I've been playing computer games for a while and in that time I've seen "classic" games come and go, sadly I've seen some true classics die and fade in to distant memories, one such series was the X-COM/UFO series of games for the PC, and these games had perfectly married turn-based strategy with an in-depth management sim and all in a glorious sci-fi setting albeit the plot was a bit weak but with games of that quality you didn't care. So when I trawled through Gamespot's honourable mentions for E3 2004 I was overjoyed to find out that the guys behind the X-COM/UFO series of games were developing a strategy game for the GBA, welcome to Rebelstar Tactical Command.
It would be unfair to make to many comparisons to the X-COM series of games for two reasons, most of you have never been fortunate to play it and that RebelStar has taken a different direction, out goes the management sim and in enters an actual storyline, admittedly its generic sci-fi but it does bring focus to the game.
Set sometime in the future, Earth has been taken over by an alien race called the Arelians and while humans are allowed to live out their lives peacefully, on their thirtieth birthday the Arelian's ruthless servants the Zorn take them away. Escape is not an option as every human has a tracking chip implanted at birth. You take control of Jorel - your father was abducted and your mother caught when you tried to escape, with nothing left and no hope for the future you join the human rebellion in a bid to fight back and to stop the abductions before it's your time.
This is how the story progresses for pretty much the entire game, there's little depth to it, and characters are barely fleshed out with only one or two having a back-story and aren't impacted by the storyline. The few "plot-twists" are obvious and the big one right at the end is so pathetic that it'll make you want to throw your Game Boy at the wall in annoyance.
Having the focus on a plotline was not such a good idea but thankfully Codo Games can rely on the strong game mechanics of the original X-COM games. The missions are played over one level isometric areas full of scenery. Line of sight is restricted to an area in the direction the characters are facing; enemies can only be seen when in a character's line of sight; scenery can be used as cover to prevent line of sight or to reduce the chance of being hit; and certain weapons can be used to destroy certain pieces of scenery. One of the most important features are the Time Units. Every character has a set amount of time units with which to perform tasks. This covers movement, firing weapons, using equipment, special abilities and over-watch. Over-watch is a feature that allows you to fire in the enemies turn, which comes in handy when guarding strategic areas.
Because of all the options available to you, these missions offer a multitude of tactics for you to use. Are you having trouble storming some Zorn camping in a hut with only one point of entry? Then use your heavy weapons to blow a hole in the wall and attack from their blind spot but just remember that everything you can do the enemy can do also. Because of all of these options little is left to luck, so failing a level isn't as frustrating as in most games because its purely down to your ability, if you are stuck then you can try a variety of different strategies from changing you units' equipment when deploying to attacking from a new direction.
The gameplay is not without its flaws though, the menu system is poorly thought out and structured. It is very easy to overload you characters, which has a negative impact on their time units, because the equip screen doesn't tell you the weight of each item. Sometimes you have to unload all your items and re-equip them because the game has decided to put your ammo in your hand and not the weapon itself. Some of your equipment is randomly replaced in your inventory at the beginning of each mission. The levelling up is also quite random, as each time you level up the game assigns points to your attributes, you then have a point to assign to a weapon class and improve your abilities with that range of weapons but to able to put points into a weapon class your attributes have to be high enough.
The problem is if the game decides not to increase your heavy weapon specialist's strength then they can't upgrade their heavy weapon skill, so as you can guess this will really screw with your team's development. There's also a bug in one level whereby you can't complete the mission if you achieve an objective by using flame weapons, so you can kill all the enemies, play right through the full fifty turns and still fail the mission and keep failing the mission until you remove all your flame weapons. Annoying barely covers it.
The biggest issue though has to be with the loading times. Calling them long is an understatement. Saying that they are in line with the PSP, Playstation 2 or Xbox is an understatement. The loading times can be measured in minutes. This may not sound like too much of an issue, but when you start factoring in that you can't restart a mission and that you have to restart the level, so for every mistake, every restart and every failed mission you are punished with a few minutes long load screen...This gets increasingly frustrating when some levels require all of your units to survive, so as soon as one of them is KO'd it's a level restart.
The graphics are basic and lack character but do the job required, you can't tell which character is which just by looking at them but you can at least see what weapon or equipment they and the enemy are using. Audio is decent enough, it's nothing to write home about but you won't be reaching for the volume any time soon, then again I can barely remember how it goes.
At heart RebelStar: Tactical Command is a solid tactical game that lacks flair and but the edges are too rough, the issues too annoying and you definitely won't be playing it for the story. Once you completed the game you can replay each level as either the humans or any of the enemy races you've encountered but it doesn't bring anything new to the experience and once you've put it down (or thrown it through the window) after completing the game, you won't be picking it back up.
The game mechanics are quite strong and there is a heavy tactical nature to the game, though some niggles should have been ironed out. Definitely enjoyable.
Not a lot can be said about them: unspectacular, bland-but-functional. Does what it needs to do, but nothing else.
It's not bad, it's not great, but it is instantly forgettable.
While the gameplay will keep you hooked, the plot and the load times coupled with the restarts might make you end the game prematurely. Either way once you've completed the game you'll remove it from the GBA and never put it back in.
While gameplay is the key to any game, without presentation or polish it's just not enough to make a good game great. If you can get past the roughness this game is a great amount of fun while it lasts and is a great alternative for those want a change from Japanese Tactical games.
I very much enjoyed this game, thats why it scored so highly even with the annoyances. Its a shame about the ending though, that really ticked me off.
My mate got me this on import a while back. A great game, spoiled by the glitch (which I was aware about). Enjoyed the review.