Field Commander First Look

Sony Online will fill the turn-based-strategy niche on the PSP next spring. We take a look at an early build of the game.

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If you've ever wished you could play Advance Wars on your PSP without dabbling in the seedy world of portable emulation, Sony Online Entertainment is cooking up the game for you. The company is hard at work on Field Commander, a turn-based strategy game with gameplay similar to Nintendo's own quirky tactical game. Yet Field Commander will have a more serious tone, not to mention a raft of PSP-specific map-customization and multiplayer options. We took a look at an early build of the game recently to find out what we can expect.

Got a jones for turn-based military strategy on your PSP? SOE has you covered.
Got a jones for turn-based military strategy on your PSP? SOE has you covered.

The core gameplay in Field Commander is classic turn-based strategy. You move your units around a grid-based map, and when one of them is within attack range of an enemy unit, battle is joined, with each side suffering the appropriate damage based on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two combatants. Field Commander's maps are fully 3D, with variable topography, so there will be tactical advantages in moving your units to higher or lower ground as situations dictate.

The game works on a three-plane system, and these three planes are described as underwater, surface, and air. In other words, it's possible to have a submarine, battleship, and bomber all occupying the same position, one above the other. The units we saw fall into established categories, from infantry to tanks, artillery to aircraft. You'll be able to choose between 15 different "divisions," each of which specializes in certain unit types, so you'll be able to tailor your unit strategy to both the specifics of the map and your opponent.

The roughly 30-mission single-player campaign will place you in charge of one military force as you conduct your war effort against the antagonistic other side. The game will also feature a full complement of multiplayer features, letting you play against another human through just about every conceivable means the PSP is capable of. In addition to the expected local Wi-Fi option, you'll also be able to play competitive matches in real time over the Internet. You can also play two-player with a single PSP simply by handing off the system to the second player so he or she can take his or her turns. But the most creative multiplayer solution has to be the play-by-email option, which will let you take your turn, e-mail it through SOE's online interface to your opponent, and then wait for your opponent to send his or her turn back to you. It's not the fastest way to play, obviously, but you can't rush masterful strategic thinking.

You can even play Field Commander against a friend via e-mail, if you're really that slow.
You can even play Field Commander against a friend via e-mail, if you're really that slow.

In an effort to extend Field Commander's replay value indefinitely, SOE is also including a map editor so you can keep fighting once you've exhausted the initial supply of battlefields. You won't be able to deform the terrain itself, but the game will offer a number of map templates to start from, and you can place trees, buildings, bridges, and so on wherever you see fit. Your created maps can be taken online for use with other human players, or you can engage the game's artificial-intelligence force in skirmish missions for practice.

Though Field Commander was quite early in development, the strategy combat looked solid, and the bevy of mapmaking and online features is certainly compelling as well. We'll bring you more in-depth information on the game as its February release date approaches.

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