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Space War Commander (PC) artwork

Space War Commander (PC) review

"Space War Commander is simple enough that it can be picked up and learned very quickly, and won't eat up your time with long-winded matches like other RTS games. The only thing really missing is multiplayer support, but even so Space War Commander is a superb time-killer"

Space War Commander is a clever little indy title. It's a casual RTS, that unusual breed of game that continues to baffle me with its apparently paradoxical terms. To summarize: It's the kind of RTS you can pick up on your lunch break and take a few stabs at a mission before getting back to work.

Unsurprisingly, the shoes you fill in Space War Commander are those of a fleet commander. You are charged with a starbase in one sector of the map, and sometimes given a starting fleet of varying composition. Your objective is merely to destroy any other starbases on the map, and to do that you must amass funds from trade, planetary conquest, or salvage.

But it's not quite that simple. Not only are you struggling against AI opponents, but your own starbase has a rather large design flaw; its health is constantly dropping and there's no way to stop it. On its own, your base will take ten minutes before it turns into a giant firecracker, but more often than not your enemies will try to help it along its way by shooting at it with their ships. Vessels can only engage each other while in the same sector of the map grid, so at the very least you've got some time to react. Your starbase also doubles as a shipyard, and can construct a number of starships to aide your campaign, each one filling a different role. Want a slow, but resiliant powerhouse to guard your starbase? Build a lumbering Destroyer. Need to kill something fast? Bring on the Assassin, the textbook glass cannon. General-purpose combat ship? Cruisers are sturdy and agile. Freighters transport cargo to earn cash, and Scavengers pick up the pieces and generate income for ships destroyed in the same sector.

Amassing the funds required to construct your armada is relatively simple. As mentioned, Scavengers can turn explosions into profit. If you're more of a wussy pacifist, simply parking a ship in orbit above a planet or asteroid will generate a steady trickle of income - be prepared to defend these worlds against the AI though, as you only generate income if the sector is uncontested. The real money is in trade, utilizing the slow and vunerable Freighter. Asteroids on each map have a particular resource, Water or Chemicals or something, which Freighters can pick up by entering orbit. Freighters can then exchange their cargo at a spaceport (nearly every mission has one) for easy money. Or, if you don't mind putting a little more time into it, the cargo can be brought to a planet that "demands" that item in exchange for another - for example, you might trade Metal for Oil. Essentially the freighter cargo is upgraded to something worth more money, which can then be taken to the spaceport or another planet for further trade. Freighters make easy targets for AI players, though, so be sure to send an escort.

As you progress through Conquest mode, you'll find yourself thrown into scenarios where the odds are increasingly stacked against you; you'll likely be surrounded by hostile alien starbases all gunning for galactic dominance, but sometimes you'll be outgunned and outnumbered by them too, so you'll have to find some clever way of evening the odds. Gauntlet mode is just as interesting, with randomized starting conditions each time, but a fixed "War Chest" of funds with which to set up each successive match (the idea is to see how little you can spend to win, and how long you can last before the war chest is too small to start you out). Whichever mode you play, every map requires clever planning to outwit your enemies, especially since you've less than ten minutes to do so. Still, if your strategy is sound you should have ample time to bask in the glory of victory - it's only when your plotting has failed that you find yourself nervously counting down until your starbase goes kablooey.

All that said, Space War Commander is simple enough that it can be picked up and learned very quickly, and won't eat up your time with long-winded matches like other RTS games. The only thing really missing is multiplayer support, but even so Space War Commander is a superb time-killer, perfect when you're waiting at the airport, in between classes, or any time you've got a few minutes to spare in the name of interstellar conquest.

WilltheGreat's avatar
Freelance review by Will Roy (May 30, 2009)

Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.

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