Radio Commander's commitment to a visual-free military strategy game is an interesting concept, but the execution leaves a fair bit to be desired.
Strategy games have always had a strange relationship with the idea of an omniscient player. Smaller scale titles like Age of Empires or Command & Conquer include fog of war to add a layer of mystery to enemy movements, while grander 4X games like Stellaris provide users with an even greater state of visibility. A game that takes strides to limit this is Radio Commander.
For its core concept Radio Commander attempts to put a more realistic bent on strategy. The name says it all; in Radio Commander, the player commands units using purely a map and a radio. Set during the Vietnam War, the game tries to tap into a feeling of the unknown, as the player makes decisions based on the intelligence they have been given.
At the very least this leads to Radio Commander feeling quite different from similar games in the strategy market. Rather than scrolling around a map and making tactical decisions based on a clear visual indication of the best course of action, instead the player is reliant on the rigid locations on their mission map and the updates given by the different units they control.
This could come across as something of a gimmick, but developer Serious Sim dedicates to pushing this idea as far as it can go. As such, Radio Commander's control scheme is rather unique. Instead of the usual tactics fare, the player uses keys to navigate the use of the radio and map, before choosing from different scripted options to order troops around.
It's a neat idea and one that separates Radio Commander from other independent strategy games like the excellent Frostpunk. However, it does take a fair bit of getting used to, with the user needing to beef up that muscle memory for the quick route through different combinations. Some players may never quite feel natural with the control scheme, although with more and more practice it becomes less alien.
Such a rigidity from a control and systems perspective leads to the requirement to take a different approach. Without oversight of what is ahead it pays to be more cautious, working with the cues that are given as part of radio responses from the soldiers on the ground. There's no such thing as rushing to victory with greater numbers here, so being careful and getting into the mindset that Radio Commander requires is definitely needed.
It only goes so far before the limits become apparent. Radio Commander isn't the most visually impressive game, and thanks to its structure and mechanics that doesn't really matter. However, when there's not enough variety within the gameplay it can get a little bit dull when swapping between a handful of mainly static screens.
Radio Commander does not have enough variety to keep players fully engaged. Its core campaign is nine missions long, but none of them quite feel different enough, although the custom game mode thankfully does allow a little more flexibility. It also works as a place to test out different strategies outside of the campaign, if the user wants to run a few trials.
Despite this, Radio Commander does suffer from feeling too samey a lot of the time. The scope of each mission doesn't really deviate enough to tax the player, beyond them gaining a better understanding of the radio options available. Even the mild story elements of the campaign don't do much to shake up the feeling of repetition.
In part this comes down to the issue of unit management within each mission. For a game like Radio Commander, which limits player view to such a degree, to be truly successful it needs a level of intuition within each unit's actions. However, instead players will need to manage even the simplest of tasks, which takes away not only from enjoyment of the game but also what immersion had been built by its controls and setting.
This problem, when combined with the restrictive control scheme, does mean that Radio Commander is an example of execution not matching the idea. Despite its strong conceit, this does not translate into a final product that players will want to spend a long time with. Radio Commander is a solid novelty, but it's unlikely to be a truly memorable experience for those who pick it up.
Radio Commander is available on PC. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.