Commanders: Attack of the Genos
Commanders: Attack of the Genos from SouthEnd Interactive is something the Live Arcade rarely sees, a real turn-based strategy game. Live’s turn-based strategy selection is rather barren, but Attack of the Genos breathes fresh life into the genre with original flare and undeniable style.
Though the central theme isn’t terribly original, as many storylines have centered around bio-engineered super-humans that turn on their creators, the setting and history of the Genos universe takes an interesting twist. In this alternate timeline, humans unlock the secrets of atomic energy by end of the nineteenth century, skyrocketing the rate of scientific progress and discoveries. By 1924, scientists have even managed to map the mysteries of the human genome, prompting the development of a race of super-humans, dubbed Genos. Like all super-humans, they turn on their creators, and humans in turn turn on them, resentful of their abilities. Eventually, the Genos are exiled and an uneasy truce is reached. By the time the game begins, the Genos have broken this truce and attacked a human base.
You start the game as Alec Falcon, a wisecracking young commander. A little warning: if you can’t stand puns, you definitely won’t like the dialogue in Genos. Alec is a regular punster, and some of the other commanders have smart mouths at times as well. Cracking jokes isn’t the only thing a good commander does, however. Commanders are a vital part of strategy in Attack of the Genos, and their large spider-like tanks offer various benefits and buffs, complimenting different styles of play. Falcon, for example, gives a defensive boost to any friendly units within a certain radius of his command unit. Commanders also wield special abilities that can often change the tide of a battle gone sour, which range from attacking every unit within range to teleporting in reinforcements. The commanding officer is by no means a superweapon, however. Players must protect the command unit as well as use it to their advantage. Loss of the commander is often a failure paramater, and even if that particular mission doesn’t require the survival of the commander, losing the commanding unit’s special abilities often spells failure anyway.
Those who’ve played Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Advance Wars, or anything of that ilk will already be familiar with the battle system for the most part. Movement is determined by a grid overlaid on the map, which blends quite well with the scenery, only becoming visible when you need it. Units all have a certain amount of action points which fill up a gauge at the beginning of the player’s turn. These points can then be spent either moving or attacking. Genos also adds in a feature that makes deciding whether or not to attack a bit easier, though some may criticize the game for being too predictable. Upon selection, a player can preview how much damage their attack will do to an enemy unit. There’s always the chance of a critical hit, of course, but the decision to add this preview feature takes away much of the uncertainty and suspense in battle. In short, beginners will find the system helpful, but strategy veterans might well be insulted.
Strategically, the game emphasizes positioning of units over what units specifically are on the field. This isn’t to say that some units don’t have certain advantages over other units, but on the whole the game focuses much more on range and movement than attack and defense stats. Terrain affects gameplay greatly, with different terrains offering different movement penalties and bonuses. Roads, much as you would think, increase the movement of units traveling along them. However, roads also offer less protection from attacks. Thus, players are forced to choose between rushing into their attack or being possibly giving the opposition advantageous positioning while they move under cover. Range of attack is also central. Units such as artillery can attack from a distance where no retaliation is possible, but can’t attack troops closer to them. Genos often becomes a sort of rock-paper-scissors extreme with tanks, where short counters long, medium counters short, and so on in a cycle. The fog of war and line of sight system also come into play here, helping put back some of the suspense other features steal away. Players can only see what their units can see directly, so ambushes are common, especially in tight passes. This can make for a pretty intense multiplayer experience, one of the places the game really shines. Playing online is a blast, and trying to anticipate the positioning of three other forces is an exciting challenge even for veteran players.
The computer, while not always as devious as a human player can be, can put up a serious fight nonetheless. Campaign mode isn’t that long, but it’s quite fun and has a decent plot. Genos even includes two different endings for a bit of replay value. The AI can be a bit frustrating at times, as it does tend to exploit some cheap strategies, but on the whole the campaign is an enjoyable challenge, above boredom but well below controller throwing. You also probably won’t get bored of staring at Genos, either. The terrains are nothing special, and certainly don’t push the 360, but they get the job done, don’t distract, and look good. Characters and units, however, are done in a 1930′s sci-fi art style, reminiscent of War of the Worlds (the old one, not the silly Tom Cruise one). All in all, the best description of Genos visually is slick. It isn’t the most technically advanced, but everything comes together really well to enhance the game without distracting in any way.
Commanders: Attack of the Genos really isn’t a particularly innovative game for the genre, but for Live it’s a sorely needed addition to the catalog. Everything feels crafted with care, and it’s a fun and stylish strategy game. Really, if you’re already a fan of strategy there’s no reason no to pick this up, and if you’re not already, Genos might change your mind.