Sierra's strategy game Commanders: Attack of the Genos! borrows from many different sources but makes it all fit well in one package. The art deco style of all the vehicles, buildings, and units takes influence from the early 1900s, but the gameplay is a fairly family-friendly blending of StarCraft and Advance Wars.
The premise of the game rests on an alternate turn-of-the-20th-century history of early nuclear and genetic discoveries, in which the art sensibilities of the time are married with the sci-fi stories of modern day. The Genos, a genetically enhanced race of humans, have broken off from the rest of humanity and founded their own nation. Both the Genos and Human Armed Forces have been militarizing over the years during their own cold war. The game's story builds on this premise of large nations squaring off against one another, but does so with a list of quaint characters who are continually allying, betraying, and riffing off of each other. The dialogue is replete with puns, unreferenced movie quotes, and tickling melodrama. If you roll your eyes at a preponderance of puns, you may be turned off, but it's so delightfully part of the overall milieu that it's hard not to like. The campaign starts with Alec Falcon, who leads a ragtag band of troops through 15 missions in which you capture installations, pump oil, and fight for your very survival against friend and foe alike.
You can move your units grid-by-grid through fully realized environments during your turn. Each level is modest in size and scope. To get money, you need to capture oil wells. From there, you'll see a steady stream of cash with which you can produce units at your citadel or via manufacturing facilities. Over the course of the game, you can select from a handful of other generals to lead your units. Armies in the game never turn out to be grand in number, but offer versatile ground-based units and dominating air units. The X-factor in all of it is the command unit. Each commander has a different spider-looking unit with a unique and interesting power. Depending on which you choose, you can increase your army's defense, halt opponents in their tracks, or call in reinforcements to pummel adversaries.
Once you choose to initiate combat between your unit and an enemy, the camera pulls in and pans around to focus up close on the two units for the action. The change not only moves the action along but also keeps it couched in the game world, rather than pulling in animated profiles like in games such as Advance Wars or Fire Emblem. Unfortunately, if you or your opponent string a lot of attacks together in short succession, the continued panning could give some a queasy feeling.
The campaign is not hard, Although the early matches provide some tooth-and-nail scraps, the middle missions are punctuated by scenarios easily overcome with a legion of light artillery with air support. Each mission in the campaign is broken up with the emotive, cel-shaded characters talking in amusing cutscenes. The challenge is really ratcheted up in later levels when the enemy pulls out all the stops to exploit distance and damage to keep you from the final showdown
The game comes with two forms of multiplayer: hotseat for local matches using one controller, and Xbox Live matches for up to four players. During online matches, the unit movement is significantly faster and the colors of the units tend to come in single-color schemes. You never mistake your troops for others based on color, but it is frequently difficult to distinguish some of your monochromatic vehicles from each other. The turn-based gameplay is great for eliminating lag during online matches and provides a clear indicator for whose turn it is. Despite playing a variety of both ranked and player matches, the multiplayer achievement doesn’t unlock in a consistent manner. Even though it's only five points, and a subordinate feature for some, it's still a problem for dedicated online players and achievement aficionados alike.
Besides campaign and multiplayer options, the game provides 10 stand-alone battles in which you face off against up to three AI opponents at once. The battles are a lot like the old battle maps in StarCraft where you aren’t playing the story, but are tasked with eradicating AI opponents to rule a particular map. Additionally, the campaign not only has an advanced (meaning harder) difficulty setting, but also two different endings, thus providing additional incentive to replay the story. For those looking to scratch a strategy itch, Commanders: Attack of the Genos! offers a satisfying experience for the reasonable price of $10.