|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: 3000AD||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: 3000AD||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: March 7, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-32 (online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
Once upon a time...flying through the galaxy while strapped into the cockpit of a virtual space fighter vessel - armed with the latest futuristic sci-fi gadgetry and munitions, of course - was a thrilling endeavor. It was a time when blowing away alien craft in the midst of dizzying dogfights and rocketing through the cosmos in search of new worlds could easily consume an entire afternoon.
Such pursuits still contain a certain charm, but changing times have ushered in new era of interstellar adventures. As a result, it seems space combat titles on the PC have fallen off publishers' radars. 3000AD's new episodic series Galactic Command: Echo Squad SE strives to dust the genre off and bring it back in a big way. While it succeeds on some levels, it also serves as a partial reminder of why so many have abandoned the niche.
To say it's completely inaccessible would be unfair; the sheer breadth of Echo Squad will be enough to tickle the taste buds of the hardest of hardcore space jockeys out there. The game stays true to the core tenets of classic space combat titles of days past, but simply learning how to play and getting a feel for the title in itself is a convoluted and frustrating process. Once you do finally get the hang of it (assuming your patience holds out), there are other obstacles to long-term enjoyment still yet to be overcome.
The shallow story line loosely ties the action and missions together within a thin wrapper. As the wing commander of Echo Squad, you'll pilot your own ship directly while giving commands and looking out for your fellow wingmen. Episode One: Rise of the Insurgents takes place as the Terran military force Galactic Command is picking up the pieces after a full-scale war with the Gammulans. Meanwhile, a group of insurgents are capitalizing on GALCOM's current state of chaos with an offensive assault bent on taking out the alliance. In response, GALCOM launches a new attack carrier prototype to halt the insurgent forces. Your squad is assigned to the GCV-Excalibur on its maiden combat voyage. Missions involve hyper-space jumping to different planetary systems to investigate suspicious activity, taking out squadrons of enemy fighters and larger vessels, running escort detail, and other military tasks. It all means very little when you get down to it; you'll be flying through space and blowing things up (or getting blown up by things).
Simply claiming a game is easy to jump into does not make it so. There's a cumbersome learning curve that makes getting into the play controls about as fun as a trip to the dentist. The dreary, hour-long tutorial does an adequate job of introducing the different control concepts, but if you happen to get lost and take longer than the allotted time to accomplish your next tutorial objective, you'll be left out in the cold depths of space. On the up-side, helpful in-game hotkeys for the game manual, a computer key layout, and a print tutorial are easily accessible at any point. Early on, you'll be pausing the action frequently to reference them. The mouse controls work fine for moving, firing, and selecting the limited interactive HUD displays, but they're imprecise in a dogfight - a time when tight controls are needed most. Too many hunt-and-peck keyboard commands take a while to master. The navigation systems are also slightly confusing at first. With a few hours of play, most players will be able to eventually overcome most of the control kinks, but for some, a few hours will feel like a few too many.
In Echo Squad, dogfights are more of a nuisance than anything else. This is a major setback, considering much of the action is heavily based on such encounters. Unresponsive mouse controls make it hard to keep up with fast-moving bogies in the midst of a chaotic assault. Even when leading your shots ahead of foes to score hits, it's often unnecessarily difficult take them out. In the meantime, you'll find yourself frequently bombarded with incoming missiles that will utterly destroy your vessel with a few direct hits. The whole being destroyed part doesn't nearly suck quite as much as the incessant beeping and voice-over warnings signifying you're about to be toasted. The jamming device is great for keeping your exhaust pipe empty of rocket shrapnel, but it also whacks out your own missile lock-on capabilities.