If you're already itching to get your bloodthirsty hands on the turn-based war machine that is Field Commander, you’re likely familiar with Nintendo's Advance Wars series. Though they both share many traits, there's enough grim-and-gritty action to make this title stand apart from its Saturday-morning-saturated competitor - glitches and all.
Each mission begins on a tiled map, decked out with cities, mountains and various weather effects. Your goal, most of the time, is to wipe out the enemy's forces by capturing cities (for the income) and mowing down all resistance (for the free trip to Hell). Some units are strong against others, so movement, placement and resource management are absolutely crucial. Think "murder chess" and you're on the right track, except here more than one unit can occupy a tile at a time.
You'll take control of tanks, bombers and boats of all sizes, but what really matters is who's sitting in the cockpit. There are 15 divisions to choose from, each with its own areas of expertise - the Clean Kills, for example, can move swiftly but burn fuel faster and need more cash to build new units. Each division also has two special powers that enhance their already outstanding attributes. The Clean Kills, for example, have a special attack that can automatically damage every enemy unit within 4 squares.
The entire you-go-I-go experience is shown through fairly realistic graphics, a sharp contrast to the eccentric caricatures of Advance Wars. Most everything else, from the way you capture cities to the 10 hit points per unit, is straight from the Game Boy/Nintendo DS series. It's all a matter of personal preference - blood and guts or super-quick off-the-wall mayhem.
If the 30 single-player missions aren't enough, Field Commander packs a war-chest full of multiplayer games. You can play two-player versus ad hoc or infrastructure, or using one PSP and passing the unit back and forth. You can even email moves through SOE's server and see what the other person did in transmission mode (a slow process, but thanks for trying).
Taking this game online practically makes the replay value infinitely addicting. No matter how good you think you are, someone out there can stomp your ass into the ground - but totally fair, and in plain sight, so you can see what you did wrong. Online leaderboards show what's up, though mid-game dropouts were rampant in our online time. But that's the main catch to Field Commander - tiny, little things that pick at your brain.
Game-stopping bugs are never welcome, and we ran into two during our long campaign. First, the game just flat-out crashed on us, forcing a PSP reboot. The second is when we used the special ability "Nitro Boost." It asks you to choose a unit for the enhancement... but if you've moved all your units, the game doesn't stop you from making the mistake. You can't cancel the move - total hardware reset again.
In addition to those two strange bugs, the whole game is prone to frequent, mid-move load times. Granted, they're only two seconds or so, but practically any time you highlight a new unit, or make a menu selection, there's a period of time where all you hear is the PSP whirring away. Yeah, it's a slow-paced game, but that doesn't mean we're willing to wait even longer to play. There's nothing wrong with the fundamentals, and the online play is sweetness, but a couple more weeks in the situation room would have helped this war sail smoother.