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    jp's Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command (PSP)

    [October 10, 2008 08:11:58 PM]
    I've finished playing this game (as some might have noticed given that I've started writing about Patapon!) and while the last two missions weren't particularly memorable, overall I am very excited about the interesting direction I feel that tactical games can take. Given my (positive) experience with this game I was curious to see what professional game reviewers felt.

    What a disappointment! As of this writing, this game has a 68% rating overall ( I decided to take a look at the reviews on IGN and Gamespot to see what they complained about. My hunch was that people would complain about the game not having a grid and maybe that it was too short. (15 missions sounds pretty short on paper, but in my experience it was just about right).
    I wasn't too far from the mark.

    This is what IGN had to say:
    "With that said, let's get right into the inevitable sadness that comes from these mechanics. First and foremost: there's no grid. Strategy games rarely (if ever) work on consoles and portable systems when there's no grid; that's why most good strategy games can be found on the PC.

    I agree with the author's sentiment that games without a grid rarely work. Grids are nice to the player because you can play the game like a puzzle. You know exactly how far you can go, how far the enemy can go, and so on. WH40K, the original miniatures game, isn't set on a grid (for practical reasons) and is essentially played with ruler in hand. Your guys can move 12" and that's it. Of course, on the tabletop this can lead to all sorts of trouble. (hey! that's 12.5"!) Can you measure before you move? People also get into all sorts of trouble when working out line of sight and all that other stuff. So, Squad Command actually takes SOME of the good elements of the tabletop game (the freedom of not having a grid) and deftly removes many of those that are problematic (figuring line of sight, measuring, etc.).

    Yes, many times you leave a unit on a corner and you aren't really sure if it's covered completely. That's ok, it's more "realistic" in a sense. You have to judge it by sight.

    Yes, you have to be very careful when you line up some shots because you don't want to hit friendlies that might be in the way (it happened to me, I learned my lesson). Sometimes you can even pull off shots that seem "impossible". It's more "realistic" because there is a slight margin of error. A tight shot is tight because it's narrow, sometimes you make them, sometimes you don't.

    Yes, there is not grid. It's wonderful. But there sort of is a grid. The UI was pretty well designed here to let you know where you could go, how many points it costs to get there and if you'll have enough points left to fire your weapon.

    Heck, the UI in this game is probably one of its best features PRECISELY because it helps ease many of the issues of not having a strict grid and having a ton of scenery (most of it destructible) that can get in the way.

    Yes, you can't really do anything with the camera. I missed that in the beginning, but I quickly learned to appreciate how NOT having to deal with the camera (and focus on the tactical map instead) led to a more streamlined play experience.

    So, although I'm not one to argue over scores and whatnot, I guess I have somewhat of a bitter taste in my mouth as I put this game away. Am I deluded or did (most?) of the reviewers for this game simply not get it? Have we reached a point where there is no room to explore something slightly new and different?
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    [October 2, 2008 10:49:47 PM]
    I think I've only got a few more missions left and the difficulty has ramped up considerably. At least for the mission I'm currently engaged in. I've also been mulling over some of the reasons why I'm enjoying this game despite the fact that it does things which on the surface sound like instant no-nos.

    For example, oftentimes, especially after there has been a lot of shooting, your view of the action is obscured by smoke and clouds of dirt. If you're panning around looking for an enemy to target, you might have to wait a few seconds for the smoke to blow over before you can spot him. It's an interesting effect because, on paper, it sounds incredibly annoying. In practice, I've found it to be quite the opposite. It lends a certain degree of realism to the game and makes it feel more organic. Less like chess. Less precise...and more fluid.
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    [September 30, 2008 09:46:08 AM]
    When loading a mission I get a message that says "Uninitializing mission". Isn't that weird? I half feel that it's placeholder text that no one bothered to change once the game went gold. :-)
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    [September 25, 2008 10:50:53 PM]
    I'm a huge fan of Advance Wars. In many ways it's like the "perfect" turn-based strategy game for me. Sometimes the scenarios feel too much like puzzles, but generally speaking it's a very clean game. Perhaps too clean. You can always tell if you're within range of an enemy, you know how far they can move, and so on. It's one of the problems of having a game's scenarios take place on a space that has been subdivided discretely. Call them hexes, or squares, or spaces. It makes for a very cerebral (calculated) game. Like chess. In Advance wars, the UI is extremely polished, making it very easy to tell where you can go, fire, and so on. In Gladius, the grid isn't so clear, and I found it too easy to make mistakes and get confused (I thought I was in range! I didn't think they were close enough, etc.). In Gladius the move to 3D wasn't realized as cleanly as it might have. (X-Com UFO defense is another example of great UI)

    So, what about Squad Command? No grid. It's in 3D. I was very nervous about this. In fact, you even move rotate the camera! It sounded like a recipe for disaster and I was dreading the fact that I might not be able to execute plans appropriately, carefully determine line of sight, and all that.

    I was wrong!

    At this moment I feel that Squad Command is probably the ONLY game that has a very tactical feeling to it while at the same time, feeling "authentic" in the sense that combat is "messy" and imprecise (unlike the locked to a grid games). The UI is extremely polished and provides a great amount of information. I just realized that when you spend more action points aiming, the "laser line" drawn between your character and the target changes color to indicate your chances of a succesful hit! (red all the way to green). Very subtle, very nice. I've really enjoyed deploying my squad as a "real" squad might be. Worried about cover, worried about line of site, establishing fields of fire, etc. Sure, it isn't "realistic" because it's turn based and uses action points and all that...but it's a great middle ground that I hadn't thought was realizable (and still fun)
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    jp's Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command (PSP)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Tuesday 23 September, 2008

    GameLog closed on: Tuesday 7 October, 2008

    jp's opinion and rating for this game

    I thought I wouldn't like it, but I've found that it does have a very distinct feel and some nice gameplay polish that moves these kinds of games forward. In all it's a step forward in a genre that was getting tied down too much to convention. So long grid!

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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