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Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command

Score: 70%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: THQ
Developer: THQ
Media: Cartridge/1
Players: 1 - 2; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

It's hard to imagine a bad strategy videogame being attached to a license that is has its roots firmly set in the strategy genre, but these things do happen. Case in point, Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command. Though it does possess some really cool ideas that come close to matching the look and feel of the tabletop game, there are a number of miscues that drag the entire game down.

I'm a firm believer in the whole "gameplay over graphics" mantra, except when poor graphics affect the gameplay. Such is the case in Squad Command. The color palette is composed of drab colors that make it really hard to pick out individual units. The blurry textures add to the confusion, which makes it even more difficult to choose targets, or select units (a issue the interface contributes to). The various overlays and blocky geometry also contribute to the mess.

One cool visual aspect is that most objects in the environment are destroyable. The added strategic gameplay this offers is neat due to the dynamic it adds to finding cover. However, this concept isn't exploited as much as it probably should be and simply becomes just another visual enhancement.

Sound is virtually non-existent. There are a few okay voiceovers, though most of the game's audio experience is made up of gunshots and explosions.


Gameplay:

Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command is a strategy game that puts you in control of a squad of six Space Marines. The actual plot isn't very important, nor is it clearly presented. Everything is presented through a series of still images and wordy explanations that never draw you into the game, nor give you any context as to why you're fighting in the first place. This isn't important in the long run, since all you really need to know is that the Chaos forces are the guys you need to shoot at.

Mission objectives are straightforward and easy to follow. Before each mission, you can survey your goals which, in theory at least, should influence the weapon load out for your squad. Though you can do this, I typically found a setup I liked and stuck to it, regardless of mission type.

Gameplay is based on command points. Each unit has a set number of points that can be used for either attacking or movement. Each step takes away a set number of points, so the longer the travel distance, the more points he'll eat up. Attacks work in a similar manner, though pumping points into your attack increases the weapon's accuracy. Command points add an almost Chess-like component since you'll sometimes have to think 2 - 3 actions in advance to make sure you have enough action points. Before ending a unit's series of actions, you'll also have to decide if you want to use your unit's Overwatch ability. When active, units will shoot any unit that moves into its line of sight. When used effectively, this can really limit your opponent's options. At the same time, it can also limit your options and become a bit of a gamble since there's no guarantee that enemies will move the way you think they will.

Multiplayer is available using local, game sharing and online options, though each generally boils down to the same gameplay type - kill the other guy. A number of different map sizes are available, at least online, though finding an online match was tricky.


Difficulty:

Both the movement and combat mechanics present issues that hurt the experience. The first of the game's flaws is the movement system. There's no grid overlay to restrict your movements, so you can easily end up wasting movement points, even when you've found the most efficient path. Combat mechanics are flawed thanks to the lack of a useful camera system. Though you can adjust the angle a little, the camera still stays in the same spot. Since attacks are based on line of sight, it can be hard to get the right angle of attack. To compensate, you'll usually have to really micromanage your command points to make sure you get a good shot and still be able to find cover. Figuring out how to use points in the broad sense is one thing, but really having to nitpick point usage isn't. Even if you get the numbers down perfectly, you'll have to deal with enemies who have an uncanny knack at finding the smallest of gaps to fire through.

Though the game mechanics can sometimes make Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command difficult, the general gameplay difficulty curve is handled well. Each mission ramps up just enough to match the player's growing knowledge of the game. Early missions present scenarios that are designed around getting you familiar with the basic mechanics. Each time a new unit or weapon becomes available, the very next mission is designed to teach you the ins and outs of how it is used. By the time the game opens everything up, you will have a good enough grip on everything that you shouldn't feel at all overwhelmed.


Game Mechanics:

Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command is presented from an isometric view. You can issue orders to your squad using either the D-pad and face buttons or stylus. Although the stylus seems like it would be an idea control option, it is incredibly awkward. It almost feels like it was included just because people expect it, not because it was ever an intended control scheme.

The simple act of moving a unit from one area to another is unwieldy. You will always have at least one unit selected, which makes it hard to freely move the cursor around. This leads to issues where you might move a unit, then click on another only to accidentally move the previous unit. As frustrating as single-unit movement is, it is the best option available. Trying to move multiple units is a pain; some will refuse to move, others will find their own path to the location or get stuck on something in the environment.

Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command is as close as any Warhammer game has come to bringing the tabletop experience to a videogame. Though it should appeal to fans of the tabletop game, there are simply too many little nagging issues - most of which involve the interface mechanics - that end up limiting the game's fun moments.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Microsoft Xbox 360 The History Channel: Battle for the Pacific Sony PlayStation 3 NCAA March Madness 08

 
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