While they enjoy a fairly large fan base on the PC, real time strategy games really havenít made a dent in the home console market here in the states. More than a few PC diehards (and a few game companies) will no doubt argue things like memory constraints, control issues, and potentially lower sales than more easily accessible titles, but theyíre poor excuses when you look at the popularity of the RTS genre overseas.
There have been a few successful RTS titles produced strictly for the console market over the years with Herzog Zwei for the Sega Genesis still at the top of any number of lists. Well-received ports like Dune: Battle for Arrakis (Genesis), Command & Conquer (PS One, Saturn, N64), and Starcraft 64 have also kept gamers busy for hours on end, but the well has been dry for ages. Jalecoís Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde is the latest attempt to bring the excitement and challenge home, and itís the best RTS game to grace a console to date. Fortunately, itís also a cross-platform title, so PS2 and Game Cube owners, donít feels slighted one bit- run out and get yours as soon as you can.
Designed from the ground up for all three major consoles By Chris and Ron Millar (formerly of Blizzard Entertainment), Goblin Commander drops players into the stylized fantasy world of Ogriss with 25 huge single player and a dozen 2-player maps. If youíve never played a RTS before, thereís a great tutorial here will ease you into the ins and outs of gameplay. Unlike a PC to console port, the controls in GC are tailored to whichever console you buy the game for and doesnít feel scaled back or limited at all. Note to the hard core PC RTS-ers out there: the tutorial canít be skipped because itís designed for folks whoíve had little to no experience with the genre- just think of it as a refresher course, the gameís story kicks in after the 2nd lesson.
Unlike more traditional RTS games, Goblin Commander is more about smashing stuff to bits rather than gathering resources and researching new technology. While you do collect souls from defeated enemies and gold from destroyed structures, that simply goes to creating new units to use against the enemy. Buildings that house specific monsters and such are found as you play through the game, and more often than not your task is to try and keep the small army you have intact until the end of the stage youíre playing. If you keep running out of money or donít have enough souls to beat a stage, itís because youíre playing the game incorrectly, so like the late Desmond Morris as ďQĒ would always say to whatever actor was playing James Bond. ďNow, pay attention!Ē
You can control 4 clans at a time with up to 10 goblin units per clan. Selecting clans is done by pushing the L trigger, then the corresponding clan color button on the Xbox controller. Then you can command these units just like you did the single clan in the tutorial- simple, no? Switching back and forth between clans quickly during some of the more battle intensive maps is quite exhilarating, as response time is instantaneous, and you can also control each clan commander (which gives you complete camera control) and the massive Titans and the occasional odd-looking deadly vehicle that can make or literally break certain maps.
Graphically, Goblin Commanderís look will probably make the graphics whores cringe, but I found the art style refreshing for the most part. The character designs are superb, and while the 3D models arenít incredibly detailed, theyíre animated with a great deal of personality. Being able to zoom and pan around the action while controlling single units is a great touch, as you can check out all the little (and big) guys up close and personal. The maps are colorful, excellently designed and far better than any other console RTS title- too bad thereís no level editor here. It would have been great to see the addition of fan-created maps available on Xbox Live downloads. Thereís a tiny bit of chugginess in the 2-player mode, and occasionally during some of the bigger battles, but when you consider how much is going on onscreen, itís totally forgivable.
As for the sound, great music and voice acting (and an excellent script) make up for some pretty basic battle sounds. At least the game supports Dolby 5.1, so your sound system will get a workout (and your neighbors may think youíve got some real goblins bashing up the furniture in your living room).
Other than the lack of an online mode and perhaps more 2-player maps, my biggest issue with Goblin Commander is the limited camera control you have when commanding more than one clan. You can only zoom in and out a bit, and thereís no way to zip back to your main base to whip up some more units. Itís also a small gripe, but Iím sure this will be addressed in the sequel. If youíve always been curious about the whole RTS genre, but have never tried it, or are a well-versed veteran of many a campaign, Goblin Commander is definitely worth a purchase. For you folks out there whoíre always afraid to try something new when it comes to your interactive entertainment, think of it as a football game, but with goblins and a much bigger playbook.
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