Despite Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds' use of the Age of Empires II game engine to provide fluid gameplay, some Star Wars fans may not enjoy finding Tauntauns on Tatooine or other similar slips in continuity. While the RTS game takes good advantage of the Star Wars license, the plot doesn't follow the movies' stories very closely and focuses instead on the fights between and after, giving you control of characters like Darth Vader, Chewbacca, or Princess Leia to name just a few.
The single-player games are side stories that usually take place before or after movie events. For example, the Galactic Empire scenario occurs between destruction of the first and second Death Stars, the Wookiee episode happens after the battle of Endor, and Trade Federation follows the war against the Naboo and Gungans. The Gungan campaigns include the struggle of their ancestors' to unite the clans and battle the Trade Federation, while the Rebel Alliance scenario features Princess Leia asking the Wookiees for help in finding an ancient artifact. Bonus missions let you replay events from the movies and even change history. How would life have been if the Empire had conquered Endor, or if the Rebels had saved Hoth?
The six available races have unique advantages and disadvantages and are fairly even. For instance, the Royal Naboo collect nova crystals faster, the mechanized Trade Federation builds structures without houses, and Wookiees regenerate hit points. Each race can build a special unit, such as Galactic Empire's Dark Stormtrooper or the Gungans' Fambaa Shield Generator. The units, however diverse, are essentially the same types with troopers, mechs, aircraft, watercraft or heavy weapons, and upgrades require either research or new structures.
There are few hand-to-hand fighters since Galactic Battlegrounds deals with lasers rather than swords and pikes. Ground units have ranged attacks and the infantry tends to end up as cannon fodder. Some units are more effective against others, and a system of colored lasers helps you plan strategy. Red is good against infantry, blue is best against vehicles, and green destroys buildings.
Unlike traditional RTS games where stealth is limited to having scouts gather information on enemy activities and forces, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds offers much more. Upgrading Jedi and Sith knights adds a solid layer to the game, as they can only be detected by turrets and bounty hunters, while everyone else is subjected to the old mind tricks. Thus, deploying a master to take control of the enemy's buildings and people is a strategic option. To even out the use of these powerful hand-to-hand light saber fighters, all six races can acquire Jedi and bounty hunters. The Gungans' stealth option, submarines, isn't too effective since they're easily detected by most other boats.
Shield generators protect offensive weapons from attack until the power core is destroyed. Squeezing as many units as possible under a shield and marching forth virtually untouched is a great battle option. The use of spacecraft (TIE fighters, X-Wings, Naboo fighters and many more) changes how the game is played since they can breach any type of wall and wreak havoc on a city. So in addition to ground troops and ships, you also need to develop anti-air units, which are available one level before the spacecraft.
You can adjust difficulty levels to suit your skill, and the tutorial is an option to reading the entire 80-page manual. Though the AI is fairly good, you'll occasionally find that units are bit on the dumb side, as they might try to cross rivers on broken or even incomplete bridges, or have trouble getting out of each other's way when they're in cramped spaces.
Details of buildings, units and landscapes are superb, and cities have a unique appearance true to original designs. The spaceships, while not built to scale, look good but have no type of motion, moving only when told. Hovering motions or shadows to give the illusion of flying would have been nice, and the animations and explosions aren't as polished as you'd expect. But, with good use of the license and a solid game engine, fans of RTS-style games and Star Wars in particular will find Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds irresistible.
Graphics: Some of the special effects fail to excite but the attention to detail on units (e.g., storm troopers and rebel ships) is superb. Details of buildings and landscapes create an immersive feel, and each race is distinctive in appearance.
Sound: Sound effects, music and voice acting are nicely done. Most voices are dead on except for Lando, which is not even close. Laser blasts and ship noises are straight from the movies.
Enjoyment: The power to command your favorite Star Wars race and characters is great fun, and the chance to rewrite history is bound to excite diehard fans, though the lack of continuity may be disconcerting at times.
Replay Value: After the story scenarios, other styles of gameplay include random map mode, a full scenario designer, monument construction, capture, and defense, terminate the commander, and death match. In the latter, you start with a ton of resources and have to destroy your opponents almost immediately. With six different races and the mix of gameplay styles, replay value is almost unlimited.
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Star Wars: Empire at War, Star Wars: Rebellion, Star Wars: Force Commander, Star Wars: Battlefront II, StarCraft, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Star Wars: Battlefront, Star Wars: Republic Commando
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