Warhammer 40K: Squad Command Review
Warhammer 40K is probably the most popular of the tabletop miniatures games. Other companies definitely try to get in on this interesting niche in the gaming world, but most never come close to the wide success that the Games Workshop property manages to achieve. A world set in the distant future, the setting for the Warhammer 40K universe is undoubtedly gritty and has spawned multiple offshoots of the basic tabletop game, including pen and paper RPGS, tons of variations on the traditional miniatures battles and, most importantly, video games.
Warhammer 40K Squad Command is the latest in a series of video games based around the franchise. The game takes a different approach than the larger scale Dawn Of War series -- Squad Command focused on a single squad of Space Marines as opposed to an entire army waging war on the enemy. With this smaller scope comes the ability to control things like weapon loadouts, exact movement of squad members and the things like that. While the premise for the game is definitely a fun one, though, it falters in entirely too many areas to be recommendable to all but the most diehard 40K fans.
The game starts off simple enough. You're presented with some slim background story that serves as nothing more than an excuse to guide a squad around and shoot the crap out of the Chaos forces tossed your way. Unlike the PSP version, there aren't cutscenes here -- all you will get are walls of text with picture backgrounds. This isn't too terribly big of a deal since the story isn't much to write home about, but good cutscenes can always make games a little more fun. If you want to get a better story centered in the universe, there are tons of books out there that you can grab. Don't look here for any worthwhile story, though.
A bad story doesn't spell doom for a game, right? In many cases, some of the games that stand out in a generation are the ones that forego the story and make for one of the most kickass experiences when you get to actually playing the game. Squad Command on the DS starts off well in that area, using the exact same game that I played a month ago on the PSP. You have the same mission structure, the same general idea behind missions, the same pre-mission setup stuff and even the same online play. Heck, you even have the map on the top screen of the DS as opposed to having to toggle said map. Where could things go wrong?
Well, the first major problem you're going to notice is when you actually get into your first game. Squad Command tries to use what looks like the same engine used in the PSP version. Now, the DS is a pretty powerful system in its own right, but doesn't compare to the PSP in that department. So instead of a nice, smooth game, you get a fairly ugly, hard to see, choppy experience. Originally designed with a much larger screen in mind, you miss a lot of the stuff that is going on, as the camera seems to stay zoomed in at the exact same level when compared to the PSP version. That default zoom level is way too close, but there's no way whatsoever to fix that. I had to scroll entirely too much to do, well, anything.
The controls, mind you, do work pretty well. The stylus-based stuff, such as tapping to move or tapping on an enemy to shoot are great additions to a gridless strategy game. The problem with these controls comes in when you will almost always have to scroll to move your guy, forgetting who you had selected. With your troops looking pretty much identical (six scouts are hard to keep track of when you see none on the screen), you have to wonder if you're moving the right guy -- the wrong guy could put you in the enemy's line of fire. Do that, and you get shot. It becomes easier to keep track of your guys when you have stuff like tanks, terminators and the like, but the initial all-scout party is a pain to work with.
In the end, it is blatantly obvious that this game was initially designed for the PSP and ported over to the DS in an effort to capitalize on Nintendo's massive market share. While the idea of the game is nice and there are some good control ideas, they don't really work when you consider the virtually immovable camera, the hard-to-differentiate troops and the overall sluggish performance of the game. If you are a diehard 40K fan and don't own a PSP, I'd highly recommend you find a friend with one and rent this game. If you can't, wait for the price on this version to drop. It is not worth full price, not one bit.