Nov 26, 2007
Turn-based tactical strategy titles are surprisingly well represented on the PSP; in fact, this year's excellent Jeanne d' Arc and Disgaea: Afternoon of Darkness - not to mention a certain Final Fantasy Tactics remake - may still have your brain cramping with cerebrally satisfying gaming. Despite these strong strategic offerings, gamers without a love for medieval magic, quirky Japanese story-telling or bizarre anime-inspired characters, may feel left out. Thankfully, Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command has landed, providing an epic turn-based title set in the rich, futuristic Warhammer universe. Don't expect to find any scantily-clad, saucer-eyed underage heroines here. This world is all about laser guns and space artillery.
Based on the table-top gaming phenomenon, Warhammer is an incredibly layered and complex universe that could (and actually does) have volumes written about it. If you're familiar with the property, this game will be all the more enjoyable for you. However, if you don't know Warhammer from Arm & Hammer, that's cool too, because this title doesn't get too bogged down in narrative exposition. All you need to know is this: you're in the future fighting an epic war with ass-kicking Space Marines that make Master Chief look like a kid in a Halo Halloween costume.
Actually, the presentation of your powerful protagonists - you can have six in your party - their weapons, and the destruction they unleash are a big part of what separates Squad Command from other such games. Fully destructible 3-D environments serve up a visual feast on the PSP's slick screen, and the high-powered arsenal - especially some of the battle-bringin' tank units - are a literal blast. Some well-produced cut-scenes also add a cinematic flair not always found in this brainy genre.
Before we get too caught up in the Chainsword-created chaos, remember this is still a tactical strategy game, so play mechanics are just as important as the pretty shrapnel-flying presentation. While Squad Command doesn't break any new ground in this area, it more than covers the basics of satisfying tactical squad control. Although we do admit that Warhammer's style-over-substance approach might leave the most seasoned strategists faulting the grid-less game maps and limited camera movement.
You'll start each mission selecting your unit and weapon types - the variety of choices expands nicely as you progress through the game's 15 missions - and with each turn you'll allocate a set amount of points to move your squad's position and initiate attacks. The aforementioned destructible environs also add an additional layer to the strategizing, as you can't always count on a cover-bearing structure to remain standing after absorbing several blasts from a plasma beam.
Squad Command's missions are relatively short, but this works well on the portable platform; a subway ride might provide the perfect chunk of time to crush your enemy. Robust ad hoc and up to eight player infrastructure (yes!) modes extend the replay value significantly, though true online would have been even better. Squad Command should please most turn-based strategy fans - specially those tiring of the Japanese RPG dominance in this category - while also offering an accessible pick-up-and-play entry for newcomers to the genre.