Developed by Serious Sim, and published by Games Operators, PlayWay S.A. this is an "innovative" approach to the RTS. Without the omnipotent maps showing enemy units, Radio Commander makes the player rely on radio reports and giving orders in the same way. Interpreting the lay of the land at arms length, rather than the now more common real time mapping.
That said, it's not a completely new idea, plenty of games use the "fog of war" approach, showing only enemy units that can be seen by your own players, but that's still an immediate effect, allowing response as quickly as the player can click the mouse button.
The game is set during the Vietnam war, so there's American voice acting, with some banter included in the radio chatter. The UI is nicely done, which is not surprising, as the development could be focused on the feel of the game rather than a real time 3D engine. There are nice period touches, map colours, jargon, and obviously storyline.
At first glance there's a lot of UI to deal with, map, radio, transcript of radio chatter, HQ orders (nicely portrayed as teletype paper) and tutorial window in the intro mission, but once you get the basic idea it's reasonably intuitive. Almost everything can be done with the mouse, but there are shortcuts which can be employed to deploy the radio commands, which boil down to selecting the unit to contact, whether to request info or deliver orders, and then which orders and what info you want to get.
The responses are inevitably sampled dialogue stitched together to form coherent responses, which could get old, but the military nature does fit with this, so it doesn't sound too out of place. I think over time I might get a bit tired of "This is Papa Bear, what is your position? Over." but I guess I'll just have to live with that. This does get a little weird after a while, especially when people are under fire and screaming, which then segues into calm recitation of coordinates, so it does fall down a little in the execution.
It swiftly becomes clear that you have to regularly ping your units for their position or you will quickly lose track of where they are and what they're doing. It's a nice taste of the responsibility and requirements of command, to pay attention and keep track of things manually. You can add and remove tokens from the map, and move them around, but it's you moving them, and the game couldn't give a damn where you move them to, and if you move them to the wrong place then that's on you, not the game. It gets very dangerous too when you are navigating a unit towards another when they report each other as contacts. Be extremely careful when directing air support or artillery not to fire on a location where your troops may be. A mistake I made all too dreadfully at a critical point.
The intro mission involved a simple "hearts and minds" chatting with the locals, and then investigating a Viet Cong camp. Along the way you're given the option of supporting the initial squad with additional troops. This decision can be critical in how things pan out, and again, gives a branching flow to the game.
I have to admit, this hasn't been my choice of games in the past, although I dipped into Orwell recently, and am intrigued by the concept. It's a large remove from rapid clicking FPSs and real time map based strategy games, focusing on the narrative and information processing and comprehension. Of course it's rather difficult to simulate that in a completely sandbox way without ending up with funnels that force you to either go down a specific road or just lose/die but it's a very enthralling approach to gaming. It's impressive to find a game that gets a good balance between narrative/storyline and the central mechanic.
The menu screens have a hint of Jimi Hendrix squeals, and I guess that hunting down copyright to include period music would have been expensive and time consuming for the developers, but I'm sure running an MP3 player in the background might be doable to get the right feel. Load it up with some Hendrix and the Doors and you can get all Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now on Charlie's Ass.
For each communication, there is a maximum of four levels of UI to go through; select the unit to contact, whether it's a report request or an order, the requirement, and then any detail. I got used to the mouse as at no point did I think that using the number pad (each option is numbered) would have been faster. In between events, you can speed up time with a simple fast forward icon, and the game automatically slows when something happens, meaning you won't be left speeding past the point at which you needed to respond. It gets a little frustrating though with some of the options, for instance, you can't ask "all units report status", you have to request position, status etc unit by unit. Even then you might need to make several requests of the same unit to know where they are, what enemy units are around and where, and whether they're knackered and/or out of ammunition and so on. The difficulty settings do allow you some leeway to remove limited ammunition, remove the fatigue problem (asking your guys to double time it through some swampy Vietnam jungle tires them out).
The communications do go further than the basics, with some personal reflections, banter, and sometimes outright "what are we doing this shit for again" queries from the grunts on the ground. This does give you the benefit of getting to know the characters in the game, the soldiers in charge of the units, their foibles, lovers back home and so on. It gives you a personal stake in the game, which is pretty hard to do. These also extend to flashbacks to letters being written to and from soldiers, only increasing the personal feeling and investment you're encouraged to make in the game.
Radio Commander (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
I think this is a game that for those liking the overall concept and ideas will be very enjoyable. For anyone not interested in mentally keeping track of things and simply moving counters around on a map, not so much.