Radio Commander Review15 Oct 2019 0
Radio Commander Review
Released 10 Oct 2019
I’ve been playing a lot of Rising Storm: Vietnam recently, running around Saigon, narrowly avoiding grenades, trigger happy enemies and a whole load of friendly fire. It does a fantastic job at painting the horrors of war, especially with the artillery and napalm strikes. Hearing that danger close warning as your own commander has just called in a strike at your position chills the blood. Why would they? Well, after playing Radio Commander I'm beginning to understand why.
Radio Commander puts you in the shoes of ‘Papa Bear’, the radio commander to Alpha and Bravo company. However, unlike any other RTS I’ve heard of, you don’t get to see the conflict. You’re miles away from the frontlines in a well detailed tent with your radio and map. Everything to do with the battle, you have to find out by radioing your troops. You then have to put that information (unit positions, what enemies, neutrals, etc) on the map yourself. It opens itself up to the very real possibility of miscommunication and as you get the option to bombing run or artillery strike locations, you have to be certain your troops aren’t in the area.
The main mechanic, the radio, is handled as simple dialogue trees. You open the radio with spacebar, press the number of the unit you want to issue orders to or get reports from. Select reports or orders with 1 or 2, and issue the specific command from there. It’s streamlined which makes it easy to get commands out quickly. The only issue is accidentally pressing the wrong button as the only way to change is to then click on the option you actually wanted.
As you issue orders, your character holds up the radio and speaks the command which mostly feels human except for location tags. As units move around the map they will offer up little bits of dialogue with ‘Papa Bear’ about their sweethearts back home or how they’ve always gotta save C company and this all feels great at building that sense that these are real people. Then your helicopter pilot informs you that “Green One moving back to… the base. Out.” or an infantry squad confirms that “Alpha Platoon moving to… niner...5...6...by...2...5...6” in an incredibly disjointed tone. It’s not enough to break the feeling of the dialogue but it does put some tension on the realism created by the rest of the game.
Units will call out over the radio when they spot movement, enemy or otherwise. You may have two platoons moving near each other to which one will call over the radio that they see movement with an estimate of how many there are. The other platoon usually clarifies that it might have been them but as the radio commander, you have to be careful. The vietcong have a habit of popping up out of nowhere. When they do, and contact is confirmed, you can click the radio message transcript and it will ping the coordinates they were last seen at. You then have to place enemy markers on the map to keep track of who is where. As combat continues, your units will call out important information such as wounded, enemy position, ammo supplies, morale, and, in dire cases, if they need evac.
Tracking all of the different units involved, radioing for updates on their positions and status, trying not to bomb your own soldiers, and keeping as many people alive as possible makes for a surprisingly tense time. It’s like sitting on the other end of a phone as someone navigates the bad part of town. Update! Position! Status!
The campaign starts in 1965 with a mission aptly named 'Hearts and Minds' and while the story is fairly rigid, the after mission reports give you feedback on what your choices meant for the soldiers and civilians involved. For example, choosing a dialogue option that said I was suspicious of the villagers meant they got deported and their village got burned. Hoorah?
There are a tonne of options to up or lower the realism/difficulty as well. For those looking for a truly gritty, realistic radio commander experience there are options to have units get their coordinates wrong, have radio malfunctions, troops getting lost, wounded can die (which feels strange to not have on by default), harder fights, and realistic ammo/fuel. And for those who like the idea of Radio Commander but find the micromanaging a bit fiddly, you can have the unit positions auto-update, have constant map hints, simpler fights, and unlimited ammo and fuel (which is a godsend for medevac).
Story wise, Radio Commander strikes a good balance between “why are we here?” and people just trying to do their jobs. Without wishing to spoil anything, the pre-mission cutscenes, the dialogue between soldiers and ‘Papa Bear’, and the after mission reports make for an interesting role-playing experience as you get the opportunity to decide which way you lean.
Oh, and they have done an amazing job at catching that ‘look back at the war’ vibe as radio clips and music of the era plays in the background between missions and on the menus. In fact, the immersion is fantastic throughout as even during missions, when you aren’t looking at your map you can see soldiers moving around in the base. Running to report for duty or just kicking back on the supply crates and have a smoke. Aircraft flies loudly overhead and when soldiers on the frontline are in combat, you can hear the shooting in the background of their calls. In many ways, I’d say Radio Commander is one of the most immersive games I’ve played this year.
Radio Commander tries to do something unique and interesting and while it might not be everyone’s cup of tea, they’ve put in all the right things to help ease you in. If you’ve got an interest in the Vietnam war and want to see it from a different perspective, then this is definitely one to try.