The graphics in GT Interactive's Star Command Revolution - colorful SVGA terrain, battlestations, and artillery units - ostensibly contain echoes of the StarCraft teaser shots we've seen circulating around. But looks aren't everything in GT's preemptive strike against Blizzard's forthcoming title. While Star Command's gameplay is absorbing and addictive at times, in the end it's hard to tell whether you're playing an inventive real-time strategy game that beat its competition to the mark or just revisiting a weightless pastiche of recycled ideas.
In Star Command Revolution, you're given the option to take the side of the Terrans, Computrons, Nomads, or Triumverites, four races who are involved in a bidding war for available resources. Five types of resources can be accumulated: Four of these are particular to an individual race and the fifth, Solinite, can be spent by any race. Each race begins with a mothership, a moveable base that gathers all raw materials and allows you to produce buildings. If the mothership perishes, the game's over. Don't lose the mothership.
Like WarCraft, you construct armories that allow you to build units such as ships, droids, and stationary battle machinery. A notable difference here is your ability to construct a war college. Place your units next to these "universities," and they receive level-ups, increasing units' abilities such in speed, firing frequency, and such. The mothership may also receive a similar education. When the mothership is placed adjacent to the university, it starts to "learn" the technology of another race.. The acquisition of technologies follows a circular hierarchy; each race learns extra-racial technologies sequentially. It becomes advantageous to gain the other cultures' know-how, both because you may end up with an overabundance of resources that only a particular race can spend and because a race may have a unique technology that needs to be implemented at an appropriate time. There are points during a campaign where your fleet might consist of three different races.
"Difference" is actually where Star Command begins to falter. Though there are four discrete races, any marked differences among their technologies appear to be few. True, some implements - the Computrons' teleportal and the Nomads' anti-projectile, to name a couple - come in handy during sticky situations. But on the whole, it seems as though your basic interracial ships more or less have the same effect upon one another, and there isn't much of a "rock, paper, scissors" balance of power. Differentiation between camps ends up working less for a complex system of attacks and counter-attacks and more as a facade of humorous voice-overs and graphics.
You may also find that system of damage meters for each ship is excessively frivolous. When a unit is clicked on, four status bars - shield, engine, tech, and control - appear in the upper left of the screen. Some units only deal damage to one particular area. For example, damaging "control" allows you to gain ownership of an enemy unit (but only after you've severely impaired it). You'll soon find however that having one type of ship that simply blasts through a target's shield should be sufficient enough to emerge victorious in a battle.
Some may find the act of defending the single, indispensable mothership - as she roves around collecting resources - a challenging and strategic endeavor. But this task can prove to be tedious and inconvenient, especially if you consider that the only way to save your progress during a game is to complete the current mission.
A game that offers four distinct races and sixty-four separate units should have a little more complexity woven into its gameplay. Westwood's Dune II was a prime example of strategic complexity, with three completely distinct races possessing totally disparate abilities that countered each other's attacks with almost equal leverage. Star Command Revolution certainly seems to offer that kind of complexity from the outset, but it ends up playing more like another build-a-bunch-of-units-and-charge game. There are, however, a few innovative elements in the game, such as your ability to upgrade troops seven levels, acquire technologies, and warp forward and backward through missions. Real-time strategy fans will most likely be satisfied spending hours playing Star Command Revolution even if nothing terribly novel has been presented. And as for the StarCraft/Star Command Revolution superiority question, well, only time will tell - it could come down to nothing more than whose explosions look better.