Fans of the Advance Wars series and turn-based strategy games in general will be delighted with Sierra’s latest Xbox Live Arcade offering, Commanders: Attack of the Genos. It mixes the same turn-based battle-map gameplay that made Advance Wars so popular on handhelds with the art-deco WWII-era vision of the future seen in such excellent titles as Crimson Skies and Bioshock. The mixture’s result is a tense, addictive and fun game to play for a few hours at a time, with only a few minor flaws getting in the way.
Each player starts off at a base of operations and must generate capital to build armies by capturing local oil refineries. As the cash pours in players will have to determine how much of each unit type to build and where to place them on the map for maximum offense and defense potential. Sounds simple, and to a large degree it is. Each type of unit has its own classification in terms of speed, firepower and what type of enemy it is ideal for use against (and with what type it doesn’t stand a chance).
As one might expect, each field unit is allotted a certain number of spaces per turn. How you manage that movement is the entire key to winning the battle or seeing your entire army being turned into scrap metal one unit at a time during your opponent’s turn. Different units can move different amounts of spaces depending on how well they deal with certain types of terrain and if you are “in range” of an enemy unit you can launch an attack. Doing so guarantees the unit being attacked will launch an immediate, knee-jerk counterattack, so taking into account the state of your unit before each move is also vital. Each player also has a “command unit” to deploy that resembles an arachnid of sorts and acts as the leader and trump card for the entire combat force. The command unit can unleash a powerful attack on local enemies, or prevent them from advancing at all.
Graphically, the game looks very crisp and really “pops” when viewed in HD. The cartoony “future past” décor of the whole title really is novel (for now) and pleasant. There is a tendency for the camera to “over compensate” your move and swing about the landscape a bit wildly, but that’s a minor gripe and one gets used to it. The game’s campaign story is told old-school style with captioned stills of the characters, but is quite entertaining and silly in the same way an adventure comic of the 1940s would be. If you can take the silly one-liners mixed in with vaguely familiar cultural references, you will find yourself giggling more than once throughout the campaign.
The multiplayer aspect is where the game really shines. Local box/TV and Xbox Live multiplayer can accommodate up to four players across ten available maps. The rule settings are robust and customizable for those who really like to play their own way. The game’s one really irritating flaw is that it seems a bit unbalanced at times and has certain AI exploits that might be deemed “unfair” to hardcore players of the strategy genre. Perhaps this will be addressed in a future Live update.
Sound effects are crisp and appropriately boomy, and only occasionally do they sound a bit ineffectual. After a while, most discerning players will become weary of the music as it tends to get monotonous and irritating, so most players may want to set their own custom music via the Xbox 360's fly out menu (Ride of the Valkyries, anyone?).
All in all, Commanders is a fun ride on a small scale, if the turn-based strategy genre is your thing. It is also ideal for those who may be unsure if the genre suits them, and are “gun shy” about jumping right into something like Command & Conquer. Considering the amount of silly, engrossing fun the game delivers for a paltry ten dollars, Commanders can be recommended easily for any fledgling Douglas MacArthurs out there looking to dominate the battlefield.