Battalion Commander is a vertical shoot 'em up from SMARTPHONE LABS LLC. The game casts the player as the eponymous battalion commander in a cartoony battle to charge your battalion north towards the enemy line. Along the way, you level up, unlock new weapons, perks, allies, and even vehicles. Armed with a number of flamethrowers, shotguns, and grenades, the player must lead the charge through a frozen wasteland and directly into the enemy ranks. So how does the game measure up to classic shoot 'em ups?
Battalion Commander is available on Playstation Network for $5.49 on PS4
What story? The game lacks any story, what-so-ever. Promotional materials indicate that you are fighting for the motherland against enemies from the north, but what motherland and where is not specified. As far as I know, I'm mowing down hundred of soldiers because they have chosen those bold black and red uniforms. The enemy factions design, however, is fairly generic. The enemies sport HYDRAesque squids and ominous skulls, and their equipment exclusively comes in red, black and gunmetal gray. Unlike some of the classic arcade games Battalion Commander imitates, we don't even get a brief cutscene or some script to explain our cause.
At the beginning of each campaign, the player automatically starts moving north. Though you have control over where on the screen you move, the screen scrolls at a predetermined pace. The character also continues to fire automatically in intervals. In true shoot 'em up fashion, this means the player's principle task is to collect power-ups and position yourself carefully on the screen.
As you progress, you are faced with enemies, crates, explosives, and various vehicles. On the left side of the screen, there is also a progress meter that shows how many meters you have traveled, as well as your personal best. You can also stumble upon caged soldiers, who act as the game's power-ups. After each game, you are rewarded with experience points and coins based on your progress and what you have collected during the game.
These experience points increase your character's level. Each level is represented by a rank, such as private or colonel. In addition, each rank comes with a new set of three power-ups; a weapon for your commander, new soldier classes, and a special ability. These power-ups can be purchased with gold coins found on the battlefield. In addition, perks can be unlocked. Four perks can be equipped at any time, with varying effects on your unit. These perks range from giving allies the ability to throw grenades to increased speed or armor. Particularly interesting is a perk that allows your characters to begin the game in a vehicle. This greatly changes the initial game and gives you a speed boost through the early game. Leveling up also increases the maximum amount of soldiers you can have during the game.
There is some variety in the weapons as well. You begin the game with a simple set of double pistols for your commander. As you level up, you unlock such diverse weapons as shotguns, assault rifles, and machine guns. Though there is some variety in how these weapons handle, I didn't find a huge incentive to use anything but the latest unlock. Your soldiers become upgraded as well. Initially, you only can rescue riflemen, who fire a single bullet sporadically. However, as you level up, you unlock new classes such as grenadiers, marksmen, and rocketeers. In addition, you can unlock upgrades for these classes, such as giving your grenadiers flamethrowers. These are nice details that make subsequent campaigns more fun, but since the soldiers you recruit are random and the upgrades cannot be unequipped, they don't affect the game's overall strategy much.
Soldiers get added to your team as you find them. This gives a nice twist to the regular task of collecting power-ups because each soldier has his own life bar and place in the formation. Instead of their abilities running out of time, they are subject to the same threats and damage that you are. This means that if you position yourself in a poor spot, you can lose specific team members. In addition, the formation is flexible, which allows your team to squeeze up against walls to avoid aerial bombardments or enemy attacks.
The game also gives you three missions to complete. These missions range from killing certain enemies to making it a certain distance north. Once completed, these missions give you experience points and coins. New missions are unlocked randomly whenever a mission is completed.
Another feature is special abilities. There are four to unlock in total. They give you some powerful abilities that can be activated after a cooldown. The initial ability allows you to slow down time. Later abilities include a napalm attack and a bomb strike. These abilities are varied enough to make them all useful in different situations. For example, the napalm attack causes each soldier to fire a destructive napalm wave at the enemy, allowing the player to wipe out a small column of enemies, whereas the air strike drops a bunch of bombs straight down the center of the screen, killing soldiers but having little effect on towers and emplacements.
The game really shines when it comes to enemy variety. Besides the basic riflemen enemies, you face enemy version of nearly every soldier you can recruit and then some; grenadiers, flamethrower troops, suicide bombers, marksmen, and even heavily armed machine gunners. In addition, you run into bunkers, towers, and vehicles. Each function differently and gives a good variety to the game. For example, one building spawns five enemies that run directly south, whereas tanks fire explosive shells that leave burning craters. Another threat is hidden turrets. They are disguised and pop up when the player enters their radius, firing either fire or missiles, and killing anyone who runs into them. The sheer variety gives each playthrough a different feel and forces the player to adapt based on whatever randomly spawns.
The campaign ends when you reach 1500 meters and face off against the boss. There is only a single boss and subsequent playthroughs will have the player traveling along the exact same path. Besides the campaign mode, there is an endless mode that allows the player to take as many laps as they want. This is likely to appeal to classic arcade game fans, who will no doubt find some entertainment in competing in the game's online leaderboards.
The game uses a simple cartoon style. Though it's simplistic, everything is clear. I always understood what I was looking at. The soldiers' classes are indicated by the type of helmet they wear; for example, the riflemen wear bandoleers of bullets, whereas the marksmen use a ghillie suit helmet, branches and all. The enemies, similarly, are easy to recognize, giving the player a chance to plan as they come at them. The vehicles and buildings all are clear and straightforward. The menus are alright but relatively uninventive.
Soundwise, the game is nothing impressive. There is only a handful of musical tracks. The single track used during each run is particularly repetitive. The sound effects are alright, but nothing stands out.
The single level is uninspired and repetitious. The player begins in a snowy landscape, populated by snowmen and barren trees. Then, they move to a tundra environment with random piles of snow and yellow, dead grass. Then the player moves into a green, grassy pasture. After that, the level goes back to tundra, and then again to frosty, wasteland. Though the game seems to be imitating an Eastern European climate, I feel the presentation was bland and lacking.
Battalion commander is a modern take on the classic, quarter munching arcade shoot 'em ups. Though the game does little to innovate the genre, it plays the conventions effectively. The real draw here is a large amount of unlocks, which can incentivize the player to come back over and over. However, the game's lack of levels leaves something to be desired. I can't help but feel that the game could use another level or two.
The game integrates well into PSN, offering a few trophies. This may be an incentive for trophy hunters looking for a quick game to score some awards. As mentioned above, there is also online leaderboards for competitive players, but they only track laps and total score.
Consider the game's low price point, at only $5.49, the number of unlockables is actually pretty admirable. However, I feel that only having one level gives the player little incentive to experiment too much. This is unfortunate, as the enemy variety and simple cartoon art style would lend itself well to a multi-level campaign. All in all, the game is ambitious but ultimately forgettable.
|+ Clean Art Style||– Repetitive|
|+ Lots of Unlockables||– Only One Level and One Boss|
|+ Online Leaderboards||– Bland Level Design|