If Field Commander is Sony’s attempt to copy Nintendo’s Advance Wars: DS, then Sony’s done a bang-up job and should be commended. If they were attempting to create a new product for the PSP, well, they’ve pretty much failed. But is being a near carbon-copy of another platform’s game a bad thing? In the case of Field Commander, probably not, since when it comes right down to it, derivative or not, the PSP needed this game. It’s fast, fun and can lure in even the non-hardcore strategists out there, and with plenty of online options, it finally gives PSP owners a chance to flip on their WLAN switches and say “I’m proud to play my PSP online!”
Getting right down to brass tacks, Field Commander is a turn-based strategy game played out on a map which is covered with an invisible movement grid. The turn based play that follows the old-school “my turn, your turn” way of play works perfectly on handhelds, as anyone who’s played Advance Wars can tell you. While strategy fanatics would love a portable real-time strategy game, real-time play is just too fast-paced and requires more depth of control than a handheld can give players, so turn-based it is. Turn-based play is great though, since it makes Field Commander easily accessible to newcomers to wargames, as players can plan out moves, even choosing to retract a move (sort of like making sure to not take your hand of a piece in chess after a move) if need be. In Field Commander, the turns are handled simply: you pick a unit, and decide to move, attack or do nothing during the turn. Just click a unit and up pop the options. Movement is as simple as drawing a movement path with the directional pad.
Combat is equally simple. As each unit has an attack, defense and range rating, it’s pretty hard for even a novice to screw up on the battle field. Just move your unit within range of the enemy and choose “Fire.” If you have multiple nearby targets, you can use the directional pad to choose which target to hit. Some units pack special attacks, such as mortars, which can attack from long range, and a simple button press shows you the max range of the unit.
Is this all starting to sound familiar, just wait. Each faction in the game has special attacks, a la’ Advance Wars. After a set amount of time and combat, you build up enough points to charge up your special attack/power. The powers range from extending the firing range of a weapon to speeding up all allied units on the map. It’s really a blatant ripoff off the team-up powers in Advance Wars, but honestly, you can’t have a handheld wargame without power ups, right?
Unit variety is pretty limited in Field Commander,as there’s only a total of about 30 units available, and they must be unlocked through the campaign. When you’re used to PC-based RTS games with hundreds of unit types, this can make the battlefield experience seem watered-down, but it’s a limitation handheld players have learned to live with, and frankly, it’s more than enough to keep you interested in this game. The units are varied enough, and certainly balanced enough, to maintain your interest, and will keep you cooking up strategies for using the best units on the field at the time.
One key area where Field Commander fails is the A.I., which requires you to constantly be on the offensive. There’s simply no way for a defensive player to enjoy this game in single player, unless they want to spend round after round begging for something to happen. The only way to get the game’s intelligence to come out and play is to force its hand with plenty of border incursions, and even when it springs to life, A.I. units will tend to stay within a specific range of their headquarters. Thankfully, if you’re a more defensive player, there’s always the multiplayer play…
Which brings us to, obviously, multiplayer options. First, there’s the hotseat mode, which allows you to have two players enjoy Field Commander on one PSP. While that’s all well and good, the real meat of multiplayer is the wireless play. As to be expected, Field Commander supports Ad Hoc wireless play, but the really fun stuff happens in Infrastructure (Internet) play mode. In Infrastructure Mode, you can take part in fast and furious multiplayer matchups, share custom map designs and gauge your online prowess in the online ladder rankings. Lastly, there’s the Transmission mode, which hearkens back to the old play-by-mail games of yore. In Transmission mode, each player submits moves to a central server, which keeps track of the game for both players, while allowing them to log in and play at any time without the need for both players to be online simultaneously.
Production-wise, Field Commander goes for a more modern 3D look, vs, Advance Wars cartoony feel. While the visuals are pretty good, they do suffer from the dreaded jaggies that Sony’s products are famous for, and aren’t as detailed as they could be. The audio, what little there is of it, is passable, and won’t offend the ears in any way. One annoyance in the production values – the load times. The game takes forever to load up, and there’s often 2-3 seconds of loading (and grinding of the UMD drive) between moves. Annoying? Yes. Deal-killer? No.
If you’re a PSP owner, Field Commander is well worth picking up. It gives many of us hope that Sony’s starting to take games on the PSP seriously.