Have You Played… Star Wars: Force Commander?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

May the Force Commander not be with you.

Oh, I knew it was going to be a stinker. The screenshots looked bad. Almost everything I’d read seemed unimpressed. But I couldn’t resist. I bought it anyway.

Star Wars does Command & Conquer? It’s still the dream for Nerdly Men & Women Of A Certain Age really, isn’t it? Even after Force Commander. Even after getting so burned by it.

I didn’t make it past the first few levels. It was miserable. Annoying, buggy and boxy: a far cry from the slick action I’d hoped it would somehow have despite all that I’d heard.

It’s a banal observation I realise, but Force Commander’s key problem was that it looked awful. Even AT-ATs aren’t cool when they look like they’ve been assembled from a cut-out cardboard model on the back of a cereal packet. If Force Commander had looked better – epic rather than blocky – its sludgy pace and irritating interface would have been easier to take on the chin.

Perhaps it was just made too soon; perhaps it should have waited a little longer for the technology to catch up. Boxiness aside, I see screenshots of it today and something about the scale and the camera angles seems so much more Star Warsy than the later, better Empire At War or Galactic Battlegrounds managed.

I just want a solid RTS with a worm’s eye view of big stompy AT-ATs. Is that so much to ask?

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  1. Guybrush86 says:

    The best thing about Force Commander was the menu music

    • crowleyhammer says:

      oh that is fantastic!

      • Jay Load says:

        Dear Lord [of the Sith]. That’s…just….I think my ears are bleeding.

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      Thulsa Hex says:

      One thing I do remember is that they put a lot of promotion into how much effort went into the music. The soundbite went something like, “the most original Star Wars soundtrack since Williams.” As far as I can recall, it wasn’t newly-composed stuff, per se, but interesting arrangements of the existing OST. I guess that’s about as much creative license one can take when working with Star Wars (with good reason).

      It was genuinely intriguing to watch the original trilogy again since playing this game. Little snippets of music that you didn’t pay attention to before suddenly stuck out in the foreground. For example, in Empire Strikes Back there’s this very short, upbeat melody that only ever plays when Luke and his buddies are hopping into the snowspeeders, but this tiny snippet is used as the main melody for (I think) an early Tatooine level in the game.

    • syllopsium says:

      Oh.. I think I need to go and play Dark Forces to recover

    • Masked Dave says:

      Completely agree! Was expecting that to be the final line of the article.

  2. draigdrwg says:

    It did look and feel super clunky. A large part of that due to the camera controls I think. And that AT-ATs not being right. I seem to recall them spinning on the spot.

    It did however have some ideas that were somewhat ahead of their time. It’s far more ambitious than the age of empires reskin that followed a few years later, and perhaps it deserves a little credit for that. Some of the things it did:

    – No resource gathering, you get given command points by capturing buildings (sort of similar to what Relic would do later with Dawn of War) or killing enemy units. Of course, unless I am really misremembering, you also lose points when your own units get killed which meant that you could easily end up in a death spiral. Which was rubbish.

    – Terrain. Can’t remember if there were any height advantage mechanics, but infantry could cross rough terrain while larger units had to go round.

    – Unit veterancy and persistent armies throughout the campaign. At the start of later missions you could choose which units you wanted to take on the initial transports (which may well end up being all you get). Once again though this wasn’t particularly well implemented as it never felt like more experienced units did much more, and you generally just ended up with a horde of generic units in your hangar.

    -A whole host of things that were at least attempts at something compared to the ultra safe galactic battlegrounds. Units being deployed from transports, a harpoons and tow cable ability, a rebel unit that could capture imperial walkers.. etc. All not very well one admittedly but at least snowspeeders looked and moved vaguely like snowspeeders instead of just being the only unique unit your faction got and doing more damage.. bah.

    I enjoyed battlegrounds for what it was, and Empire at War did a lot of things better but also had its own inherent problems. I don’t think any of them got it quite right, and I don’t suppose we’ll ever get another star wars strategy game now.

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      Nauallis says:

      This is all interesting information.

      That said, it always amuses me when readers post comments longer than the original article.

      • draigdrwg says:

        Well the question was “Have you played?” and I had.. 16… years… ago.

        Oh dear.

    • varbles says:

      Couldn’t agree more. I loved the ideas involved so much that I was later disappointed by Galactic Battlegrounds and Empire at War. If it had been done properly it would have been amazing.

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    distantlurker says:

    My go-to, old, Star Wars sim(?) remains Supremacy/Rebellion.

    The battles aren’t great (not a patch on the space wars you get in EAW (although there, the ground battles were such an awful chore it was much preferred to just spam a couple dozen cheap units to invade with and auto-resolve)); the AI was practically non-existent and the whole force training thing didn’t really work;


    For the sheer love of the EU it was fanfic GOLD, and I just adore it for that.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Yeah it almost had a Pokemon type quality to it, all of these EU characters that I’d seen in other games and read books about, and you got to gradually recruit them then send them out to do things for you. I had a lot of fun with that game despite its flaws.

    • disorder says:

      Supremacy/Rebellion was the strategy SW that pulled me in. Constrained AI (a difficult task, to be fair), terrifyingly low def graphics in the context of reviewers of the time, but just felt like it had a lot of complexity to it as an actual game, if not being quite a 4X itself it still managed to tick all the boxes for me, and the theme helps.

      Force Commander, well I liked it to a point, even the forced limitations but it wasn’t TA. And these were about the last of the era when star was games could be made without the prequels infesting/ruining them, so I guess the best of that happened.

  4. Nick says:

    Yes, I bought it on the strength of John’s PC Gamer review.


  5. Sundance123 says:

    Never played it but I still have the mag with THAT review in it.

  6. Napalm Sushi says:

    You know how watching a lone “hero” character in a modern RTS charge a chattering line of machine guns is one of the most immersion-shattering moments in gaming, because there’s obviously no way such a thing would work in reality? Well, I always have to wonder how much of the difficulty devs seem to have getting AT-ATs to work in Star Wars games is similarly to do with the fact that they’re just a fundamentally awful concept for a military vehicle.

    I mean, even the first generation of real tank builders appreciated the importance of weapon coverage on a large and ungainly vehicle, and an AT-AT makes a Mark V tank look like a ballet dancer. It’s essentially the first beer-mat sketch you’d get if you presented futuristic weapons technology to a medieval siege engineer.

    • SomeDuder says:

      Makes you wonder why they are needed at all, really. I mean, they’ve got spaceships and fighters and bombers and whatnot, just shoot shit from space (it’s the only way to be sure). Then send in your infantry to take the ground. Why bother with lumbering vehicles that can only walk in a straight line and have no coverage at all?

      But hey, at least we got one of the best action sequences in cinema out of it, so that’s cool.

      • Canadave says:

        I mean, they do kinda make sense in the same way that most of the Imperial military makes sense, in that they’d be bloody terrifying if they actually existed. The Empire seems to put a lot of emphasis on “shock and awe,” so AT-ATs make sense from that perspective. Kinda.

  7. PancakeWizard says:

    It was a bit of dog, tbh. Like Galatic Battlegrounds.

    Despite the ground battles being naff, Empire At War scratches the Star Wars RTS itch pretty well. The space stuff and the Galactic conquest mode are still great fun and I’ve always loved seeing all the (Legends) locations present and correct.

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    Thulsa Hex says:

    Like Alec, I really wanted this to be good despite all the signs to the contrary. I force-fed (Pun? Pun!) myself the first few levels, hoping things would eventually “click,” but it was just so irredeemably bad. The trials and tribulations of being a Star Wars-obsessed teenager with a passion for Command & Conquer.

    I never did play Empire at War, though. Is it still worth a go? It’s in my Steam library as a result of last year’s SW Humble Bundle.

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    Serrit says:

    I quite enjoyed this back in the day. Ran like a dog on the PC I had at the time, but revisited it an upgrade or two down the line and still got some enjoyment out of finishing it again (draigdrwg above outlines some of the more interesting points about it).

  10. Smoky_the_Bear says:

    I remember being incredibly annoyed at PC Gamer for this. As someone who loved Star Wars games this was on my radar, I went out and bought it as soon as they slapped a 90% on it (yes, really). My excitement at a genuinely good Star Wars C&C game quickly turned to anger and disappointment at the sheer dross that I’d just been conned into buying. One of the worst games I’ve ever played.

  11. cunningmunki says:

    I spent HOURS on Force Commander. I never played Command & Conquer so had nothing to compare it to, and I loved it. But then, I also enjoyed Masters of Teras Kasi, so I guess my quality bar is pretty low.

  12. WereScrib says:

    I knew one of the devs that worked on this. He loved it but, hated that it would never be more than ‘flawed as hell’. It needed more development, and it needed to come out a little later on. As it was it was a buggy mess that almost, almost, had a chance at being something amazing.