Home | News | Reviews | Previews | Hardware
Field Commander
Score: 90%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment
Developer: Sony Online Entertainment
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy/ Strategy/ Board Games

Graphics & Sound:
Okay, let's just point out the elephant in the room right away. Field Commander isn't as visually impressive as I anticipated. Somehow, the screenshots and trailers managed to evoke grandeur that doesn't come through in the game. Sure, it's 3D - and if that impresses you, I've got a bridge in Alaska we should talk about. I'd say that going 3D didn't make for the leap in gameplay I had expected, since most of the planning and moving of units happens in a familiar bird's eye view. When units engage, the camera swoops down to show the unit you selected dealing some damage to the opposite side. There are some great explosions and images of boats, planes and trucks blowing into a jillion pieces. There is some spurting blood from soldiers riddled with bullets, which probably earns Field Commander the Teen rating. But, there's a flat quality to the graphics because even the close-ups betray a lack of detail in the background and a general emptiness on the battlefield. In the end, it still feels more like a series of tiles and a game board than a rich, real-world environment. At least going 3D didn't hurt Field Commander one iota. It's a game that totally deserves a place in any serious PSP Strategy Game enthusiast's library.

There are some great voice talent moments here, both in mission briefings and during the game. To move the story forward, friends and foes periodically break in on the action and make themselves known, and there are lots of unique characters you come across during the course of the game. The sounds of battle are convincing, even though the visuals may be somewhat underwhelming. Tanks and trucks rumble, submarines surface with a "whoosh" and choppers roar overhead and drop screaming missles on targets. It's all convincing and adds a nice touch to the action.

Though there are a few so-called Strategy titles out for PSP, Field Commander marks the first serious game of its kind for the platform. Fans of Advance Wars will now have entertainment of a similar magnitude on Sony's handheld. I found myself comparing the two constantly, because of the war theme. This is not a "tactics" game where combatants move around from square to square like a steroidal, futuristic chess game. Field Commander is a realistic combat strategy game with units that look very much like the present day hardware installed in wars around the world. From troops and light ground units to devestating air and sea artillery, you often feel that you really have a force at your command. There are even exotic weapons that can level an entire battlefield at the press of a button, and can only be used after extensive preparation and planning. The story is that in the future, multiple countries will join together to form a coalition force of well-trained troops to combat terrorism. You begin the game as a trainee in this force, and through an exciting chain of events, you'll end up decorated as a hero...or dead in a ditch.

Apart from the straight Campaign - arguably the best part of the game - and the Tutorial, the depth of Field Commander is just awesome. Playing through your favorite battles in Quick Battle mode or viewing Extras is just a teaser for the "rest" of the game. Online play is a huge selling point, for competing against other players through the network or wirelessly. A level editor gives you a chance to tweak a particular Campaign map or build one from scratch, and you can even upload maps to share with other players. Rankings are available on- and offline, sort of like a leaderboard. The editor is no toy, either. You can create timed events and hidden units, much like the scripting and story that unfolds in Campaign mode. Even when Campaign is far behind you, Field Commander will continue to offer incredible challenge to ambitious players who want to customize maps, or lazy players who choose to download maps other players create and upload to share.

Gamers with experience in a similar setting like Advance Wars or in deeper PC titles like Starcraft will breeze through the first 30-40% of Field Commander. Mostly, the game uses this time to introduce and position enemy units against you for a gradual learning curve. When heavy artillery is first introduced, it seems like the enemy is a little slow on the strategy uptake. Gradually, enemies become very good at handling basic units and further in, become very good at handling the heavy guns. At that point, even seasoned gamers will break a sweat. There isn't a resource component in Field Commander, other than conquering cities and earning income for production. There is a fine balance between offense and defense that players have to learn through trial and error. The mix of missions in Campaign makes for fast-paced gameplay that never gets repetitive. Introducing new enemy units and stressing strategy over special attacks or "powers" makes this a purer strategy game than Advance Wars ever was...

Game Mechanics:
The best thing one can say about a strategy game with any depth is that the learning curve is not steep. Field Commander drops you into play with only a few critical controls. Moving units is a simple matter of tracing paths and selecting the option to move, fire or do whatever a particular unit is equipped to do. The use of one button for multiple actions is something I've groused about in the past, but Field Commander manages to use controls intuitively. Selecting a path to move pops a menu up that leads to your next action. Another button cycles through units that haven't moved yet, and a third button shows the effective move and attack range of a unit. One feature that really seemed smart and obvious was the ability to highlight an enemy's move/attack range and leave it highlighted while you move your unit. You can also do this with a friendly unit, which helps to insure that traps or protective barriers aren't a Maginot Line.

The option to save in the middle of a mission is a welcome feature as you progress through the game. A profile you create initially follows you online, but you have the option to customize your play experience by choosing a different division each time you embark on a mission. One division will generally be better at certain things than another, and once your division power charges you can gain some incredible advantage. Choosing the "right" division, or at least the division best suited to your style of play, is one of the keys to taking Field Commander to high levels. And just when you've played all the maps, it's easy to imagine how an active player community investing some time in the level editor will keep things interesting.

Even though it fails to provide eye-popping graphics that make a difference in gameplay, Field Commander is a damn good strategy title! It offers almost endless single player and multiplayer options, and the online component is really slick. I associate a level editor with deeper PC strategy titles, and if graphics were a letdown, the editor was a pleasant surprise. If you never touched the level editor, Campaign and the online competition is liable to keep you busy and happy for a good long while. Casual gamers and strategy fans can both find a lot to love here.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

This site best viewed in Internet Explorer 6 or higher or Firefox.