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TECHNOLOGY

Review: 'The Force' lives on in new 'Star Wars' game

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service

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The 3-D graphics in LucasArts new "Star Wars: Empire at War" is a feast for the eyes.

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"Star Wars" fans need not mourn the end of the sci-fi saga.

The struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire lives on -- but the action is now on the small screen instead of the silver screen. And the best part is, you control the way the story unfolds.

"Star Wars: Empire at War," which takes place a few years before the events of "Episode IV: A New Hope," is a deep and challenging PC strategy game that lets you choose to play as either the noble Rebels or the evil Empire and engage in epic space battles or battles on familiar planets such as Dagobah and Tatooine.

When playing as the Empire, the goal of the game is to conquer the galaxy, while the Rebels pledge to liberate it.

Unlike turn-based strategy games, such as the "Civilization" series, "Empire at War" is considered a real-time strategy title, as players must micromanage all the strategic and tactical decisions without a pause in the action. Not only does this add a layer of excitement and tension to the game play, but the battles tend to be more cinematic, therefore more fun to watch as they unfold.

For example, the first major skirmish involves attacking a Kuat shipyard in space, so you must deploy the best vessels for the job, use your mouse to move the fleet to a desired location on the map and then fire upon the shipyard while warding off any resistance, such as Tie fighters.

Then, once you fly down to the surface of the forested planet, Wayland, you need to locate and destroy enemy beacons, protect your trusty droids (who happen to be R2-D2 and C-3PO), and take on any resistance.

As with many other real-time strategy games, players must also build structures, including barracks (to produce more troops) and vehicle factories, as well as create more units, such as Scout Troopers on Speeder Bikes. This game also lets you employ powerful heroes (or villains), such as Boba Fett, Darth Vader, Obi-Wan or Emperor Palpatine.

Building structures and units, however, cost the player credits, which can only be earned by taking control of planets.

The Galactic Map lets you see all of your fleets, armies and planets in one screen, while zooming in on a planet or its surrounding area lets you transport ships from one location to another, establish trade routes, initiate a spy mission or start a battle sequence.

Interestingly, all the events that take place in "Empire at War" are persistent, meaning that the outcome of previous events will have an effect on succeeding ones; demolish a series of radar towers on a planet controlled by the Empire and the Rebels will be able to advance undetected in the near future.

The 3-D graphics are a feast for the eyes. During battle, hundreds of tiny colored lasers beam back and forth between forces, vehicles swarm around and structures crumble into fiery explosions. At any time, gamers can click the Cinematic Camera Button and sit back to watch a close-up view of the action.

Along with the single-player campaign, "Empire at War" also offers multiplayer modes via the Internet for up to eight players.

"Star Wars: Empire at War" is a well-crafted strategy title that successfully combines an epic sci-fi story with familiar characters and locations, and dozens of hours of intense mouse-clicking action.

Gamers who want a free taste can download a 742MB playable demo at www.empireatwar.com.

A Collector's Edition ($59.99) version of the game includes the game (on two DVD-ROMs) as well as special 3-D packaging, concept art, bonus maps, wallpaper and screen savers.

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