The Shadow guest reviews: Field Commander.
I liked Advance Wars on my old Nintendo. I also liked Battle Isle on the PC so I wanted to get this game for the PSP. Field Commander is an Advance Wars turn-based tactical strategy game for Sony's handheld console and rather than being rubbish it's actually a good game.
You are a commander in the ATLAS group fighting against some terrorists called the Shadow Nation. It's not a very complex plot or very inspired but it does enough to give you something to hang the strategy on and that's what the game is about. It's not meant to be a story heavy game but there's a story and campaign there.
You have a square map that's divided into various kinds of terrain features. Each kind of terrain can block or allow units to pass. Like say if you have planes and tanks, you can't get tanks through mountain terrain but you can get planes and infantry. As well as hindering units some of these bits of terrain actually give bonuses to defence and so on.
You also have swamps and they slow tanks down and provide a defence penalty, wheeled vehicles can't move through them at all. Along with these terrain features you also have a number of buildings on the map. Some of these are useful for making units and others like the control rooms can let you use special attacks like air strikes, these are good fun to watch too.
Field Commander has all the things I expected from a game similar to Advance Wars and Battle Isle. If you're familiar with all those gameplay mechanics from games such as these then you'll get right into Field Commander. But there's a lot more to it than these features, for instance Field Commander lets you keep air vehicles and land vehicles on the same square.
The terrain can also be affected by heavy weapons fire. Tanks can blow up forests and thin them out; they can then be passed by tanks rather than just infantry. Or you can command fire onto an enemy city and reduce its population from dense to less dense. By affecting the density you also cause problems with the income of that city. I liked this because it adds a new line of tactics and makes the game more fun.
You've got a lot of units in this game; they're the typical kind you find in a military game. There are scouts and there are heavy battleships, tanks, planes, helicopters and my favourite: submarines. You have a special ops commando that has mortars and there are stealth tanks and planes, the nice usual high-tech stuff that I like about military-style games.
Some of these units sacrifice fuel in exchange for greater benefits and this makes the game even more tactical. Do you use the big cannon for more fuel or do you carry on with your normal attacks?
There are unlockable divisions of units in the game and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. They also have special power meters that grow as you blow up enemy units, when the meter is full you can unleash a punishing attack.
There are 30 missions in Field Commander and you could spend between 15-18 hours playing it. Each mission has you either blowing up an enemy building or lots of buildings, accomplishing a specific goal or wiping out an army through the story. They're about 20 by 20 squares on the whole so they're a bit small, but you don't tend to care about that when you're having as much fun as this.
It has nice graphics but they don't look as nice close up. It has cut-scenes when you trigger a control room attack, and when you're attacking it zooms in close just like in Battle Isle to show you the conflict. The graphics are not as good as they could have been but they're not the worst graphics for a game like this, they should be a bit clearer close up though as the textures become less detailed.
It is full 3d though and that's great. Terrain, maps and everything is rendered in 3d and this makes the game satisfying to look at and play for me.
The AI in Field Commander is good at placing its units at the start of a game. It offers a good challenge but I noticed that it wasn't particularly clever at being able to support its economy. It would pump-out infantry a lot and not bother to save up for the bigger and better units. It also didn't use attacks on terrain like I could to destroy the forests to make a new path. I spotted that it did ford rivers with infantry but that's about it.
One thing I really did like about the game compared to the visuals was the sound. The sound of the dying infantry and the boom of the cannons have been done well. In fact all the sound in the game is excellent and I have no gripes at all with it.
The voices aren't all that great. They're not bad, but you do get trash talking enemies. Helpful allies and fully voiced briefings and debriefings - not bad for a handheld if you ask me.
Once you're done with the main game, you can hot-seat with other players on the same handheld or go onto Sony's online matchmaking network service and play other players. There's a transmission mode in the game which is a lot like Play by Email and it's nice to see the developers have introduced this mode into the game.
You log in, make a move and then your enemy can log in and make their move whenever they like. This is a great slow paced way of playing a match with a friend when you can't quite get the timezones to meet.
The game allows you to upload maps made with the game's mission editor and share them with players. This is a great way to extend the life of the game and it adds even more replay value to the title.
Field Commander is good fun online.
What I thought
I thought the game was great to be honest. It's nice to see one of these types of games on the PSP and with all that Field Commander has to offer it is a game that can keep you busy for ages, especially when you want to play it online. Having the PBEM style option should allow friends and enemies to play together at any time to suit them and there are no problems with lag or bad game servers.
It is a must buy title for the PSP and is the best turn-based strategy game on a handheld - I prefer this game to both Advance Wars and Battle Isle.