Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command: winning the battle

Warhammer 40,000: Squad Command was an isometric squad turn-based strategy game developed by RedLynx and published by THQ for the Playstation Portable and the Nintendo DS systems. 

In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Ultra Marines  are under no delusion that they are single-handidly saving the universe from the scourge of Chaos.  Everyone is expendible, and living to fight for the Emperor is a privilege worth dying for.  The Ultra Marines are considered the most noble of all Chapters of the Space Marines

What a thoroughly nerdy start to this post.  Despite how it may seem, I actually have almost ZERO exposure to the table top game in which the 40K universe comes based from.  I do however, have some degree of experience in playing as the hulking great big powerhouses that are the Space Marines albeit in videogame form.  From that experience there is no other way to describe the various chapters of the Space Marines than as utterly badass – and not just because they are hugely tall, powerful and can rip the head of an Ork with their bare hands.  But also because they command respect from the human race in general, viewed as almost gods by some (if you’re not familiar with Space Marines, think Gears without the general disdain toward them).  That feeling makes playing as one of these walking tanks an absolute pleasure, and the latest game based on the universe, creatively titled Space Marine is probably the best example of this.

What these game often don’t do, however, is convey the importance of the squad to the success against both the Orks and the forces of Chaos.  Yeah sure these guys have strength far in excess of anything a normal human could ever imagine, but that doesn’t mean they’re invincible.  Having guys around you that you can trust and have your back is important even to superhumans, and the failure of a team mate to do so is almost certain to lead to death.  Squad Command gets this right and has you thinking of not only your offence, but your defence.

Movement and actions in the game are governed by Action Points (AP), with both firing and movement being tied directly to this turn-based ‘currency’. At the beginning of each turn  Each squad member has a set number of APs based on its armoury and ammunition to use on movement or firing on enemies within that turn.  Obviously as logic would indicate, the closer you get to an enemy, the better chance you have of hitting them.  In the case where you want to strategically sit back to avoid situations whereby you move a squad member to certain death, you can increase the number of APs you assign to a shot to increase its accuracy.  It is this type of strategy (which I’m told is a pretty close replication of the table top game) that makes the game stand out from the usually Japanese turn based strategy games I’m used to.

Given that the whole premise of Squad Command is that you need to shoot dudes (cerebrally, of course) in order to save some other dudes from the dudes that you are shooting, getting your squad of Marines (and sometimes accompanying vehicles) is incredibly important.  But the depth of Squad Command for me comes at the end of each turn.  If you have AP left over at the end of any movement or direct firing your units have undertaken, it will go into ‘Overwatch’ mode which allows your squad to fire on any enemy entering a unit’s field of vision during the opposing side’s turn.  The addition of this incredibly inuitive  gameplay mechanic means that unlike the  grid turn-based strategy games I’m accustomed to, whereby the only form of defence is often either using a tank type character with high evade stats and a whole lotta HP to take the damange, and/or ensuring your characters are all facing in the direction your enemies are more likely to attack from to ensure your guys don’t take more damage than they need to.  The result of ‘Overwatch’ mode is that you are constantly balancing your strategy between keeping your squad alive and pushing forward through the enemy toward objectives; meaning that at the end of a turn it is not uncommon to have a whole lot of units who haven’t moved or fired in that turn in defensive positions waiting to fire on any attacking units.  Pulling out to the tactical map allows you to see exactly the defensive coverage from units that have enough remaining AP at the end of the turn.  Ensuring that you accomplish your mission is often a matter of identifying the corridors by which you are likely to be attacked and keep an ‘overwatch’ on them and getting ‘actively attacking’ units to safety behind vehicles, walls, or by ducking behind cover, and make.  It is often here where battles are won and loss – and as a result it is the part of the game that kept drawing me back to the game looking for that strategic fill that it provided.

It is incredibly refreshing of the Warhammer 40K games to often not put the player is this role as the messiah, the one guy or squad that in the actions it takes through the course of the game, turns the tide of the war or in the most ridiculous of cases, wins the war themselves.  I love the fact that you know that despite your best efforts the war will wage on and that the Space Marines are still the last bastion of human hope and survival in a war whereby the odds of victory seem almost insurmountable.  In the end you’re just a very small part waging a battle that may or may not have an impact on the overall war.  And any chance to be involved in a playable incarnation of the incredibly interesting and fleshed out universe of Warhammer 40K is something I certainly can’t turn down.