..is the sound of frustration you'll make
trying to wade through LucasArts' conquer-the-galaxy game
Star Wars: Rebellion
It started out so beautifully.
A gorgeously rendered cut-scene (the kind so sorely missing from LucasArts' Mysteries of the Sith expansion for Jedi Knight) follows the standard opening fanfare and scrolling introduction. As the credits roll, a shuttle soars through the reaches of space, past the various mines, factories and systems that you'll have to manipulate once you've chosen which side you'll play in LucasArts' Star Wars: Rebellion. Enjoy these beautiful scenes.
They don't last.
From the second the cut-scene ends that delivers you to
your "base" - Cloud City for the Rebellion (Cloud City?
Where'd that choice come from?) and a Super Star Destroyer for the Empire - you are
deposited in a micromanager's nightmare of clicking screens and field reports.
Oh, it's the Star Wars Universe. The entire Star Wars Universe. You'll
encounter most of the characters, places, and items that are found in all three movies and
even many of the books - although where is Mara Jade, Kyle Katarn, Dash Rendar and other
notable post-movie extras? Sure, Grand Admiral Thrawn, Talon Karrde, and others make
an appearance, but you'd think that since the designers included Dark Troopers (from the
original Dark Forces game) that these other game creations would be included.
...TO COMMAND A GALAXY
You start with seven of your side's major characters - these agents will do your diplomacy, espionage, research, as well as recruitment of more such characters. The setting is immediately after the end of ANH. If you are playing the Alliance you must make plans to evacuate Yavin as the Empire is converging on this location to avenge the destruction of the first Death Star. And if you follow the Dark path, you are still stinging from the loss of the Death Star and feel the need to make the Rebels bleed.
he first thing you will need to do is listen to the protocol droid, who will explain many of the details of the game and the current status of the universe. (The second thing is likely to shut him up, as his nattering and constant reminders will grow old fast. And how come they couldn't secure Anthony Daniels as the voice of See-Threepio? He was happy to play Threepio the banker for the Star Wars Monopoly game. The imitation Threepio only adds to the annoyance.)
The next step is to take a few minutes to look over the universe, as you know it, and take assessment of your planets, resources, and characters. The size of the galaxy you're fighting for is variable - 100, 150, or 200 planets or systems, 10 per sector - based on your choice at the game's start. Once you know what's going on and what you need to do the game begins in earnest. To this end, the manual is helpful, in the beginning. Later, it seems to lack some of the detail needed for many of the fine points.
...TO CONTROL THE CONTROLS
You'll notice the graphics are crisp, but not inspiring. For the majority of notifications and functionary displays, you are only given still shots - there are no animations or 3D effects to accompany different screens and events. Each system, when filled with mines, shipyards, and troops, has a flat look. Plus, you have to change screens to view each type of resource. A single glance at a planetary system should be enough to tell you what is there, but you have to spend precious time going through the different views to get the full scope of what you own and operate. The only animations are cutscenes (of the completion of certain victory conditions or the winning/losing of the game - these are the same gorgeous style renderings as the open - but they occur oh-so-infrequently) and the space battle. There isn't much animation there, either (see below).
Once you are done with the tutorials it is probably a good
idea to decide if you want to restart the game NOW, or just live with the progress made.
During those tutorials it helped to just keep going in the same game. By now, though,
enough had been learned about what to do, some of what not to do, with enough left for you
to do some experimenting.
HERE'S WHERE THE FUN BEGINS...
You'll do all of your galaxy conquering from the Command Control Screen (see above). The ever-present galactic map is helpful in keeping track of the status of the universe. Through different filter selections, each 10-system galaxy will have a representation of who they are loyal to, the locations of shipyards, which are idle, the location of construction yards, mines, factories, troop training facilities, and which of them are idle... hey, its a big galaxy. The map can be set to show all sorts of helpful things quickly. You can also locate characters and what they are doing, fleets, and planets when you need to get to them in a hurry.
Since information is key and time changes all things, you can't always rely on what you see unless it is first-hand information. You receive this information from probes, your ships in orbit, spies, and informants. These are especially useful for Imperial-controlled planets. Don't worry about information changing on neutral planets as they don't progress much on their own and the game always informs you when one of the known systems is converted.
The problem with all of this is that you can end up with so
many small informational windows open, you lose track of where to go next, or where that
vital window is that you need. The game tried to foresee this problem, and allows
twelve "minimized" windows to be stored in slots to the right of the screen (see
above). Even that can get confusing, what with the left side
of the screen showing incoming messages concerning manufacturing, your characters, state
of the galaxy - combine that with your astromech droid beeping each time a message comes
in and your protocol droid interpreting that and the need for muscle relaxants and the
time control becomes vital.
OK, HERE IS WHERE THE FUN BEGINS...
Even a small universe can become unwieldy. You can have the protocol droid handle some of your production, like creating more mines and refineries. But you can't tell him to create specific items as needed. You can tell him to use the closest resources to create a ship or a specific facility at a particular location, but you may not like the choices it has made. And once you have some time invested in creating something, changing it loses all of those resources and starts from scratch.
OK, MAYBE NOW...?
The only time they won't run away that I have seen, is if the Imperials are defending Coruscant. The first time I played it took three tries to take Coruscant and they never ran. Lately, though, it seems the computer has gotten wimpy. I have encountered a fleet with a few Star Destroyers and about a dozen TIEs and I came in with a pair of wimpy capital ships with 3 or 4 X-Wings. The Imperials ran. I tried this again by sending this fleet (hah) to 5 more Empire-controlled systems. Each time the fleet I encountered seemed to be my superior, but they turned tail and ran away.
Then there are the graphics of the space
battle. Not that anyone was expecting a mini-version of X-wing vs. TIE
Fighter, but Star Wars is known for its dramatic, exciting space
fights. Here, the fighters move, but have a static facing. The capital ships move,
ponderously. The laser blasts look they used a forward or back slash, right off the
DON'T BE TOO PROUD OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL TERROR...
The Death Star. I spent all that time and resources creating one. Anticipating its arrival. Savoring the moment of completion. Ah-hah! I now have the Ultimate Power in the Universe!!
Whoopee one more time.
Oh sure, the planet-destroying laser is nice to have, but
just try using it. When you do find a system you want to destroy (my first target
was Yavin) you will get a nice cut-scene effect, similar to the effect in the movie. Cool.
Except for the repercussions. By this point in the game, most systems have been either
explored or controlled (the Death Star takes a LONG time to rebuild). If you fire your
grand weapon, stand by to lose most of the universe to the Rebels. Just about everyone who
is neutral goes over to the Alliance. If you control some systems that are close to
neutral many of them jump over to the Alliance as well. Bottom line, destroy a planet and
you help the Alliance. Shouldn't it be that the other nine systems in that sector tilt a
little bit towards the Empire out of sheer TERROR? "Oh yeah, you blew up that planet,
so we are going to endanger ourselves by joining the rebels." I could see the other
galaxies going over to the Alliance. But any sector the Death Star is in should hop to and
pledge allegiance to the Empire to avoid being vaped. I want to use that
THE POWER TO DESTROY A PLANET IS INSIGNIFICANT...
There are only two uses of the Force. Neither one is much controllable by the player. The first use is to find others who have an affinity for the Force and can thereby be trained to become Jedis by the Jedi characters. Darth Vader starts off able to determine if a character can use the Force. Luke must go to Dagobah (which he does at random and is unavailable during that time) to become Force sensitive. He won't be able to see the force potential in Leia until he survives an encounter with Darth Vader. But he must encounter Darth in order to reach Jedi status.
Once Luke is a Jedi, he, like Darth Vader, can perform the
second use of the Force: train any others who have force potential. This training
increases these four stats of each character trained: diplomacy, espionage, combat, and
leadership. Even Luke has these stats enhanced in each step of his progression to become a
Jedi. This is all well and nice, but there are no other uses for the Force. There are no
missions for which "force-capable" characters are necessary. For all of the
scope of the Force, it is reduced to just a training tool to increase some stats.
But where is the excitement and adventure of the Star Wars movies? A character sent on a mission could be gone for literally hundreds of days, and even upon arrival and the completion or failure of a mission, there is no cut-scene or animation - just a static screen with a nice sound effect in the background, and generally good though generic voice interpretations of the characters. But lack of animation seriously hurts this game - it doesn't realize the great potential that we're shown in its cut-scenes.
So, is this the game of the Star Wars Universe that we have been waiting for? Despite a few positive reviews, general buzz on Star Wars: Rebellion has been that of disappointment, with many hoping that the upcoming Force Commander will be the strategy and battle game Rebellion was hyped to be.
Rebellion is a competent game set in the Star Wars Universe, but it lacks the action, real character interface, animation (even small ones), and extra touches that made the similar Master of Orion series so popular. If LucasArts can do something about all of the micro-management and their messages, make the space battles a little more inclusive for the player, and make becoming a Jedi something to really aspire to, then this game will do more than just spend a few days on my computer.
You'll note that I didn't spend any time on the ability to play another real person, whether over the Internet, modem, or serial port. This game is slow-paced enough when I am the only one controlling the game speed. With a second person having to slow down the game for their decisions, I didn't want to have to spend hours playing just to see a few game-days go by. As with any game you can play against a human opponent you get good variety. But this game could go tens of hours before you even encounter an opponent, unless you specifically head to one of his systems. But you can't really afford to do that, as early on you really need to spend some time building your manufacturing base, then building your defenses, and finally working on offense. Using this process, you just don't have enough of a fleet to go merrily romping through the other guys' defenses. And the whole driving force around multiplayer is interaction.
(You can frequently find Bob Casey in a Jedi Knight or Mysteries of the Sith multiplayer game cursing his high lag rate and earning his screen name "Reboots Alot.")