This game was released in February 2008 via Xbox Live Marketplace. Commanders was developed by SouthEnd Interactive and published by Sierra. Being an original creation for the newest consoles, I was glad that a demo was available. It didn't take long in the demo to realize that this game was a turn based strategy game, similar to the Advance Wars series. I guess one could abbreviate it TBS (and hopefully not get sued by Ted Turner). This game has 15 missions in single player as well as multiplayer skirmishes, both online and off. How does it favor when compared to its inspiration?
This game follows the story of a young soldier named (dead) who is young yet seemingly in charge of a major military group. He and his friends are in conflict with a group called the Genos. The Genos are the result of genetic experiments to create a faster, stronger, and more intelligent human race. This alternate history postulates that the atomic bomb was discovered in the early 1900's and a rapid technological advance occurred shortly thereafter. The rise of technology gave way to genetic modification, and the creation of the Genos, as above.
Many regular humans began to distrust their genetic creations, fearing their technical superiority. So they were banished to another world. As the game begins, rumors are spread that the Genos have returned to take over the human worlds. These Genos seem to have unlimited resources (enemy forces are always fortunate to have that; incompetent commanders but lots of resources to make up for it)
As this game is a downloadable game, it cannot be fairly compared to other Xbox 360 graphics. I would describe the graphics as glossy and bright, every tank looks like a tank, and other units are also visually distinctive. The game takes an art deco approach to its visuals, which also fit into its alternate 20th century history plot. The environments are kind of bland but functional. Much like other TBS's, this game is not really about the visuals. It is clear though that the makers were looking to create a similar look to past greats, such as the Advance Wars series, in which graphics mostly serve to help the player tell one unit from another, so they know which strategies to employ.
Commanders' music is uninspired. I expected lots of booming bass, as a way to reflect the chaos and brutality of warfare. Most of the music was actually rather low-key, with barely there chords and little expressed musically. Some believe it is composed in such a way so as to better fit in with the art deco style, but it is still rather underwhelming to me. Sound effects fare a little better with good audio for weapon attacks and vehicle explosions. My favorite thing is when you know you have the enemy dead to rights with a superior vehicle; you hear the turret swinging around and BOOM, big explosion and dead enemy! Sweet!
For a game with a lot of dialogue (definitely more than Advance Wars) it is too bad that voice acting is not included. This probably has more to do with it being an Xbox Arcade game that anything else.
Gameplay is pretty much a clone of other turn-based strategy games. You built your units via funds that you get based on the number of buildings you control. This is one aspect that I favor with TBS games, not having to worry about enemies taking out your resource gatherers via sneak attacks. They want your resources; they better make a concerted effort. Anyway, you have quite a variety of units to choose, from motorcycles to tanks to recon vehicles to long-range artillery. All have their purposes and the above is just a small sample. As the game continues, you can make an increasing amount of different units.
Each unit you build gets a turn then it is the opponent's turn. Each unit can move a certain amount and attack the enemy or vice versa. Pretty standard for the genre, but it should be mentioned.
Over the game's 15 missions, you do everything from protecting friendly units to destroying all enemies. This is a standard to avoid boredom in turn based strategy games, but I always appreciate diverse goals anyway.
Commanders also makes use of well, commanders. Depending on which you chose, you are given certain passive advantages, ranging from longer-range artillery to greater defense to regenerating health for your units. Commanders also has another Advance Wars like power that activates once in a while. These can turn the tide of the battle due to their effects, which range from damage to all nearby enemy units to all of your units getting an additional turn immediately. Quite powerful.
I also like how individual units can level up (stars) for destroying enemies. As you level up, you gain greater attack, defense, and life. A heavy tank with 3 stars can be a tough foe indeed or a great ally to use. Plan your strategy well.
Replay value is present in the form of higher difficulties. Unlike some games, missions do not just get harder because of stronger enemies; they often have a lot more forces and can overpower you fairly easily if you can't think quickly with your strategies.
When it comes to challenge, the default difficulty will be very familiar for fans of these types of games. There are definitely times in the game that using the wrong units or strategy will lead to your defeat. Because so much is dependent on these facts, challenge can be hard to gauge. You are able to save mid-battle, and can potentially fix any screw-up's you may have made.
Overall, Commanders is formulaic for the genre, but has a few unique twists. For fans of TBS games, this is a no-brainer due to the low cost and good replay value. I've paid quite a bit of money for some of the Advance Wars games, so it was nice to see a cheaper alternative that was quite an enjoyable experience. I hope that more of these games will appear in the future on Xbox Live Arcade.
- Ugly Bob