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Star Wars: Empire at War Review

Developer: Petroglyph Publisher: LucasArts
Release Date: February 15, 2006 Also On: None

Empire at War is not the Star Wars brand’s first stab into the RTS genre. In November of 2001, LucasArts released Galactic Battlegrounds, a Star Wars RTS utilizing the Age of Empires engine by Microsoft. The game got mixed reviews and now Lucas has taken the next step in RTS games, they’ve made their own engine from scratch.

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The first feature that stuck out in Empire at War was the ability to see the battleground from multiple perspectives. That is, you can take an overall look at the game, with the ability to move groups of units from planet to planet, or in the space above a planet, to prepare for an invasion or the like. One level closer, you can see the overall view of all units on the planet, whether in space above, or on the ground. The final zoom level is on the ground, where you can see each unit individually, and control them as such.

This is where Empire at War changes from a unique take on the RTS genre to a generic RTS engine with Star Wars slapped on it. You control your units like any other RTS, and like any other RTS, your selected units are shown in the bottom GUI with a mini-map in the corner. Unlike other RTS’s, however, (and Galactic Battlegrounds before it) you can choose to play as either the rebels or the empire, each with completely different missions and mechanics. For instance, as rebels you may try to stay out of sight of the empire, but as the empire you may send out probe droids to nearby systems to try to find the rebels.

Another big selling point for this game is the ability to fight in space. Initially I thought to myself “Cool! A mix between RTS and action shooter?� , but my hopes were soon shot down when I found out that fighting in space is effectively exactly the same as fighting on the ground. There is no depth; that is, all units are at the same vertical level in space, none lower than others. The only real difference between ground and space battles is that in space, the only scenery is asteroids, whereas on the ground there are obviously a wider variety of things to look at, depending on the planet. The only other difference is obviously that in space, you fly ships, whereas on the ground you use infantry and, well, ground units.

The one redeeming factor of the engine, surprisingly, was the “cinematic camera� mode. This means that you can give your units the commands that you want, and slap it into cinematic mode and watch the carnage from camera angles that look like they are straight from the movies, focusing on where the action takes place, whether its blasters firing, droids beeping, or ships exploding. To the game’s credit, the missions are very story-driven and give you the feeling of being in the movies.

Areas in the game are diverse and the graphics are just about the best you can find in any modern RTS. As you progress, things get bigger and more beautiful, pushing more and more polygons. Plus, lighting effects are top-notch, making Empire at War quite a bit of eye candy. Music is very well done as well; some is taken directly from the movies, like the imperial Death Star theme, as well as some new tunes in the same theme. Even when it’s not during a story sequence, the music kicks in when it should.

Overall, it’s a pretty basic RTS with nice graphics and some nice Star Wars music, graphics, and missions. The multiplayer aspect is as it should be, with a good number of maps, and with the recently released patch, the game is well-balanced. If you are into Star Wars, I’d say this game is definitely worth a look. However, if you’re a hardcore RTS fan, this may lack the depth or complexity you crave. Either way it’s solid, it’s fun, and it’s nice to look at.

Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 7
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 6
Final: 7
Written by Dave Review Guide