combines it with fun and exciting graphics and sound and even gives you old school options like PBM.
Truly, this game has it all and if you are looking to take your strategy gaming to the next level and take it on the road, Field Commander is a great PSP game and a must-own title for anyone who loves strategy war gaming with a futuristic twist.