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    jp's Field Commander (PSP)

    [September 28, 2009 10:50:16 PM]
    I guess the final twist in the story never came. It might have made it better, in fact. I guess I'm a bit disappointed by the lack any kind of meaningful context or motivation for the military campaign I participated in as part of the game.

    I've been trying to think of a word that describes it and I can't do any better than "ham-fisted". I never really bought into the whole notion of "you are the good guy because we said so", especially in light of the setup. I'm a part of a black-ops military outfit that was setup by a coalition of nations in secret? If we ever do anything that gets discovered they will deny our existence? A few of the missions were pretty shady as well. In one, for example, I had to invade another country in order to attack the bad guys. I don't know who that other country is or what they feel about being invaded. Even the ending was a bit strange. I captured the main villain called "Patriarch" and my CO says something to the effect of "we should kill him right now but we're the good guys" so "let him rot in hell". Wow. Whatever happened to "We've done the right thing in finally bringing this criminal to justice!". No justice in this game, just all kinds of shady behind the scenes covert operations.

    I guess the story does represent some sort of missed opportunity given the prior US administration and some of the issues that it had. It was a perfect opportunity to create, through the story and the framing of the player's motivation, a chance to reflect on the meaning of acting outside of the law (when is it necessary, if at all?), what it means to bring justice, violating the sovereignty of other nations, and so many other things. In that context, even a twist towards the end would have been interesting. Say, rather than have the bad guys act insanely evil all the time perhaps they try to communicate with the player to try to reason a way out of the problem they're in?

    Oh well...maybe next time.
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    [September 25, 2009 08:32:33 AM]
    Finished last night!

    Another interesting little difference between FC and Advance Wars is that some of the terrain is "deformable". FC has a greater variety of terrain than AW including a few that are impassable to some units but not others. In AW, if I remember correctly, there are rivers and mountains. FC has the same, but adds impassable mountains and also heavy forests. The neat thing is that some vehicles can "attach terrain" and turn heavy forests into light forests (and thus clear the terrain for vehicles to use). I only mention it as interesting because it was something I found myself doing while playing the game. Thus, it did lend an additional tactical element to consider which I thought was neat. You can also attack cities and make them "smaller". I guess this is the first tactical game I've seen where you can effect a scorched-earth strategy. Unfortunately, it wasn't necessary to do this at any moment so I guess it was a bit of a missed opportunity.
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    [September 18, 2009 08:48:49 PM]
    I'm a bit troubled by my enjoyment of this game. I'm just about 90% finished with the main campaign (some of the more recent missions are a little harder..). By now I have a greater appreciation for the subtle differences that this game has with respect to Advance Wars. While I still feel that the interface (and unit design) is worse (units are less distinguishable from each other), the gameplay actually solves some of the problems with Advance Wars. More specifically, it fixes some of the cheap tactics that I've used (and I'm sure other people have as well). Additionally, and this really is a good thing, the game feels less like a series of puzzles than a series of tactical combat situations. I'll explain what I mean by that shortly. For now, I want to outline the gameplay differences I feel are significant:

    (1) Field Commander's gameplay essentially introduces a 3rd dimension to its cardinality of gameplay. Air units actually do fly over ground units (you can thus have up to two units occupying a "space"). While on the surface this may feel like a bit of a non-issue, I was surprised when I made a tactical mistake because of this. In Advance Wars you can "block" spaces by effectively placing a wall of units that an enemy can't pass regardless of whether or not they're air or ground. I thought I was clever when I surrounded a factory with air units only to have enemy ground troops move right out! Doh! Surrounding and blocking like that is still possible, you just need to make sure you've got both air and ground covered! This fixes a cheap tactic from AW and is also, to an extent, more "realistic".

    (2) There is a greater variety of units. Generally this would be a bad thing, but rather than go down the route of tougher versions of "standard" units, there is a greater variety of tactical options. I feel. I don't usually use all the types of units, but for certain missions I've found a different mix than the usual fare to be productive (and effective).

    (3) In AW, you control different COs which have different powers. In FC there are also powers, but these are presented as belonging to the actual divisions you control. It's a subtle difference that I feel adds a bit more "tactical" character to the game. Certain divisions are well known for certain things, and get powers that reflect their reputations.

    (4) Being extremely efficient is of paramount importance in AW (well, for the ego boost at least). Whenever you finish a mission you receive a rating that's based on how fast you completed the mission, how much damage you inflicted, and how much you received. While this isn't bad in and off itself, it does result in many missions feeling more like puzzles where you're more worried about making all the correct moves in order to get the highest rating. There is an "ideal" solution you're aiming for. To my surprise, FC doesn't rate your performance. Yes, you are shown a few stats, but the lack of a formal grade really removes the pressure. This gives the missions a more fluid feeling of play where I feel that I can probe and explore the enemies position and adjust my strategy based on the information I collect without feeling like I've made a mistake and need to start over (and do better because I know where the enemies starting units are...for instance).

    That's it for now...I'll write later about the still ambigous moral framing of the missions. Grey stuff. Very grey.
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    [September 14, 2009 01:33:07 PM]
    I guess my initial experience with Field Commander wasn't all that I had expected it might be (I'm already 40% through the main campaign, so this was last week). I knew the game had really good reviews and I was looking forward to a tactical experience. My early impressions?

    Wow, this is exactly like Advance Wars but rendered in a 3D environment (not 2D) and with worse UI. I had a hard time making out what the different units were and what they were good/bad for. Everything seemed to map perfectly on to Advance Wars which was surprising. I thought, wow... they really lifted EVERYTHING.

    Given what I've been working on recently, I was also surprised by the game's fictive frame. You play as a commander of a shadow army that was created by a coalition of nations. The army operates off-the-record and its activities are never officially acknowledged by the allied nations that created it (and, I guess, continue to support it). I felt this set-up was rather weak because it wasn't clear to me that I was actually playing on the "good side". Most of the missions involved an enemy who is also a shadow army...but it isn't clear that they're the "bad side" either. It's kind of gray, but not in an interesting sense. Rather it seems gray simply because the backstory and setup wasn't developed that well. Since I haven't finished the game yet, I may yet be surprised to find that my "good" side isn't, or something like that...but for now I'm a bit confused...
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    jp's Field Commander (PSP)

    Current Status: Finished playing

    GameLog started on: Monday 31 August, 2009

    GameLog closed on: Monday 28 September, 2009

    jp's opinion and rating for this game

    Advance Wars for the PSP. Which is great, though there are some subtle differences, both pro and con.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstarstar

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