The Bydo have been threatening humanity for decades now, and beating them back has always been a job for a lone pilot fighting overwhelming odds. So at long last, it's finally time to face an army of vicious space beasties with the proper tool for the job- an army of your very own. R-Type Command completely jettisons the side-scrolling shooter aspect of the series and switches to a hex-based, turn-based strategy format, and as weird as that sounds it's also instantly addictive. It may not be the deepest strategy game around, but it makes up for that by kicking the largest amount of ass.
The Bydo have pushed humanity back from the stars, and have even invaded the solar system and threatened Earth. After a short series of training missions, Earth's government decides that it's time for an inexperienced commander to do what so many of his battle-hardened peers have failed to do, and that's to take back the solar system and track down the Bydo wherever they're found. The commanders of Earth's forces are behind you all the way, and have every confidence that you can clear up this spot of bother and make it home in time for tea. Get to it now, there's a good lad!
It's far too easy to lose a couple of hours conquering the depths of Bydo-infested space, carefully drawing out the enemy a bit at a time so as not to get overwhelmed by their superior forces.
Orders are orders, so there's nothing for it but to drive back the enemy wherever it may appear. This tends to be on maps that bear a striking resemblance to classic R-Type levels, except now they're divided up by a hexagonal grid. The levels are nicely detailed, whether taking place in the depths of space, cramped caves, asteroid belts, and even underwater. While the map layout is visible at all times (with a bit of scrolling about), enemies are masked by the fog of war. After arraying your ships about the starting area it's time to go looking for trouble.
Ships come in a large variety of styles and armaments, with a host of specialties to set them apart. Spy ships have very little in the way of guns, but their radar lets them view a large chunk of the map. Standard fighters are about as average as average gets by themselves, but when they equip a Force they can become deadly. Bombers, unfortunately, can't equip Forces, but their high mobility and powerful weapons make them one of the most useful ships in the fleet. Their strongest attack has very limited ammo, though, so they need to be constantly shepherded by supply ships. Even with supply and repair ships scuttling about battle will take its toll on the fleet, and then it's time for a trip to the flagship for repair. Alternately one of the humanoid robot ships can liberate a handy space station, which doesn't have the flagship's ability to move but also doesn't cause an instant loss if taken out by the enemy.
Once the proper balance of ships is decided on it's time to knock the Bydo out of space, which is done in the usual manner of turn-based strategy games. The player gets a chance to move all his ships, being careful not to let the faster ones outpace the slower, and then it's the enemy's turn. The primary goal is usually to find and destroy the enemy's flagship, and once it's taken out the level is over no matter how many enemies are left on the battlefield. It's a rhythm that's easy to fall into, making the hours disappear in an alarming fashion. Personal experience has shown that playing R-Type Command while on break at work is a risky proposition at best.
While the battles flow by at a smooth pace, the going gets rockier in the War Room between levels. This is where you build ships and assign crew, but a clunky menu system makes leafing through the roster a chore. There are new units to weigh the pros and cons of added after almost every level, making for a long list to scroll down. Comparing one ship's movement range, armament effect, and special skills against another should be far easier than it is, especially when they're 7-8 units apart on the list. Swapping crew members around is just as awkward, and it's not simplified any by being unable to get rid of unused ships. It would have been nice to turn useless clutter into helpful resources, especially after building several Forces and then finding out how rare the substance to make new ones is.
With as addictive as the strategy part is, though, a little clunkiness in the front end is forgivable. The rhythm of the battles just feels right, once the disruptive 3D cut scene battle animations are turned off in the always-accessible Options menu. It's far too easy to lose a couple of hours conquering the depths of Bydo-infested space, carefully drawing out the enemy a bit at a time so as not to get overwhelmed by their superior forces. R-Type Command is an excellent chunk of addictive gaming set in a military sci-fi space opera, and an easy recommendation for anyone with the small amount of patience a good strategy game requires.