Let’s be honest, real time strategy titles for consoles have been a pretty miserable lot over the past several years. I personally can’t imagine a single one worth recommending, so it was with quite a bit of trepidation that I approached Jaleco’s latest: Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde. This is Jaleco’s first attempt at building an RTS, and amazingly enough; they did a bang-up job with it. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Millar brothers of Warcraft and Starcraft fame headed up the development team either.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for console RTS’ is the simple fact that a console controller just isn’t built for the depth of control required by games of the genre. There’s no easy way to set up command groups, create macros or issue group commands. Understanding that, Jaleco’s development team seems to have said, “aw, forget it!” and thrown out the familiar RTS control schemes and built a simple, streamlined and remarkably effective interface. For starters, you can never have more than ten units per clan on the map at a time, and the entire clan is controlled as one unit. There’s no splitting up your clan for more granular control, this is an all or nothing affair. And while it’ll drive PC RTS veterans insane for the first few rounds of play, most will quickly realize that it’s the most effective control scheme around and quickly become adept at maneuvering their troops. As you make your way through the missions, you’ll recruit more clans (there are four in total) that you can control separately, so you will be able to create more effective attack formations later in the game. Since you can’t create formations in the early rounds, the developers were wise (or was it “kind”) enough to balance the scenarios to take this into account. Later scenarios take into account the fact that you’ve got more clans, and so the opposition will react more intelligently to your multi-pronged attacks by splitting up and trying to keep your clans from overwhelming them.
The rest of the control scheme is pretty simple: you control your commander by moving a glowing icon around the map and clicking on locations to interact with. If you need to build a Titan (the most powerful forces in the game) you hover the commander icon over a temple and click to enter it. Once inside, you spend your resources to build the Stone Ogre or other Titans that become available in the game. Speaking of Titans, they are probably the coolest addition to RTS games as they are a single uber-unit that must be controlled on their own. So you can actually direct a Titan to work as a shock troop, then lead your goblin horde into battle behind him to handle mop up tasks.
Troop movement is split into the direct and indirect methods. To directly control your troops’ movements you hover the commander over one of them and click. From then on, you’re moving that unit and the rest of the clan follows. To move indirectly, you just hover the commander icon over a spot on the map and then click. Your troops will head out, finding the optimal (and yes, the pathing AI is actually quite good!) route to the waypoint.
If you’re used to any of the RTS’ on the market, then you know how the gameplay goes in Goblin Commander. You’ll start each mission with a couple of units and a task, typically something based on destruction, exploration, or both. You’ll collect a few resources, in this case souls taken from slain enemies or drawn from soul fountains that you’ll use to build more troops. You take those fresh troops and head out to battle. That’s really all there is to it, there’s not a ton of depth to the missions, and honestly there are far too many that rely on you cleaning debris in sections of the map, but this is a console RTS and you really shouldn’t expect too much depth. After all, RTS titles are based on combat and strategy, not puzzle-solving and stealth. While Goblin Commander’s scenarios follow the simple RTS format, they still are a heck of a lot of fun and worth playing a few times each to truly enjoy them.
If you like your games to be pretty, you won’t be let down with Goblin Commander on any platform. And while I tested it on the PlayStation 2, notorious for being the graphical lesser of the three next-gen consoles, it still looked good. Colors are a bit drab, but that’s easily made up for in the small details that make up each unit and bit of landscape. While not a festival for the eyes, the game looks better than a lot of recent releases on all consoles. I can’t explain why, but I really was impressed by the detail of the Titan being whipped by the little goblin riding on his back. It just makes the game feel more “realistic” I guess.
While the developers seemed to think that making the goblins actually speak in a made up “goblin-ese,” the novelty wears thin quickly. The squeaks, grunts and groans are pretty humorous for a bit, but sometimes all you want is a “yes sir!” as an affirmation that your Titan did indeed receive that command to attack. Other sounds are pretty standard, such as buildings being smashed, swords clanging and whips cracking.
If there’s one place this game suffers it’s the fact that there’s no way to take it online. Once you’ve played through the single player campaign a few times, your only multiplayer option is split screen with a buddy, and honestly, when’s the last time you played anything split-screen on a PS2?
As I said in the beginning of this review, most console RTS just plain stink. Thankfully, Jaleco’s crew took a good look at why the genre has fared so poorly and found ways to fix those problems. A simplified control scheme mixed with basic but enjoyable gameplay proves that the genre can be enjoyed on a console. Kudos to everyone on the Goblin Commander team for restoring my faith in consoles as a vehicle for something other than FPS and racing titles! If you’re looking for an enjoyable RTS romp, give Goblin Commander: Unleash the Horde a try.
- Gameplay: 8
- Graphics: 7.9
- Sound: 7
- Replay: 7
- Overall: 8
- The best console RTS you’ll see for a long time.
— Craig Falstaff