Star Wars games have, for the most part, focused on the galactic struggle between the Empire and the Rebellion. We have however, seen very little of those not aligned with either faction. Considering that the criminal network played such an enormous part almost each of the Star Wars films, with characters such as Hans Solo and Jabba the Hutt, not to mention everyone's favourite, Boba Fett, it is strange that we are yet to see a strong focus on these miscreants in the games. The release of Star Wars Empire at War earlier this year included cameos of a couple of the rogue elements in the Star Wars pantheon, however it has not been until the new expansion, Forces of Corruption, that we have been able to take a look at what it may have been like to be one of the original gangsters a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.
In Forces of Corruption you play as Tyber Zann, a galactic crime lord who, at the beginning of the game, busts out of a prison complex on Kessel with the aide of his right hand man Urai Fenn. From here Zann must build his now near destroyed criminal network back to the glory that it held prior to his incarceration. Zann inhabits a world of world of bounty hunters and smugglers amongst a host of other crime lords and petty criminals. As with most people who have made it to the upper echelons of the underworld, Zann has a great deal of enemies, including the infamous Jabba the Hutt.
Although the graphics in some spots are a little outdated, Tyber Zann still comes across as one smooth, but ruthless, criminal.
Not only does Zann have his fellow criminals to contend with, but he also hasn't made friends with the Empire or the Rebels either. An attempt to gain alliances and good relations is not the first thing on the Crimelord's mind however. More interested in getting a cut from each of the planets he's involved in, he is happy for his forces to slip in and slip out of planetary systems, leaving him with the ability to siphon off the wealth of each of their inhabitants.
The original game used some interesting elements to bring the Star Wars universe to the RTS genre. Forces of Corruption brings in some more creative mission structures to add to the already great brand of gameplay that Empire at War gave us. Again there is a mix of Civilization-esque macro management and traditional Real Time Strategy battles. Rather than simply winning these battles by obliterating your enemies you are now often given the task of corrupting a planet and its inhabitants.
Corruption missions are a little confusing at first, however the game does a fairly good job of taking your hand as it leeds you down the merry path of kidnapping, smuggling and general skullduggery. Once a planet is corrupted by sending a certain type of unit called a defiler to attack it you get the choice of how you want your dastardly plans to play out. You can choose from options such as piracy, racketeering and bribery to name but a few illicit activities able to be undertaken. Each of these trigger a certain type of ground mission with a specific goal such as to injure a prominent member of the ruling class on a planet or to destroy a particular building. This creates some varied and fresh battles. Once a planet is corrupted, further missions can be engaged in to fully take over the running of it.
Again your goal is to conquer the galaxy one planet at a time, however this time it's with cunning rather than force.
The great space battles from the original are back and with new additions on the ship department and a stronger relationship to story they are even somewhat improved. There are mission that involve more than just cutting through space defences to get to a planet. For example in one you'll find yourself on a reconnaissance mission in search of data pods, picking through the remnants of the once formidable, freshly destroyed by the rebels, Death Star. It is a great deal of fun commanding fleets of Tie Fighters and X-Wings in Empire at War and it is a similarly enjoyable experience to do battle against these familiar fleets from a new perspective. The ships in Tyber's fleet have some different functions to those you will have experienced in the first game. New toys such as buzz droids that can be released to provide some extra annoyance to your foes allow for some new and interesting battles. Often focusing on subterfuge, the consortium play quite different to the empire or the Rebels with fresh unit abilities such as cloaking. All these things add together to make a very interesting and quite unique faction for gamers to experience.
The land battles in Empire at War were a little lacking and Petroglyph appears have taken onboard the criticisms many gave it toiling hard to improve this gameplay element. Much of the original's issues centred on simplistic battles and maps, along with relatively dull enemy AI and although the game was extremely fun this brought its appeal down a little. The good news is that things have changed for the better in Forces of Corruption. For starters something as simple as more complex map designs significantly improves the gameplay in Corruption. Coupled with this the AI and placement of enemy barriers seems to have been worked on creating some more intensity when fighting for control of a planet.
Along with reworking of gameplay from the original Empire at War, Corruption has sewn the threads of the narrative much more tightly into the gameplay. By offering a greater variety of missions, and by digging beyond the worlds of the Empire and the Rebellion to come up with a great set of characters, the game presents the player with some extremely involving story ideas. Set post the battle for Endor, Corruption takes much of what your average punter (this does not include those who have read every Star Wars novel and can name each wookie on Chewbacca's family tree) knows about the Star Wars universe and places its history as a backdrop for these characters. These individuals also play a large role in the development of the narrative. The story is, although much deeper than the original's, quite short however, offering gameplay hours in the teens depending how you decide to play.
Visually the game is as impressive as its predecessor. Admittedly there are a lot of games that offer engines allowing for gameplay that both looks and handles a lot better than Empire at War, but those are the exception rather than the rule. That said, after playing through games like Company of Heroes and then looking at the Empire at War series the latter does look a little dated.
We could really have cut and pasted any information regarding the sound effects and music from the original's review. The music retains its epic feel and having the back catalogue of the film's soundtracks assist greatly in creating an epic feel. The sound to never really gets annoying. With many games, both in the RTS genre and otherwise, recycled sound effects and voices can grow tiresome and detract from the experience. The sound in both these games however, rarely grows irritating and is for the most part great.
Empire at War offered extremely involving gameplay and took the player deep into the Star Wars universe with engaging battles, micro management and differing gameplay styles. With the introduction of Forces of Corruption to the series we not only have an interesting new faction to investigate but it also seems that Petroglyph has taken many of the criticisms aimed at the original, and tightened some screws on the new game. Not only has Star Wars Empire at War: Forces of Corruption managed to match its predecessor in many areas, it has in fact improved on many aspects and indeed, offers what could be seen as a much more compelling game. A few couple of slighly better loking RTS's have come along since the release of the original but to it's credit the Empire at War series manages to hold up pretty well tothe new challengers. If you are interested in playing on the fringes of the Star Wars universe then Forces of Corruption is a must for RTS and Star Wars fans alike.