Believe it or not, the fact that someone has taken a beloved, 2D arcade shoot 'em-up and turned it into a turn-based strategy game played on a hex grid is not the craziest thing about R-Type Command. No, the nuttiest thing is just how beautifully the bloody thing works. Borrowing equally from strategy RPGs and Nintendo’s Advance Wars series, this is an experiment that succeds beautifully.
The fog of war – the game hides enemies until you’re close enough to see them – neatly recreates the suspense of playing a typical scrolling shooter and wondering what life-squelching horror is going to slide into view next. You feel a real punch to the gut the first time the fog clears and you see a pulsating, alien-headed space-boss the size of a skyscraper, complete with tentacles that can knock you clean out of the sky. And there's a tangible sense of "Oh, crap" when you tiptoe two little steps ahead and seven enemy ships, including a hulking destroyer, pop into view just a few spaces away.
It’s deep stuff, too. Each craft has a range of powers, from hull-shearing energy beams to the ability to turn invisible or morph into another unit altogether. And you constantly collect materials and plans for newer models - there are more than 80 different units in all. So you can assemble a fleet of fighters, bombers, mechs and “force” units - basically battering rams made of pure energy, which can act on their own or attach to fighter craft for extra damaging beam weapons – that’s perfect for your fighting style.
Battles take place in rounds. You move all of your various laser-enhanced death machines, one by one, around the grid and take a shot at any enemies in range. Then, the other team does the same and the process starts over until the match ends - typically when one side's capital ship is blasted into either shrapnel or space meat, depending upon whether you’re the humans or the aliens.
R-Type Command’s controls are sleek and efficient, and it’s filled with nice touches like the ability to change the loading screen image or turn off the little cut scenes that play during battle. The balance is slightly odd; materials to build new units are a bit scarce, machine guns are utterly useless, and force units seem far more valuable when not attached to a fighter, which seems backwards.
Also, while we love the idea of two-player Ad Hoc battles, we had a hard time getting through a match here in the GR offices without losing connection – and our PSPs were four feet apart. Your mileage may vary and it could be some weird hardware or firmware thing (we hope), but consider yourself warned.
Even if you only play the massive single player campaign, R-Type Command is a breath of fresh air in an industry filled with “me too” knock-offs and umpteenth sequels. Unless you’re a hardcore adrenaline junkie, you really shouldn’t pass this one up.
May 8, 2008