On one hand, it's a derivative real-time strategy game. But on the other, it's a tidy little bundle of escapism that's perfect for a generation of gamers raised on Star Wars.
Because each side has essentially the same forces, Galactic Battlegrounds sometimes feels like it's not doing justice to the rich potential of the Star Wars universe. Would it have killed LucasArts to make the sides substantially different? In Age of Kings, the Britons don't vary too drastically from the Celts because, well, they're both human civilizations that evolved along similar lines. But the only real excuse for the Gungans and the Galactic Empire being so similar is that this is the way Age of Kings did it.
There are other areas where it feels like LucasArts isn't even trying to mask Galactic Battlegrounds' foundation. Although the resources have names like "carbon," "nova crystals," and "ore," they're clearly the counterparts to Age of Kings' wood, gold, and stone. The maps feature suitably Star Wars-sounding muja berries, banthas, and falumpsets, but these are found in environments otherwise covered by pine trees, oaks, and palms. You'll even occasionally hear Age of Empires' chirping cricket effect, which tends to break the mood when you're on the surface of a barren asteroid. Galactic Battlegrounds replaces trebuchets with cannons, but they're the same-old ponderous long-range siege engines. Whereas trebuchets had to be "unpacked" to fire (hotkey U) and "packed" to move (hotkey P), cannons have to be deployed to fire (hotkey still U) and un-deployed to move (hotkey still P). Instead of a town bell to call your workers to safety, you use an "alert beacon." Instead of relics that generate gold when carried into a temple, you have "holocrons."The direct similarities to Age of Kings are plentiful. LucasArts has licensed the engine--it might as well have stirred it up a bit more.
There are certain conventions from Age of Kings that don't carry over very well into the Star Wars universe. Instead of peasants, you use worker droids to harvest resources--but it still costs 50 units of food to build one. Food to build a droid? If you read the manual, you'll find some nonsense about having to feed ugnaughts. The way spacecraft are modeled as swarms of hovering flies feels awfully forced. The scale of units is conspicuously off, but this is nothing that doesn't also happen in Age of Kings. Most of the time, LucasArts does a good job filling out the unit roster, even though no one knows what a Wookiee tank, a Gungan bomber, or a Rebel mech looks like. But in some instances, you get the impression that the designers just ran out of ideas.
Regardless of the problems in translation from Age of Kings, the bottom line is that Battlegrounds is a far more successful treatment of the subject matter than LucasArts' last attempt, the wretched Force Commander. One of Force Commander's biggest problems was that it was an ugly, clunky engine burdened with a bad interface. This time LucasArts should be applauded for not trying to reinvent the wheel. What a far better idea to license one of the most successful and refined RTS engines ever and just slather on a thick layer of Star Wars stuff!
And to be fair, the developers have gone out of their way to sprinkle Galactic Battlegrounds with vivid and surprising touches. The skirmish maps can be randomly generated from generic terrain or from Star Wars locations, each with distinct features. Tatooine maps are seeded with Jawa sandcrawlers that can be captured and used in combat. You'll find Yoda's hovel on Dagobah. The scenario editor gives the game enough flexibility to go wherever you want and bring along "hero" units. Whip up a skirmish game in which Luke and Yoda square off against Darth Vader and the Emperor. Have young Obi-Wan fight old Obi-Wan. Put that annoying Anakin kid on a tiny island all by himself.
The sound is fantastic, with the exception of an occasional bad voice-over. Leia and Han Solo sound bad enough, but the actor voicing Lando Calrissian seems to think he's been hired to imitate someone from The Sopranos--Lando sounds like a goodfella. The single-player campaigns are little stories with characters from the movies. The Empire campaign, narrated by Mara Jade, spans the gap between the destruction of the first and second Death Stars as Darth Vader hunts down Luke Skywalker. Wedge Antilles narrates the more desultory Rebel campaign, with Princess Leia enlisting the aid of Wookiees and Jedi in the pursuit of some artifact. The Wookiee campaign follows the continuing adventures of Han and Chewie after the battle of Endor. The Trade Federation campaign details their struggle against the Naboo and the Gungans. Finally, the Gungan campaign is Boss Nass' recollection of his ancestors' campaign to unite the Gungan clans, followed by his own battle against the Trade Federation. Each campaign unlocks bonus missions that let you replay events from the movies. Revise history by holding off the Empire at Hoth, saving the Death Star over Endor, or overruning the Royal Naboo at Theed. Even better, kill some Ewoks or put Jar-Jar Binks at the head of a suicidal charge.
When it comes right down to it, the goal of any Star Wars-themed strategy game should be to re-create the epic feel of the battles in the Star Wars movies. We just want to watch AT-ATs lumber through the snow with stormtroopers swarming around their feet. We want to see Rebel soldiers holding the line with snowspeeders coming to the rescue. And we want to hear the Imperial marching theme or that splendid "Duel of the Fates" riff while we do it. When it comes right down to it, most complaints with Battlegrounds are easily forgotten when all this happens. On one hand, sure, it's a derivative real-time strategy game. But on the other hand, it's a tidy little bundle of escapism that's perfect for a generation of gamers raised on Star Wars.
- Player Reviews: 32
- Game Universe:
- Star Wars Episode I: Racer (GBC, N64, DC, MAC),
- Star Wars: Yoda Stories (PC, GBC),
- Star Wars: Demolition (DC, PS),
- Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (PC, GC, XBOX, MAC),
- Star Wars: Starfighter (PC, PS2),
- Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (PC, XBOX, MAC, IP),
- Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter (PS2, XBOX),
- Star Wars: Bounty Hunter (PS2, GC),
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars (GC, PS2, XBOX),
- Star Wars Galaxies (PS2, XBOX)
- Number of Players: