Be vewy, vewy quiet. I'm hunting Gungan!
Star Wars fans, this is it - the game we've all been waiting for! No, I'm not talking about the amazing Star Wars Rogue Leader. I'm talking about the only game in which you are allowed to shoot Gungans! Yep, Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds is the name of the game and, if nothing else, this game scores points for that trait alone. I just wish you could shoot a particularly annoying Gungan, but no luck.
Galactic Battlegrounds is a real-time strategy game based in the Star Wars Universe. Six races are available for you to choose from, including the Rebels, Empire, Naboo, Trade Federation, Wookiees, and our floppy eared friends, the Gungans. Each civilization has its own campaign, which spans approximately seven missions, so it won't take you forever to get through each one. Simple, isn't it?
If you've ever played any of Microsoft's Age of Empires games, you'll be instantly familiar with what's going on. After all, Battlegrounds is adapted from the same engine. There are four resources that you'll have to manage - food, carbon (trees), ore, and nova...just like AoE's food, wood, gold, and stone. In fact, they could have just referred to the game as the "Star Wars Edition" of AoE to avoid confusion.
Even through Battlegrounds uses the AoE engine, it just doesn't look as impressive. Map textures and units look okay, but they don't seem to sport the amount of detail that was included in AoE.
Gameplay also is the same, as you have tons of different units to create, upgrades to research and buildings to construct. Four technology levels are included, so you'll constantly be busy with research. As in AoE 2, troops can be garrisoned inside buildings (sometimes increasing their health), given formations and given standard behaviors (i.e. aggressive, defensive, etc.). It's all very typical RTS and very AoE. At least LucasArts picked a good model for this game.
The actual gameplay flow of Battlegrounds is generally all right, but there are a few weird little problems that pop up. One these problems is the way the game will sometimes pause as you perform a drag select to group a few units together. At first, it occurred so often that I thought it was supposed to happen, but then a few instances came up where it didn't. Whatever the case may be, something is not working quite right.
Also, unit AI tends to be on the screwy side. Picture this: A large army of about fifty mounted Wooks (mounted on what? Who knows?) marches on Gungan territory. With their posture set to aggressive and no specific target given, they immediately being to trash the nearest structure. Naturally, the Gungan army doesn't take kindly to someone smashing their stuff, so out comes the cavalry. But instead of changing targets and going after the hostiles, many of the Wookiees continue their assault on the nonviolent structures. I know Wookiees possess great strength and accelerated healing, but when their back is being shot at by group of angry floppy-ears, the outcome doesn't look good. Even though the Wookiees outnumbered the Gungans by leaps and bounds, the defenders were easily able to decimate the attackers. Needless to say, I kept a close eye on all offensive maneuvers after that.
Also peculiar is the way the game seems to favor a defensive approach. Structures tend to have an awesome amount of hit points - especially if they're upgraded. Throw your soldiers inside and you've got some great defensive power. Put together a nice strong wall with a few turrets and only a large army filled with tech level 4 soldiers will be able to offer any threat.
Strangely enough, the worst part about Battlegrounds is that it doesn't really feel like Star Wars. I know there are X-Wings and Gungans and AT-ATs, but the overall feel just isn't right. The details are all out of whack. For instance, the tree-dwelling Wookiees are living in metal shelters on the ground. The Rebels are importing Tauntauns wherever they go and situations like the Gungans vs. the Wookiees in space just seems very silly. I understand that it's all for the sake of gameplay, but hardcore Star Wars geeks (like myself, I suppose) might just feel a little disturbance in the Force.
While Galactic Battlegrounds gets on the right RTS road, it doesn't go the distance. In a nutshell, it feels like an AoE mod more than a stand-alone game. A few improvements to the unit AI and some tweaking of structural hit points and we just might have a solid Star Wars RTS on our hands.