Though the Star Wars license has seen its fair share of strategy games, none has evolved into a bankable franchise for LucasArts. Star Wars: Empire at War tries to rectify this situation, combining positive aspects from earlier Star Wars titles, borrowing elements from other strategy games, and incorporating some newly created features for better or worse.
Empire at War takes place on a star system map with real-time events. The map's size ranges from 8 to 43 planets, depending on the difficulty, as players decide which units to create and what worlds to conquer or defend. Having both space and land battles is an ambitious design element, but there are some drawbacks to both phases.
In land battles, the game restricts how many units you can use at any one time. This keeps battles to a fairly small size -- not what you would expect from a movie series with "wars" in the title. Land maps are also extremely small, which diminishes the strategic options, as there is typically only one direction to travel. The secret to success is making sure you have enough units in space that can be called upon for reinforcements.
Space combat offers a few more options. Space stations can be built to help defend a planet and increase the total population cap. Space battles are similar to land battles in that you are limited to the number of onscreen units at any given time. There isn't much maneuvering in space, either; nearly every battle begins with both sides in close proximity to each other. Hazards like asteroid fields may alter your course, but in most cases you simply move forward.
One interesting element is that larger ships have individual points you can attack. A Star Destroyer alone has engines, a tractor beam, individual weapons, a hangar, and shields to target. Unfortunately, you often don't have time to select each attack point. Destroying the hangar helps, since it stops TIE fighters from being deployed. Yet it can be more beneficial just to destroy ships as fast as possible by overwhelming them with units.
Empire at War includes most of the major vehicles from the films along with some original designs. The game also features heroes from the movies, books, and games, such as Mara Jade and Kyle Katarn. Hero units are the most fun to control in land battles. Darth Vader can crush soldiers and tanks with the Dark Side of the Force, while Chewbacca can commandeer vehicles. The hero units aren't as entertaining in space since they just sit inside cockpits.
With the film's characters, ships, and vehicles as playable units, Empire at War makes you feel part of the Star Wars universe. Although sometimes more challenging than it should be, controlling all of the aspects on the galactic map is enjoyable. Unfortunately, the battles just aren't very interesting to play. While the game is a notch above previous Star Wars strategy titles in most areas, it still falls short of other entries in the genre. Take away the Star Wars license and you take away the incentive to keep playing.
Graphics: While the cinematic camera lets you watch battles as if they were part of a movie, you can't actually anything during this view. You also cannot rotate the in-game camera at all. Even space battles have the same isometric view as the land battles.
Sound: Sound effects and music are excellent as they are in most Star Wars titles. All of the hero units have voices similar to the movies, but you can certainly tell the difference.
Enjoyment: From a technical standpoint, the game runs well. The galactic map is fun and offers the most strategy in the game. Heroes add to the Star Wars atmosphere, and blowing up planets with the Death Star is a treat. However, Empire at War is held back by shallow, small-scale battles.
Replay Value: After a few hours of the single-player game, you will probably find yourself hitting the auto-resolve button more often than engaging in battle. The Star Wars license keeps Empire at War from being just another average strategy game and may be enough to bring you back for multiplayer skirmishes.
People who downloaded Star Wars: Empire at War have also downloaded:
Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds, Star Wars: Rebellion, Star Wars: Battlefront II, Star Wars: Force Commander, Star Wars: Republic Commando, Star Wars: Battlefront, Star Wars: X-Wing Alliance, Star Trek: Armada 2
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