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Posted on Mar 14, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Star Wars: Empire at War – Game Review (PC)

By Russ Clow

intro.jpg A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… Those ten simple words followed by the sudden blast of a trumpets still give me a warm fuzzy feeling whenever I watch an intro to any Star Wars movie or game. Star Wars hit theatres back in 1977, admittedly before I was born, but even a man of my young age knows how amazing that film was. Since then, we’ve seen one great Star Wars film after another with each episode seemingly more intricate and enthralling to watch. When Star Wars: Empire at War was announced by Lucasarts last year, the following buzz of media excitement came as no surprise.

The opportunity to control your entire empire at a click of a button, combining both land and space battles, should have appealed to every Star Wars fan on the planet. Quite a tall order to live up to! Has Empire at War reached, or even exceeded, that expectation? That’s a question we’ll answer at the conclusion (don’t cheat and take a look!).

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Empire at War has the potential to be amazing, on paper. As soon as you start the game you face the great Star Wars authenticity we’ve all come to expect from a Lucasarts title. You immediately have the opportunity to go through the main functions of the game via helpful tutorials – controlling and building your forces, and then moving to land and space battles.

Although the game can seem a little daunting at first, you’ll soon come to grips with the extremely easy and effective movement system. A simple click and drag of your troops will move them from land to space, and between planets. The user interface is very easy to understand and is laid out nicely, meaning you can completely concentrate on the game instead of hunting for a button.

All your favorite heroes are here. More importantly, all your favorite villians are too.

Once you’ve mastered the tutorials, you then have the opportunity to get into the campaign or play some simple skirmish games, playing either the Rebels or the Empire. It’s up to you what you want to play, depending on your inner Jedi personality, as both have advantages and weaknesses. I’ve always been one for force grip and meaningless death so the Empire instantly appealed to me. The opportunity to control the Death Star later in the campaign put the icing on the cake. Throughout the campaign, you’ll be following a storyline which seems to follow the films quite nicely, specifically from Episode 4 onwards. You’ll have missions to accomplish, such as build up a fleet and clear the space surrounding Endor –allowing Darth Vader to land on the planet and finish off the locals. However, to get the credits to build your fleet, you’ll need to take control of other planets. They give credit bonuses, advantages to building (e.g., AT-AT’s becoming 50% cheaper because of a local parts factory), increase overall population (more units) and may even advance your technology so you can build bigger and better weapons and units.

This all may sound like fun and games, but in reality it can be quite slow. To start, you’ll find yourself conquering some easily-won planets, quickly building up your credits. You will then have so much money that you’ll find it pretty easy to build as many troops as you need. It then just comes down to patience. If you have enough time to waste, you can sit and wait as you build up the biggest fleet that your current population allows. Even with the fast-forward option, the building of troops is slow and painful. It sometimes feels that your success depends more upon your patience rather than your tactical ability. However, you can mix things up with the campaign mode versus a friend via LAN, allowing you to both take a side and battle your way to ultimate supremacy.

While we’re on the subject of tactics, let me tell you, Star Wars: Empire at War doesn’t always deliver. Unlike games such as Rome: Total War, and Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, tactics don’t play a significant role. Granted, certain units will work better against others, but if you’ve had enough patience to build a massive fleet beforehand, it won’t matter who you fight because you’ll win simply through overwhelming numbers.

Quick! Everyone mill about. Formations are overrated! But there’s nothing wrong with having a Star Destroyer at your command.

That being said, Star Wars: Empire at War is still strangely addictive. There is a great amount of satisfaction to be had in completely wiping out your enemy with little to no casualties, and you won’t be able to put the game down. You become so eager to get to the next ‘stage’ of the campaign, that you’ll happily sit and wait for your troops to be produced – sometimes even smiling at the empire you’re creating.

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