Sony Corp.'s (SNE) diminutive PlayStation Portable finally gets a decent turn-based military strategy game with "Field Commander" (T-rated, $39.99).
Similar games have been around for years on other systems, but anyone who's ever wanted to wage war on their PSP was out of luck — until now.
"Field Commander" is not only a genre first for the PSP, it's also a pretty darn good game for anyone who'd rather think first and shoot later.
The draw for "Field Commander" players is strategy.
Playing is like becoming one of those military officers you've seen in the movies, who hover over a tabletop model of the battlefield, pushing pieces around as they consider another move.
The action unfolds on various 3D maps filled with swamps, mountains, rivers, bridges, buildings and other environmental elements.
Two opposing factions take turns fighting it out on these maps, which are broken into a grid similar to a checkers board.
Though the computer opponent was pretty easy to crush, multiplayer matches against real humans gave this game an instant edge.
The goal is to either take your rival's home base or eliminate all their forces — or both.
Initially, you only have to deal with a few basic units, like troops, tanks and scouts. Later, you'll be building and maneuvering stealth fighters, submarines and rocket launchers.
It's a lot to keep tabs on. For me, that was a big part of the draw.
I found it a tense and rewarding experience to build forces and then direct my military machine in a giant dance of destruction.
There are other rewards, such as the satisfaction of dispatching the enemy in the fewest number of turns or unleashing an air strike on an unsuspecting foe.
Like the old game of rock-paper-scissors, learning which units work best against opposing forces is key. You don't want to put grunts in the path of an enemy tank, for example (not if you want them to last very long, anyway).
If there's one flaw, it's the blocky, ugly graphics: the explosions and 3D effects were nice and all, but the units viewed up close seemed crudely drawn.
"Field Commander" was developed by Sony Online Entertainment, perhaps best known for persistent online multiplayer games like "EverQuest."
The company brings several online modes to "Field Commander" to take advantage of the PSP's wireless capabilities.
An added bonus is the mission creator, where you can design your own maps and then trade them with friends.
Thanks to "Field Commander," I've got enough military action to keep me busy for a long time.
Three stars out of four.