• You could be forgiven for having a sense of déj` vu with this one, though not if you’ve tactfully avoided the Nintendo handhelds, or indeed kept well away from the recent rise in popularity of turn-based strategy games. Commanders – Attack of the Genos owes a great deal to games like Advance Wars, Field Commander and the recent Warhammer 40k tactics games and for an XBLA title, it feels quite a well rounded little game.

    Things kick off with a few well-placed Sun Tzu quotes (why do videogame developers seem obsessed with the Chinese War Tactician and all-round strategic sage?) and some of the worst music I think I’ve heard in a videogame since the Amstrad CPC days. Jaunty supermarket jazz seems really out of place in a game concerned with the bleak reality of war and the machinations of strategy.

    The Genos are a genetically enhanced species created by man, and intent on overturning their former rulers in order to make Earth their own. You play the part of a lone commander, at first limited to Commander Alec Falcon but later with secondary command characters unlocked and playable as campaigns progress. The Genos will stop at nothing to destroy your commander and your army but you alone have the ability to draw a line in the sand and halt their advance.

    Commanders: Attack of the Genos

    From the tutorial onwards you can see just exactly how “Advance-Wars-Esque” this title is. Movement involves selecting a unit, then highlighting a destination within a set range for that turn. Each unit can move for different distances across the various types of terrain in the game so it’s up to you to work out just what types of unit can be brought into combat most effectively. Once you’ve exhausted all of your action points for each unit, you can end the round and then the enemy will take their turn. It’s a very basic sounding game mechanic but it works beautifully and if you’ve never played this type of game before you’re missing out.

    The commander of both the Human and Genos forces sits inside a huge spider-like mech and this unit carries its own set of abilities depending on the commander you’ve chosen. It’s a bit like the Advance Wars special ability powers. Collect enough action points and your active power can be triggered to do anything from reduce the hit points of any enemies in range, to increasing your movement capabilities per round.

    Command units also have secondary passive powers which are automatically triggered whenever any friendly units are nearby. Again these vary depending on the commander but your units can be better protected or inflict more damage if they stick closely to the commander. CAOTG thus starts to reveal a fair amount of strategic depth for an XBLA title.

    Each of the other friendly units under your control has different abilities too. Tanks naturally come in handy when a stand up fight is called for, inflicting heavy damage on both mechanical and infantry units. Missile Launchers similarly pack plenty of punch and can be brought to bear against aerial units in the game too. There are also more passive units like scouts (passive but still no slouch when used against infantry) and APCs which can ferry your ground troops around with a greater range and speed.

    Later in the game you will also get to play with bombers, long range artillery units and other neat tools of war.

    Usefully, you can also capture neutral or enemy buildings, everything from command posts (so you can repair stricken units) to war factories, allowing you to spend your accrued credits on more units. Again, without meaning to keep repeating myself this is another game element that seems to have been stolen wholesale from Advance Wars, in fact at times you may find yourself rubbing your eyes in disbelief at how identical the games are.

    For instance, CAOTG uses a similar fog of war / line of sight approach to Advance Wars. Basically, each unit has a visual range set, with parts of the map only being revealed as you move around. Also, if you are behind a wall and the enemy are hiding on the other side, you won’t see them until you move within their visual range. This makes for some tense moments as you storm an enemy base and try to avoid being ambushed.

    Throughout each map / game level, there are various bonus tokens that you can collect. Some will reward you with cash bonuses or per-turn powers, but others may inflict damage, reduce your effective range etc so it’s worth being cautious with these.

    Each level has a particular set of goals (that are mentioned at the start of each game turn, rather repetitively). The battle ends when you either defeat all the units on the map, or capture the enemy’s command posts so they can’t regenerate their commander.

    Aside from the dire music, CAOTG is pleasingly presented. In-game units look a bit like polished up 1930s retro sci-fi designs which gives the game a bit more individuality. The in-game avatars are dreadful though and seem to lack the sparkle of similar titles, as do the cut scenes and introductions. Though the game is perhaps not as deep and strategic as the later Advance Wars titles, it’s a competent addition to XBLA and makes a refreshing change.

    Multiplayer strategists are well catered for with a set of LIVE human vs human options to choose from. The major part of the game involves the single player campaign so it’s difficult to justify spending hours and hours on this against your friends when you could opt for something a little more in-depth like Command and Conquer 3. For short sharp bursts though CAOTG is quite a neat little strategic title let down by a succinct lack of depth and some naff presentation here and there.

    Score: 6/10

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