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by LucasArts

Galactic Battlegrounds was a beautiful idea when it was first released in November of 2001. Show me a Star Wars fan and I’ll show you a person who wants to order an Imperial Walker into battle. I’ll show you a person who wants to be able to play as Darth Vader, Luke, or Leia--someone who thinks Han and Chewbacca are the two coolest characters ever created. In short, I’ll show you someone who wants to live in the Star Wars universe. Galactic Battlegrounds lets you do it, empowering you to play on almost every side of every conflict we’ve been allowed to see on the big screen in classic RTS action. From the Empire of episodes IV, V, and VI to the Trade Federation in I and II, Battlegrounds puts you in control of a vast variety of units, characters, and situations.

So I have a bit of a dilemma. Galactic Battlegrounds Saga is merely a boxed set, a re-release of a good game that’s one year old. Take the original Battlegrounds, released late 2001, and put it into the same box with the Clone Campaigns expansion released two months later, and re-release it again as a new product with a sticker price of near $50. While a good game in its time, and still a great idea, Saga finds itself premiering as a new product on the shelves alongside an infinite supply of look-alikes. Sure, the wannabes don’t have a Star Wars license, but with an aging engine and dated graphics, as well as gameplay that has been copied by almost every RTS on the market, that license seems to be all that Saga has going for it at full sticker price. While still fun, and still capable of keeping you up at night, Galactic Battlegrounds is starting to show its age. Boot it up next to Warcraft III, and even with the expansion pack the shine becomes a little dull. Galactic Battlegrounds, once a title that could easily satisfy the demands of any RTS fan, has become more of a niche title, ideal for the person in search of more Star Wars, not more real time strategy.

That said, there’s still a lot of oomph to Galactic Battlegrounds. Since Saga includes all eight campaigns that originally shipped separately in the Battlegrounds and the Clones expansion, there’s a whole lot of game tucked into the recesses of a relatively small box. You’ll find substantially more gameplay here than in almost any other single product on the market. And of course, nothing beats Star Wars. From the opening scenes taken straight from the movies, to the excellent soundtrack of the menu screens (though music seems to be strangely absent from the game itself), LucasArts has nailed the Star Wars feel on the head. Additionally, the programmers could have done much worse than using the Age of Kings engine. While far from anything new now, it still provides a solid backdrop for gameplay. Though there aren’t many innovations here in game dynamics that haven’t since been adopted by other, less notorious game engines, the AOK platform was strong for its time.

In almost every other aspect of the game, however, the age shows. The strictly 2D graphics feel older than they probably really are. For example, the forests come across as flat and uninteresting, with leaves that look static and grainy. When seen in comparison to even some generic modern RTS titles, Battlegrounds starts to look antiquated. Also, due to the lack of air units in Age of Kings, the flying units of Star Wars move in an obviously non-Star Wars way. There are no swarming air patrols (I can’t help but fondly remember the miniature fighters from Starcraft), but instead hovering Tie Fighters that float motionlessly over their target until destroyed.

For those not familiar with the original release of Galactic Battlegrounds, Saga plays much like other real time strategies. Most often starting with an outpost and some workers, the player is responsible for gathering resources, constructing a base, and eventually overpowering another enemy force located somewhere on the same map. Saga includes eight single player campaigns (one tutorial), a scenario editor for creating your own Star Wars battles, and options for skirmishes, which are stand alone battles without the encompassing storyline. Multi-player abilities also fall in this category. Aside from the storyline behind the campaigns, and the exhaustive list of units and sides a player can command, there are few other options that can’t be found in a newer game.

In short, I find myself coming back repeatedly to a single issue. Galactic Battlegrounds Saga, though based on the Star Wars license, is a one-year-old game re-packaged and asked to sell at full price. There is nothing in Saga that you couldn’t have picked up in totality almost exactly one year ago. Yeah, it’s sort of nice to get three packs of Star Wars trading cards, but the game itself is starting to suffer from a lack of modern polish. The true downfall of Galactic Battlegrounds Saga is not even the aging graphics. It’s the fact that since its original release others have duplicated, in cheaper boxes and with newer technologies, everything Saga has to offer – with the exception of the license. What that means in translation is that Saga is in actuality a type of collectors item, sort of like Disney collectables and beanie babies. The trading cards that come in the box are testimony enough to that. As an RTS it falls short of modern standards; as an air loom of the Star Wars legacy, though, it’s a unique addition to a fellow’s collection. If you’re looking for that, LucasArts has put it in a nice little box for you. But if you’re just looking for a good RTS, though, buy it used off of for $35. At sticker price there are other games worth your while.

Aaron Stanton   (11/24/2002)


Ups: Nothing beats Star Wars; good music and good characters; best parts of RTS genre all here.

Downs: Aged graphics and game engine; identical to the original releases except the packaging.

Platform: PC