Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 11/11/01 | Genre: Strategy
It's funny that one of few Star Wars games out there has to be a re-done version of Age of Empires 2. Is that a bad thing? Not really. AoE2 was a great game and lends itself to the SW universe rather well. I'm a big fan of Star Wars, but I almost think that Galactic Battlegrounds should have been released as an expansion pack for AoE2.
Instead of different cultures, SW:GB is broken down into the six primary factions that play a major part in the current movies. You can pick the Empire, Rebellion, Wookies, Gungans, Naboo, or the Trade Federation. (Funny how the newest movie got 3 civilizations.) With the lower number of civs to worry about, each of them now has a single-player campaign at least, which was a big beef that I had with AoE2. Instead of having some civilizations with identical troops, each civ has its own graphics set for each unit. The Wookie and Gungan basic trooper look totally unique to each other.
Sure, there are some significant changes to the game, like the inclusion of air units, but it is still easy enough to see where units have simply been translated over. Scouts have become speeder bikes, siege units are artillery, castles are fortresses, trebuchets are cannons, and monks have become Jedi or their counterparts the Sith. Some of the units are fairly cut-and-dry conversions, but others like the monks/Jedi/Sith are a whole other matter. Force-wielders can convert units like monks, but you have to hit ?ÄòC' for it to work. The default function for them when you right click something is to whip out their lightsaber and start whittling. They aren't slow wusses like their monk brothers. When you have them fully upgraded, they book across the screen and seem to absorb massive damage from most units without flinching ?Äì they are weak against bounty hunters. The one ability that they did lose was healing, for which you have to create a medic droid from your Command Center (Town Center). Oddly enough, the droid medics can't heal each other since they are robotic, so you need a worker droid (R2D2 for the Rebels) to follow them around and keep them healed.
On to some of the cooler changes. Sheep and turkeys have become banthas and nerfs, but (and this is a big but) you can now build an animal nursery and garrison them inside, generating so much food per game minute. Two nurseries with 10 banthas each gave me more food than I could ever hope to spend. Buildings have to be juiced by power cores or they only work at 1/4 their normal efficiency. I converted one of the computer's air bases with my Jedi Master, then tried to pump out a few X-wings but discovered that their production crept worse than trying to play Tribes2 on a 486. Makes it a bit harder to scout out the enemy early and build a barracks in their backdoor. It seems to be possible to leech off of an enemies power core, so it's still possible to find a backdoor.
Air units make it a pain to defend your base until you get some anti-air turrets into place. Now you have to worry about attacks from three fronts instead of just two. They don't have a lot of life, though most civs can add shields to them. It might seem like it would be easy to smack your friendly neighborhood enemy with an air rush, but run into a few upgraded anti-air turrets and your flyboys turn into pretty fireworks.
Graphically, the game looks good with all the animated features on the buildings that AoE2 sported. If a building is outside of the range of a power core, it has beacon lights on it that flash red and turn green once the power is turned back on. The Wookies look a bit odd to me, but thinking back Chewie was a fairly odd guy anyway (hopefully he won't mistake me for a droid and try to rip my arm off for that). The sounds really stand out. Everything sounds as if it was ripped straight from the movie. Some of the taunts sound a bit odd, but they are so close to the real thing that it's hard to decide if they are the originals or not. Speederbikes howl like they did in the forests of Endor (luckily I haven't seen any ewoks yet), and Jedi ignite their lightsabers as they go into battle.
You might have noticed that I compared Galactic Battlegrounds to AoE2 a few times, but it's hard not to. If you never played AoE2 but are a diehard Star Wars fan, you are in for a treat. Even if you played the other game, this one still has enough differences to make it a blast. Playing through the single-player scenarios will unlock bonus missions that recreate battles from the movies. The one thing that seems to be missing though is Bobba Fett, but I've got a hunch that he'll show up in an expansion pack for the game around the time that the next movie is released. Just remember: The Force will be with you always!