Practically redefining the tabletop gaming genre, Warhammer has been a love for nerds and geeks for many years. Taking a break from playing with miniature figures, the Warhammer series has made a jump to the DS (and PSP) in the form of a clever strategy game. Having never actually played the tabletop game, I was able to quickly jump into the Warhammer universe and actually have a fun time doing so.
When you look at the back of the packaging of the box art, I assumed this game was a real time strategy title. I was quite surprised to find out that the gameplay is turn based. However, after the 5-10 minute learning curve, I was very pleased with this gameplay decision.
The player controls a group of 6 characters, moving them one by one until every unit has moved. After I move my units, my turn is over. Then the enemy follows this same pattern in typical strategy game format until mission objectives are met. Every action that a character can perform is based on Action Points, such as moving and shooting. But thanks to a crafty management system, Action Points are divided up how the player sees fit.
Walking ten paces will essentially cost the player ten Action Points. Shooting your standardized gun will cost you around five points. But if you want to increase the accuracy of your shot, the player has the option to spend more Action Points in correlation to increased accuracy. And the game even helps the player manage Action Points by using color coded indicators. Red means the player can move to a spot on the map and still have enough points to use the selected weapon once while gray means you cannot move any further. This feature alone eases frustration levels and keeps an up-tempo gameplay.
After a few levels, new characters and more weapons are unlocked. Each character comes with a standard weapon that has unlimited ammo. However, guns like the shotgun and sniper rifle need to be unlocked and managed. Before you start each stage, the player has the option to load up your secondary weapon with more ammo, but at the cost of losing Action Points, keeping the game balanced. Do you go with more ammo? Or do you want to have the ability to travel further each turn?
Action Points can even be used when it is not your turn. Before you end your turn, the player can save up unused Action Points as a defensive measure. Similar to Final Fantasy Tactics ending command, where you need to face in the direction of danger before ending your turn, Squad Command holds a counterattacking feature. Each unit has a field of vision, and if an enemy walks into that field of vision while on defense, your squad member will shoot at the incoming threat if Action Points go unused.
The Action Point system works extremely well in all aspects of this game. Spending points always requires a give and take, constantly keeping the game balanced and entertaining. My only complaint about the gameplay is that there is no way to heal your comrades, nor can you call in extra reinforcements. The six characters that you start each battle with are all you are ever going to get, meaning you need to make every decision with care. Otherwise you can quickly find yourself woefully outnumbered.
Crouching and blowing up parts of the environment also plays a key role. Each character has the ability to duck and hide behind walls or windows while your enemies can choose to blow right through it. Ducking is a great way to hide in the fog of war and adds another level of strategy to this game.
The dual screens work well for this title. The top screen displays an overhead map of the battlefield while all the action takes place on the bottom screen. And traditional gamers and stylus users need not worry as the game fully supports both options. Personally, I liked using the D-pad over the stylus as I thought the stylus control was a little too touchy, but professional stylus users shouldn’t really have a problem navigating.
While the core gameplay mechanics of the Action Point system are the shining star of Squad Command, the overall graphical and audio features of the game are rather lacking. Many of the game’s textures and character models look muddy and jagged while there is practically no audio whatsoever. Besides from a few grunts and gun based sound effects, the game is silent! There is no music during gameplay. The game does have a story line, but it is poorly told through cheap single frame cut scenes. From what I understand, the PSP version supports full motion video, but because of the inferior hardware capabilities of the DS, single pictures are all you are going to get playing the DS version.
While in gameplay, the player possesses limited camera control as well. Instead of being able to fully rotate 360 degrees around the map, the player can merely pivot the camera up or down. In most case, this camera system works. But there are times when you want to zoom in or rotate to see a better view of the battlefield, especially since the environments and characters are muddy and can get a little lost on screen.
Squad Command has a healthy set of multiplayer features. Supporting single card link, multi card link, and Nintendo WiFi connection, players will have a ton of options when playing with buddies. Up to 8 players can play if multiple game cards are used while the single card link is limited to 1vs1. Up to 6 players can play simultaneously online over WiFi in ranked matches. Similar to Halo’s level system, the more you play, the higher your rank will be. And thanks to the matchmaking system, you will only pair with other gamers that have a similar rank to you.
I was very surprised with Squad Command. The Action Point system is deep, well balanced, and always keeps the game entertaining. Besides the single player campaign, the player has a ton of multiplayer options available. It is too bad the graphics and audio (or I should say lack there of) bring this game’s presentation way down. If the game was given a clearer coat of paint, if some music was implemented, and a more detailed story gave the player another incentive to finish the game, then this would have been one killer title. The gameplay is there but the polish is not. So if you can look past the sub-par presentation levels, you will find yourself one hell of a game.