Star Wars Rebellion dies the death of a thousand clicks. The promise of a strategy game set in the Star Wars universe had gamers positively quivering with anticipation. Images of Master of Orion with Imperial Walkers, or maybe Red Alert with Stormtroopers, danced through the minds of Star Wars fans and gamers alike. What LucasArts and the developers at CoolHand have given us instead is Spaceward Ho! with an infinitely more confusing interface.
Buried somewhere inside Rebellion (titled Star Wars Supremacy in the UK) is an interesting, albeit familiar, game. There is a tactical space combat mode, some resource management, diplomacy, planetary bombardment, and other common space conquest elements. Unlike games like Spaceward Ho! or Master of Orion, Rebellion runs in semi-real time (it can be paused and speeded up), which simply adds longer periods of waiting for actions to be performed. Darth Vader, Luke, Han, those annoying droids, and the rest of the crew are all on hand to add some character to the proceedings, and the overall visual and aural style is fine. But along the way, things break down, and conquering the galaxy becomes an exercise in tedium.
The premise and approach are boilerplate. There is a vast galaxy of variable sizes (you choose from small, medium, or large), which is composed of sectors that contain numerous planets. The Empire and the Alliance are struggling for control of these planets in order to further the victory requirements: to occupy the headquarters and capture two important enemy functionaries (such as Darth Vadar or Luke Skywalker). The only gameplay option aside from galaxy size is to exclude character capture from the victory requirements, otherwise the goals of every game are the same. Each game is randomized, but that just affects the disposition of resources and planets. The actual pace and format of each game remain consistent.
To fulfill these goals, you build mines and refineries on planets, create fleets, train military units, and set about bringing new planets under your sway by either force or diplomacy. By sending diplomats to neutral planets, you have a chance to bring them to your side without force. If you have enough firepower, you can just go into orbit and bomb them into submission, then send down troops to garrison. This is all abstract: Hit a button and the planet is yours (or not). Realizing that this was boring, the designers grafted a tactical combat interface onto the strategic game. The solution was misguided, to say the least.
Space battles can either be decided instantly or fought in a 3D view with a certain degree of tactical control. Capital ships and fighters can be given maneuver and attack orders, including formation (left and right hooks, the anvil, etc), stand-off attacks, and other commands that only minimally affect the outcome. No matter what orders you give to units in this mode, the battle always seems to be won by the side with more and/or better units. All the moving cameras and 3D ships can't disguise the emptiness of this mode. And, while you can rotate and zoom the view, I could find no command to simply scroll it. There is no substance or nuance to tactical warfare, making it a cumbersome appendage to a game that can little stand such baggage.
The greatest strike against Rebellion is its utterly confusing interface. If the designers had sent out to create a more Byzantine interface, they could not possibly have done any better. It takes multiple clicks to perform the most rudimentary tasks. Want to try to sway a planet to your side? Open the specific sector, use the people finder to look at characters, go through several screens to determine their diplomacy rating, right click on them, select a mission from the drop-down menu, click on the target planet, select the mission type from the pop-up box, and confirm. Want to build a ship? Use the galactic information display to highlight sectors with ports, open that sector, find which planet has the port, click on the manufacturing icon, open the build menu, and select the ship. Your little guide can help with this process a bit, but you still have to find and select the proper place to build, which is equally time-consuming. You also can't default the little bugger - either C3P0 or SD-7 - to shut up, so he rattles on at the beginning of each game played at the easy level.
Complicating matters is a lack of readily available information. Want to know where all your factories are and what they're building? Go find each one. Want to see all the information on a planet? Click separate icons for defenses, manufacturing, and ships in orbit. Where one screen or menu would do the trick, Rebellion has three. Since there is really very little to the game itself beyond build ships/take over planets/repeat as necessary, this hunt-and-peck method of gameplay is what stands in for actual gameplay. Finding information becomes the game.
It's all meticulously explained in a 170-page manual complete with 40 pages of tutorial. I searched the documentation in vain for some shortcuts to some of the most fundamental tasks. When a unit is sent out on a mission, you have to wait for it to return home before you assign it to a new mission. That means recon units fly halfway across the galaxy, do their recon, and return, only to fly right back to the same sector. Worse, the game is buggy and the AI is laughable. I've watched the Empire sit back and do nothing for weeks at a clip. I've had units disappear from the roster. There is stable head-to-head play over LAN and Internet (via the Zone), but it doesn't relieve the tedium of the actual gameplay. And why are there no single missions or scenarios? Or any option to play custom tactical skirmishes?
This is a sloppy game that bears all the hallmarks of being shoved out the door half finished. The same fundamental gameplay can be found in a vastly more entertaining form in both Spaceward Ho! and Stars!. As for giving Master of Orion a run for its money, it's not even in the same league. The strategy genre still lacks a decent Star Wars game, and the sad part is it didn't have to be that way.