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There have been many titles released over the years set in the Star Wars universe, some good, and some bad. Star Wars: Empire at War is a real-time strategy game for the PC and I’m pleased to report it’s one of the good ones. The game features a variety of modes and allows the player to take on the role of the evil Empire or battle for the light side of the force with the Rebellion. This is a game with some strategic depth and the highly polished action throws you into epic battles in outer space and assaults or defences on the surface of various planets.
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There are various game modes available to try including Skirmish, Galactic Conquest, a Story Campaign and a Multiplayer option. War can be waged in outer space or on the surface of a planet and the game features a wide variety of unit types and some familiar faces from the Star Wars franchise.
Skirmish mode offers a quick battle option against the AI or human opponents. Land battles allow players to construct a base and compete to control various resource nodes with the ultimate aim of destroying your enemy’s base. The game-play here hasn’t advanced a great deal from the days of Command and Conquer and a top down view allows you to select and group units with your mouse and select various attack and formation options from the intuitive menu on the HUD. All of the familiar troops and vehicles from the movies are present and you can research upgrades for your base. The battles tend to get a little chaotic and the tactical choices are relatively limited, this certainly doesn’t offer the depth of something like the Total War series.
The space battles are much the same with players defending their space stations and aiming to destroy their opponents. Once again units can be selected and moved with the mouse and different attacks and formations can be chosen from the HUD menu.
Galactic Conquest is a sandbox campaign which challenges you to control a system of planets. There is an overview map where you can scout various planets and research and build structures to allow you to recruit different troops, build vehicles and construct economic resources and defences. Various planets have different bonuses associated with them and the action takes place in real time so if two opposing fleets meet a space battle will be triggered. Once the fleet above a planet has been conquered you can launch a ground assault to claim dominion over it.
The Story Campaign is a long involved war for domination of a large galaxy of planets. All of the settings from the movies are present and missions are assigned by various commanding characters you’ll recognise from the films. The missions vary in complexity and difficulty and the Story Campaign is a good way to get a handle on the various options within the game before you attempt a multiplayer battle.
The wide range of units is a nice facet of the game with X-Wings, Tie-Fighters and Star Destroyers in the space battles and AT-ATs, Snow Speeders and Scout Walkers in the land battles. There are also various hero units like Darth Vader, Yoda, Han Solo and even the Emperor himself and each has special powers which make them formidable on the battlefield.
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Visually this is an attractive game with a large overview map of the galaxy and then individual battle maps for the surface of planets and the space above. The space maps are probably the most attractive and asteroid fields and gas clouds add points of interest which also have an impact on the battle. The planet maps are a little dull with a typical top down view on the action and they all conform to a grid shape with little variation. The units themselves are straight out of the movies and look exactly as they should which goes a long way towards making you feel part of the Star Wars universe. Characters and space ships are nicely animated and the visual effects on display particularly during the epic space battles are very well done.
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The multiplayer portion of the game certainly adds a great deal of replay value and you can engage in one off battles or fight a galactic campaign for domination of a group of planets. You can play with up to seven other players online and human opponents definitely offer a better challenge than the game AI. The larger galactic campaigns suffer the usual problems of multiplayer RTS wars in that you inevitably reach a point where victory for one side or the other is inevitable and the loser rarely wants to play on in a hopeless situation denying you the pleasure of an outright victory by logging off.
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You definitely need a decent system to run this game and I would recommend a minimum of a 2GHz processor, 512MB RAM, 64MB DirectX 9.0c compatible video card and around 3GB of hard drive space. Even on a system with better specs than this there are occasional moments where the frame rate chugs.
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The combination of authentic sound effects, music, voiceover work and beautifully modelled characters and vehicles makes this a true Star Wars experience and fans will likely enjoy it. For strategy gamers it does provide a decent challenge but there is nothing particularly unique about the game-play and elements of the design, especially for the land battles are fairly weak. Over time the game can become repetitive and after an enthusiastic couple of weeks playing this I had little desire to return. Overall this is still one of the better options in the Star Wars universe and the level of polish and accessible game-play makes it easily the best Star Wars themed strategy game to date.