After three false starts, I finally got the boiler repaired last night – I have hot water on demand again!  Now the hot water fetishists can wear out the appropriate part as they shower three times a day and insist on washing their hands in nothing but tepid H2O. 

Did I mention I completed Kid Icarus 3D after an age?  Following a concerted effort, I finished off the last levels just at the weekend bringing five months to a close.  Of course that only takes me to about 70% complete; if I want to do more, I have to replay levels at higher difficulties to achieve sexier bonuses and rack up the points.  It did feel more like a chore as the levels wore on but having such an involved game on the 3DS was pretty amazing.  I had suspected that several well known voice-over actors had made an appearance and a run through the credits confirmed this; Alan “Skeletor” Oppenheimer, Cree “Care Bears” Summer and the rest.  Though the actor voicing Pit/Dark Pit…looks to be five years old on imdb. 

Let’s move over to a seldom touched subject – Star Wars.  Whilst I was in Morrisons on Saturday, I happened to glance over at their budget game range and was tempted by Empire: Total War for £7 but next to that was Star Wars: Empire At War Gold for £7.  And it got me thinking; I haven’t fired up that in absolutely ages.  It’s a difficult game to categorise; it’s not exactly a strategy game (either RTS or Turn Based), nor an action adventure, nor an arcade game either.  It’s a hybrid of all of these genres which means that several video game skills have to be utilised in order to win victory. 

The vanilla version of the game pits the Empire against the Rebel Alliance.  Each faction has its usual unique characteristics, units and heroes fighting for galactic dominance.  There’s only one resource to gather like Command and Conquer – money.  This is used to buy space and ground units as well as building infrastructure.  Each faction unlocks different buildings and those buildings will allow construction of varying unit types or will generate cash. 

Space combat takes place (typically) in orbit of the planet being attacked where the attacking force has to destroy all opposing forces and any space station whilst the defender needs to either defeat the attacker utterly or just enough to force retreat.  Only a set number of units can be brought into the battle at any one time (mainly to compensate for the limitations of PCs) which forces the player to think strategically about which units are deployed.  Ground combat takes place on the surface of the planet and again, the attacker needs to annihilate the defender to win.  However, they can only retreat if they are in control of a landing zone.    

Added to the mix are the usual range of Star Wars characters, some of who are single unit characters whilst others come with their own vehicles (space or ground).  Heroes cannot be permanently killed but if they are defeated in combat or successfully attacked by a bounty hunter, they will be unavailable for deployment whilst they “heal”.  Characters are unlocked at the beginning of each technology level with the most powerful units reserved for the highest level. 

Technology and research only plays a minor role in EaW – the Empire has to research technology by paying the relevant fee and constructing a research station.  Multiple research stations do not reduce the amount of time taken to get to the next level.  The Rebel Alliance must steal technology piece by piece from the Imperials and when they steal all technology at the requisite level, they advance to the next.  During combat, space stations can research bonuses in battles to enhance weapons and shields whilst during ground combat, individual buildings can enhance troops and vehicles.   

Certain planets offer inherent, permanent bonuses to the faction that control them; some being faction specific (and therefore useless to the other side except as part of a denial strategy).  Planets will also have weather systems which help or hinder during ground combat – rain makes troops march more slowly whilst sandstorms interfere with rocket-based weaponry.  Planets are connected by hyperspace routes but some come with hyperspace beacons which offer travel and trade bonuses making control of them very lucrative. 

The game has a campaign where the galactic map unlocks a few planets each time a mission progresses and the relevant faction controlled by the player seeks to impose their rule over their enemies.  There are several non-campaign maps unlocking part or the entire galaxy to play with.  Typically the Empire will start out controlling the core systems of the galaxy whilst the Rebel Alliance will control the outlying systems.  The core systems are more fortified but the Rebels have other tactics at their disposal like the ability to hit and run as well as sneaking in ground forces past space defences.  The Empire doesn’t really hit its stride until it reaches level 4 in technology and the mighty Star Destroyers come into play and at level 5, the Death Star can be constructed allowing the Empire the ability to blow up planets rather than take out heavily fortified citadels. 

Forces of Corruption is an add-on pack which introduces a third faction (though to be fair, there was technically a third faction in the original game but it was unplayable), the Zann Consortium.  New to the Star Wars universe, Tyber Zann represents the criminal underworld who uses the best Mandalorian and Hutt technologies as well as units scavenged from the Rebels, Empire and even the Old Republic and Separatist Alliance.  The Zann Consortium has a different style of play as well as a complete lack of technology tree to play with.   Although they can conquer planets in the normal fashion, they can “corrupt” planets which require a mission to be played and if successful, a particular type of corruption is spread to the planet offering a different bonus.  Any corrupt planet will offer the controlling player discounted units which means that the Rebels or Empire might not want to rid themselves of the corruption.  A chain of corrupt planets will allow Zann Consortium units free access across the galaxy (providing “blockade fees” are paid) meaning they can strike at will in random places. 

Rather than researching technology, the Zann Consortium engages in technology theft – they can access all units at the beginning of the game but their units do not come with any special abilities; its those abilities which need to be stolen.  And it isn’t cheap to steal those abilities though the price comes down if the other factions reach the requisite technology levels.  The Consortium have different units which do not fight in quite the same manner as those of the Empire and the Rebels which force the other factions to change the make up of their forces when facing the Consortium.  However, Corruption missions allow the Consortium the ability to steal unit designs so that they can augment their forces with units of the Empire or the Rebel Alliance. 

In the Galactic Free-For-All maps, the Empire remain in control of the core of the galaxy whilst the Rebels and the Consortium fight for control of the outer rim but rather than dividing it 50-50, their territories are fragmented making for a more interesting scenario.  I’ve played several games and the AI tends to operate a rock-paper-scissors…thing – Rebels beat Empire beat Consortium beat Rebels.  Of course the expansion pack enhances the Rebel Alliance and the Empire too, giving them new heroes, new units and a bunch of other planets to fight over too.  The Consortium have their own campaign set between the events of the original trilogy and answer at least one question after Return of the Jedi – where did all the Empire’s money go? 

EaW is still a playable game some 6 years after release and is more fun than other Strategy games based in space (Star Trek Armada is the closest comparison).  The ground combat parts are cruder than games such as Age of Empires or Command & Conquer and no real strategy is involved, rather hope your units outclass your opponent.  One of the nicest features is the movie viewer which allows the player the ability to wide-action shots of the battles as if it were a movie.  It is nice watching a squadron of Y-Wing bombers swoop down to blast a target or watch a squadron of Star Destroyers loom inexorably towards their targets.

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