Radio Commander Review

Screenshot from Radio Commander
In Radio Commander you're responsible for determining where the enemy and even your own troops are at: the game doesn't volunteer this information

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Serious Sim
  • Publisher: Games Operators, PlayWay S.A.
  • Release Date: 10 Oct 2019
  • Time played: 10.6 hours

What is it

Founded in August 2018, Serious Sim is a small indie studio of four developers in Poland who claim to have a keen interest in historical games. By early 2019, they were close to completing Radio Commander, a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game that has you assume the role of a commander during the Vietnam War. Unlike your standard RTS though, the only way you can tell where your units are is by the coordinates they give you on the radio. You can then place tokens on an in-game map to represent the last known position of your units as well as any enemies your troops manage to identify. The game has nine missions you can complete in the campaign mode as well as the ability to use your voice recognition to give the commands. The game also comes included with a level editor so you can create your own custom missions to share on the Steam Workshop.

One of the game's publishers, PlayWay S.A. (the other is Games Operators) went to Kickstarter in March 2019 to raise extra funds to complete the game's development. The campaign was successful in raising CA$ 28,657 from 1,348 backers (including yours truly).

Radio Commander has a "Very Positive" rating on Steam based off 82% of the 617 user reviews being positive. It's a different story on Metacritic however, as the game currently holds a Metascore of 65 based off 6 critic reviews.

How I got it

I originally backed this game on Kickstarter because the game had an interesting premise: a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game where all intelligence on troop movements (friend or foe) are based off radio reports. It seemed like a really original concept and one that deserved to see the light of day. I didn't have to wait long before the final product was released a few months after the Kickstarter campaign.

Anti-War Protesters in a Radio Commander cutscene
The in-game cutscenes not only cover what was happening in Vietnam, but back in the United States too.

What I like:

Plot covers many aspects of the Vietnam War

Just prior to playing Radio Commander, I had finished watching the excellent documentary series "The Vietnam War" by Ken Burns. The documentary is quite comprehensive and not only covers major campaigns (e.g. the Tet Offensive) and atrocities (the My Lai Massacre) but also things happening back in the United States, such as the Anti-War Protest movement. While the game only briefly touches these aspects of the war through cutscenes and the game proper, I was happy to see that the developers didn't shy away from exposing the Vietnam War for what it truly was, warts and all.

Uncomfortable decisions

You'll come across many ethical dilemmas as you play this game and they will actually affect the outcome of some of your missions. Do you choose to bond with your troops and act laid back about their misdemeanours or do you act like a professional and reprimand them whenever they are out of line? Some decisions you make are particularly confronting such as missions where your troops are dropped into "free fire zones" and your platoon leaders are asking for permission to shoot fleeing Vietnamese civilians, claiming that they're actually spies for the NVA.

Less is more

I love games that play around with novel concepts, especially ones that adopt the "less is more" mantra: Radio Commander is one such game. As already mentioned, Radio Commander is an RTS but it's one where you don't have the benefit of seeing where friendly or enemy troops are. All troop movements in the game are provided to you over the radio and only when you ask for it from your forces. Not only does this help with immersion (since you're the one placing the markers on the map and making the calls) but it also means that the game is fairly easy to pick up, provided you know how to read maps.

Steam Achievements, Trading Cards and Workshop

The game has 49 Steam Achievements you can work towards and 7 Steam Trading Cards to collect. The game also has a level editor if you have the appetite for creating your own missions (although I haven't tried using it and from one account, it's apparently pretty unstable and cumbersome to use).

Map, radio and base in the background in computer game Radio Commander
One of things I was most looking forward to in this game was using voice to issue out orders.

What I dislike:

Voice Recognition didn't work for me

I've seen some videos of where this is working so it obviously works for some but despite trying to spend a couple of hours troubleshooting the issue by reading various posts online, I could never get the microphone to work with this game. The microphone works fine for applications such as Discord or in-game VOIP such as Battlefield V, but somehow, I couldn't manage to get it to work with Radio Commander, which is a pity since it would've been another neat thing to help immerse the player into the game.

Some bugs

I did encounter bugs during the missions a couple of times and one time, despite wanting to restart the mission, the game prevented me from doing so and would freeze up. Thankfully, the development team are quite receptive to requests for help and I received a response within a matter of hours on the Steam discussion forums (in this case, pressing the "Delete" key causes the save game for the mission to be deleted).

Lack of meaningful information at times

There have been a couple of times where I've ordered units to move to certain locations but they would just give a generic response along the lines of "Can't do that right now, sir". Consequently, I would just try again later but soon discovered after multiple attempts that it was in fact impossible to move them due to pending revelations in the story (e.g. unit wanting to stay put and defend a position, helicopter unable to land due to too many nearby enemies, etc.). In these instances it would've been better if the units actually communicated words to that effect instead of a generic response that makes the player think the units are temporarily unresponsive.

Score – 7/10 (Not Bad)

The developers of Radio Commander should be commended for trying something new in the RTS genre by actually employing a "less is more" approach: making the player blind to what is happening on the battlefield and totally dependent on reports from your troops helps immerse you into the hellhole that was the Vietnam War.

It's just a pity the game is lacking a bit of polish: voice recognition may or may not work for you (it didn't in my case), there were still some bugs when I last played the game and you're sometimes provided with misleading cues.

Is the game worth $28.95 AUD?: Yes, because for that price you get an engaging 10 hour campaign, a skirmish mode and there's always the ability to create your own missions if you get bored of the campaign or skirmish mode.

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[ LINK: Radio Commander Website ]