Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde
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8  |  Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde (PS2)
Scoots , 11/25/2003 8:34:52 AM
What do you have left when you strip a typical real-time strategy game of all the micromanaging, bloated lists of available units, and tedious society-building? If you're lucky, you get a game like Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde , Jaleco's latest release for the Playstation 2, GameCube, and X-Box. What remains after stripping the genre to the bone is the raw essence of conflict--I'm right, you're wrong, get offa my lawn you damn kids--er...Goblins. Goblin Commander offers two modes of play, a single player campaign and individual skirmishes against a second player.

The story unfolds through a series of brief cutscenes interspersed throughout each stage. In Campaign Mode you take on the role of Grommel, commander of the Stonekrusher clan. As the story progresses, you will make war on opposing clans and eventually bring them under your own control, to be used just as your own troops are. Each clan has five separate unit types, consisting of hand-to-hand fighters, ranged fighters, and support units such as healers or scouts. Your troops also have certain upgrades (defense, attacking power, range, etc) available to them. Then there are the proverbial "big guns"--the Titans. Titans are huge, powerful beasts that can deal enormous damage to the enemy in a very short span of time. You won't be tilling farms to gather food, or building sawmills to amass lumber; instead, your army collects its only necessary resources, Souls and Gold, through fighting and destroying breakable objects in its path. These resources are what you will use to purchase upgrades, build a larger army, or erect turrets. Weaker units will of course be relatively inexpensive to purchase, while Titans are the most expensive. Knowing how to budget your resources is the key to an effective strategy; should you create ten weak melee fighters, or hope a single Lightning Elemental will be able to propel you to victory?

All these creatures under your control and nary a keyboard in sight… Pulling off an RTS game on a console without getting bogged down with awkward and confusing controls is a daunting task. The key is streamlining. Get rid of what is extraneous and stay true to what is important--all out carnage and mayhem. The control scheme is laid out perfectly; it is logical and easy to learn. Each clan under your control is assigned to a specific button (square, x, and circle). Using the left analog stick to position your cursor, you then deploy your clan using its respective button. The action they will take depends on the surroundings. Place the marker in an uninhabited area, and the clan will simply move to that point. Place it next to enemy forces, and your clan will attack. Place it on a breakable object and your clan will hammer at the object until it is destroyed. Since each clan is assigned to a different button it is easy to send them off in different directions, or keep them all grouped together. Movement is accomplished through use of the left analog stick, though you can quickly toggle between your home marker and the latest map ping by tapping up or down on the D-pad. Right on the D-pad displays your objectives for the level, while Left brings up a help message directly related to whatever your cursor is floating over. A new twist in the genre is the concept of Direct Control. Instead of simply playing from the standard omniscient fixed viewpoint, by pressing the triangle button a commander can take direct control of a clan and dive into the fray in earnest. Titans can only be used by direct control, an aspect that must be considered when weighing their strengths and weaknesses. The right analog stick controls the camera, making it easy to zoom way back to navigate the map and then zoom back in to catch all the chaotic action of battle.

Graphically, the game is quite impressive. Each goblin clan has their own unique look, comprised of highly imaginative unit types. These character models also get a graphic tune-up when you purchase upgrades in your Clan Shrine. The overall look of the game is an excellent blend of the serious and the humorous, closer in spirit to Games Workshop’s Warhammer universe than to the grim creatures of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. Even with 40+ characters slugging it out on screen, I saw no appreciable slowdown on the PS2. Particle effects are handled wonderfully. A bolt of lightning exploding in the midst of battle is just as dramatic as such an event should be. The maps present players with a vast array of terrain to explore, all populated by their own flora, geological formations, and structures. Capturing unique structures such as Moon Gates, watch towers, and alchemist shops can decide the course of battle, so commanders would be wise to search as much as the map as possible.

While I think Jaleco has given us a great game here, there were a few ways it could have been even better. First, the music was unimpressive. It’s dominated by fairly generic jungle drums and does little to add to the game experience. To a certain degree, the wealth of sound effects make up for the lackluster music. You hear every fatal gasp, every crack of your Pitboss’s chain whip, the heavy footfalls of your Stone Giant. In the cutscenes, characters actually “speak” in Goblin-language, with English subtitles—definitely a cool touch that helps flesh out the world of Ogriss. My other complaint is the lack of a single player deathmatch mode for those who want to fight a quick battle outside of the standard campaign.

All in all, Goblin Commander is an excellent game. Experienced RTS players can enjoy a more battle-focused game than typically found on PCs, while those new to the genre will have no trouble at all diving right in and getting their feet wet. I give it an 8 out of 10.

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