R-Type Command (PSP) review
"As the game's packaging indicates, there are more than 80 different units available. These fall into several categories. You'll choose from agile jets, slower support vehicles, Force pods, carriers and an assortment of other units. It won't take you long to realize that there aren't really a lot of distinct options, though."
You might think that you know the drill by now: nasty alien warriors known as Bydo have set their sights on Earth and now you're the only one who can stop them from mounting a successful invasion. Exhausted and outclassed but desperate to ensure mankind's survival, you blast into the firmament to obliterate the menace one last time. Such is the familiar premise behind R-Type Command, but Irem's latest entry in the long-running franchise is anything but business as usual.
For starters, R-Type Command isn't a shooter. You'll still be exterminating plenty of aliens—some of them quite familiar to those of you who have been playing the R-Type games for years—and you'll still be able to make use of Force attachments to increase your offensive and defensive capabilities. Now, though, the action unfolds as a turn-based strategy title.
If you've paid attention to any screenshots, you already know that the game is viewed from the side like usual. There are some hauntingly beautiful destinations that are right in line with the franchise's proud legacy. You'll explore eerie caverns, cluttered asteroid fields, battlefields littered with the detritus of ruined spacecrafts and everything in between. Sometimes, you'll even have to avoid hazards such as bursting geysers of lava or automatic defense mechanisms on a terrestrial military compound, but this never amounts to anything more than keeping a close eye on outlines that let you know when your position is a turn or two away from being seriously compromised.
Most stages find you facing nothing more unique than a fleet of Bydo aliens. Meanwhile, since this is a strategy title, you'll spend a lot of time forming a fleet of your own. As the game's packaging indicates, there are more than 80 different units available. These fall into several categories. You'll choose from agile jets, slower support vehicles, Force pods, carriers and an assortment of other units. It won't take you long to realize that there aren't really a lot of distinct options. Many jets utilize similar moves and look almost identical on-screen. The biggest differences are things like fuel capacity, radar range or the nature of charged special attacks.
In the game's defense, clearing the game's campaign once opens up a second one wherein you play as the Bydo forces. If you're not tired of battling through space at that point (something like 30 or 40 hours into the experience), you can turn around and pilot the vessels you just finished thrashing not long before. That's a nice touch, but some of the enjoyment is diminished by the fact that you have to build up your whole garage of alien vessels from scratch... while battling downright merciless human scum every step of the way.
By the time you start the Bydo campaign, though, you'll probably welcome the challenge. Most of the challenge in the initial run comes from the process of familiarizing yourself with the disparate elements you have to keep in mind while waging war. If you can get a handle on things early on, you'll find that there's really not much in the way of resistance until the last seven or eight missions. With only a few exceptions, the game expertly eases you into each new challenge so that if you fail, you generally have a good idea of precisely what you did wrong and can correct it on your next attempt.
Most people probably won't want to play through more than a round or two at a time, though, since R-Type Command's biggest flaw is that everything takes too long. When you accept a mission, there's a 10 or 15 second wait before anything begins. Then you place your vessels and get to take a turn, at which point the computer will do the same. This second step could take something like 30 or 40 seconds per round, even when nothing is happening on-screen, just because Irem hasn't figured out how to code swift AI on the PSP (for additional proof of that, look no further than Blokus Portable: Steambot Championship).
If you haven't gone to the “Options” menu before playing, you'll also have to wait several seconds any time an attack animation occurs... both before the short video clip plays, then again as the footage rolls. Though the animations are really cool and definitely give the game some cinematic flare, those who value their sanity will probably disable them after only a round or two. It's easy enough to tell what's happening without the redundant footage, stylish though it may be. Battles already can take an hour or two as it is!
When you complete a fight, the game usually makes it worth your while. That's when new vessels become eligible for purchase, plus there's a screen that awards points based on how you played. Your best performance on each map is also noted. Each zone can be replayed as often as you like, and sometimes you'll go back to the various locations simply to salvage more raw materials that enable you to construct beefier units (a few components can also be hidden where you're least likely to find them, something that encourages further exploration). It's not all that difficult to imagine someone spending around 100 hours with the game in the process of clearing both campaigns, plus there's an Ad Hoc multi-player mode so that you can bring the might of your fleet up against your friend's (as if you really needed more reasons to play).
R-Type Command is a great game, but you have to approach it with the proper frame of mind. Fans of the twitch-based play style popularized by the past installments won't necessarily welcome the new direction, yet they're the only ones likely to care much for the ridiculously poor plot (segments repeatedly amount to nothing more than a captain musing about the aliens' agenda and then acting startled when he is called to battle). If you aren't obsessed with plot and if you're willing to put up with a little down time before and during each battle, though, this is definitely a rewarding piece of software that should keep you satisfied until at least the next Bydo invasion.
Staff review by Jason Venter (May 07, 2008)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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