Star Wars: Force Commander is a traditional real-time strategy game that has fully three-dimensional graphics and a few original gameplay ideas. Most importantly, Force Commander intends to let you re-create the ground battle sequences from the classic Star Wars films by letting you take control of Imperial walkers, Rebel defenses, and more. Yet because of its dated graphics, ineffective controls, and flawed gameplay, Force Commander falls short of its ambitious intent; and because it's been so long in development, and so highly anticipated, it finally comes across as a disappointment.
Force Commander's 3D engine would have been considered state-of-the-art two years ago. The game can render a rather large quantity of animated units without slowing down, although the graphics won't ever move very smoothly even on high-end computers. Force Commander's 3D units range widely in visual quality; zoom in up close and you'll see that the towering four-legged Imperial AT-AT walker looks and moves with marked similarity to its counterparts in the famous Battle of Hoth sequence in The Empire Strikes Back. The flying units in Force Commander, which include Imperial TIE fighters and bombers, as well as Rebel snowspeeders and Y-wings, also look more or less exactly as they did in the Star Wars films. Unfortunately, most of the other structures and units are simple shapes that are lacking in detail, and the hilly terrain graphics are similarly unimpressive. And the game's flat, washed-out textures do little to bring the units or the topography to life. Moreover, all of the units change direction by rotating in place, which looks all right for the Rebels' treaded and hovering vehicles but not good at all for the Imperial walkers, which seem to slide in place.
Probably the most visually unappealing element of Force Commander's presentation is its onscreen interface. It's a plain rectangle that consumes about a third of the game screen, and though you can toggle it on or off (which takes an undue amount of time), the game is unplayable without having the interface bar's ugly displays readily available. The interface looks unfinished, and its various functions that let you build structures or change unit behavior are nondescript and counterintuitive. The slipshod interface graphics look surprisingly poor, but other than the sheer amount of space they take up onscreen, at least they don't really interfere with the gameplay once you memorize all the functions.
Unfortunately, Force Commander's 3D camera controls are a huge detriment to the game. The view defaults to a slightly raised perspective that shows your units up ahead in the distance. It's a nice angle to look at an AT-AT, but it's entirely nonfunctional for gameplay purposes. So instead, you're expected to pan, rotate, tilt, and zoom the camera until you find an angle that works. You can manipulate the camera with the mouse, or you can use the predefined keyboard keys to do so, but either way it'll take you a long time to figure out how to get the camera to move the way you want. Ultimately, you'll just end up zooming the angle as far back as possible and raising it high above your forces, such that the game's perspective mimics most every other real-time strategy game. You'll need to do so to see as much of the screen as possible, but in consequence, most units will shrink to a minuscule size. You'll have a hard time seeing them shooting at one another because the shots are so small, and the units themselves will be obscured by wire-frame selection boxes. In the end, you'll have to compromise between being able to control the game effectively and being able to see your 3D units clearly, which reflects Force Commander's compromised design: Aside from the occasional circumstances when terrain affects your units' line of sight, the game's 3D engine is a liability rather than a feature.
Force Commander also features a soundtrack that's at least as misguided as its 3D graphics. There's a good intent behind the game's techno remixes of the classic Star Wars themes. The composers recognized that Star Wars fans have likely heard John Williams' score one too many times by now, so they tried to work with the familiar Star Wars musical cues to create an original soundtrack. Unfortunately, most will find the results to be either silly or offensive: The drum loops and heavy-metal guitar chords just don't sit well with the classical strings and brass of the familiar soundtrack. Luckily, not all the music in the game got the techno treatment - but chances are you'll shut it off anyway, just to be safe. Force Commander otherwise sounds like most any other Star Wars game. The voice acting is generally quite good, though the unit acknowledgments are repetitive as in most real-time strategy games. Some of the sound effects in Force Commander are actually very well done, such as the distinctive whine of multiple TIE fighters in flight.Once you get past the interface, you'll find that Force Commander can actually be a lot of fun to play sometimes. Battles are fast paced and generally look and sound convincing if you zoom in on them, especially since the units in the game are depicted to the proper scale. Your forces do a good job of firing on their enemies as soon as they get into range, and they also let you know when they're in trouble. What's more, although Force Commander initially seems to play like most every other real-time strategy game available, it actually has some distinguishing play mechanics. For example, units and structures are acquired in the game using command points, which are earned mostly by killing enemy units. A portion of the value of every unit you destroy is transferred to your surplus, which means that if your enemy attacks early on and you stop his rush, then you'll end up having a lot more money to spend on a counterattack. The game's campaign missions also let you complete optional secondary objectives that further boost your command-point supply.
In addition, although infantry in Force Commander are generally fragile, they play a key role in the game because they can take over enemy structures, and even enemy units in some cases. And unit reinforcements as well as new structures are shipped down to the planetary surface from orbit, rather than built on the spot as in most real-time strategy games. Consequently you can order large groups of reinforcements at a time, and they tend to arrive quickly, which lets you get them into action without much delay.
Unfortunately, there are consequences to most every aspect of Force Commander's gameplay that severely impair the game's balance and diminish its lasting value. Though the battles in Force Commander tend to resolve quickly, it takes a really long time for your units to move from place to place, no thanks to the poor unit pathfinding. However, you can't change the speed of the game from the default, which means you might get frustrated watching your AT-ATs trudge across the map, just as you'll wish you could slow things down to evaluate your forces during battle. The inability to adjust game speed may be the consequence of the designers' intention to maintain a sense of "real-time" realism, but that doesn't change the fact that Force Commander's pacing is too sporadic.
Part of the problem is the game's infantry, whose ability to control structures tends to dominate the game. A small set of fast-moving, inexpensive transports filled with infantry can quickly move in and take control of the enemy's defenses, which will then turn and fire on their previous owner. Even a dense cluster of anti-infantry, antivehicle, and antiair turrets is susceptible to infiltration. Although you can defend your structures by stationing your own troops inside, doing so is a real hassle since you have to walk a unit into each building then click on it to check if it's occupied, and doing so will quickly put you over the unit limit anyway. Besides, the Rebel infiltrator unit can take down defending stormtroopers pretty easily, especially since battles in buildings are resolved automatically. The Imperials get AT-ATs, but then again, the infiltrators can take over AT-ATs just like buildings.
The pitched battles are a real problem in Force Commander. You'll find yourself squinting to check for infantry rather than thinking about how best to mount an attack. Each time you lose a unit, your enemy effectively gains reinforcements in command-point value, and units that survive battles gain experience and become stronger. Consequently, Force Commander gives a big advantage to the player who's already winning, which keeps the game from being much fun competitively, since you'll keep losing once you lose the advantage.
Force Commander has some good ideas. Its campaign has an involving plot and interesting mission objectives, as well as nice-looking 3D mission briefings. The command-point system and the balance between the stronger Imperial units and the shielded, regenerating Rebel units is original, as are some of the game's unit designs. But because of Force Commander's lackluster graphics, grating soundtrack, and multiple gameplay flaws, it's impossible to recommend to experienced real-time strategy players, just as the cumbersome camera controls will prevent even some of the most die-hard Star Wars fans from enjoying the game.