In a lineup filled with puzzle games, fighters, and retro console and arcade relelases, a turn based strategy game tends to stand out on Xbox Live Arcade. With the genre previously represented solely by Band of Bugs, a new entrant is definitely welcome. Given our time with the trial version of Commanders: Attack of the Genos, we'd say that the welcome is deserved too. Read on to find out whether or not Commanders is worth your time and money.
Gallery: Commanders: Attack of Genos
From the moment we heard of Commanders, comparisons to Nintendo's Advance Wars series ran rampant. Having actually played the game now, we can tell you that calling Commanders an Advance Wars clone probably doesn't go far enough. For all intents and purposes (from what we gathered in the trial version anyway) Commanders isn't just a clone, it is Advance Wars. Brightly colored units, commanding officers with their own stats and powers, cheesy dialogue, it's all there, only now it's all in 3D and on your TV. Don't get us wrong though, because by no means is this a bad thing. Not everyone has played Advance Wars, so let's explain exactly what Commanders has to offer.
In a nutshell, the general idea of the game is to amass an army that's capable of destroying the opposing team. Throughout the game's various missions, you will build new units, move your troops and vehicles, and do your best to outmaneuver your opponent. It's similar to strategy games available on the 360 proper like Command & Conquer 3 with the (obvious) exception that instead of building your forces in real time, you do so in even turns with your enemy. Another distinction is that instead of building your important structures (vehicle factories, oil wells, etc.) you must capture them during a given mission. This adds a degree of territorial control to the game. For instance, it's entirely possible for you to capture an enemy's factory, thus stealing their ability to manufacture new vehicles. Of course, a crafty opponent could do the same to you.
There are numerous types of vehicles and infantry that can be built or trained, each with certain strengths and weaknesses. For example, the scout vehicle, which is primarily used for reconnaissance, is excellent at mowing down standard infantry but doesn't stand much of a chance against heavier vehicles like tanks. Each vehicle is assigned a certain amount of action points, which the player spends to move and attack. Since both moving and attacking require action points, maintaining a balance between the two is important. For instance, there isn't much point in spending all your points to close the distance on an enemy, as you won't have any points left to attack once you get there. On the flip side, it's also possible to gauge the range of an enemy unit, allowing you maneuver your troops so they stay out of an enemy's sights. The last thing to remember is that all vehicles have a certain range of vision, meaning that clever enemies can keep their units hidden from sight and prepared for an ambush. As is the case with any strategy game, managing the strengths and weaknesses of each unit provides the challenge and, ultimately, the reward.
The final strategic facet to consider is the game's use of Commanders. Commanders take control of powerful command vehicles and can also unleash a special power after dealing enough damage. The two powers seen in the trial include the ability to take shots at multiple enemies with no action point penalty and the ability to instantly call in reinforcements during battle (it normally takes one turn to build any unit). Commanders can turn the tide of battle very quickly, but they're not unstoppable and their vehicles can be destroyed (and replaced for a hefty price).
Moving away from gameplay, the overall presentation of the game is solid. The graphics are sharp and we dig the early 20th century sci-fi design of the vehicles. The explosions are also quite satisfying, adding a sense of accomplishment when you finally finish off a tough unit. The music, however, is a mixed bag at best. The music is a mishmash of weird instrumental music that just feels out of place for this type of game. We understand that it's supposed to be lighthearted, but it's just not very good. It's not likely to bother you too much while playing the game, but you may want to replace it with your own music. We've got the game muted as we type this, just to maintain concentration. Seriously, it sounds like something you'd hear in a Super Nintendo game. Anyway, enough about the music; it can be muted.
Overall, Commanders seems like a very respectable Live Arcade game. 800 points gets you 15 campaign missions, an "advanced" campaign (which we're assuming is just a harder version of the normal campaign), and 4 player multiplayer over Xbox Live. Is it worth it? Having played the trial, we can definitely say that we wanted more when it was over. That's always a good thing.