Developer: Eugen Systems
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Rating: 16 (PEGI) / T (ESRB)
Eugen Systems are a bit of a favorite of mine, being developers of strategy games. More often than not these strategy games are ones with a difference, further increasing my interest. I’ve followed them ever since I picked up Act of War on a whim back when high-street retailers actually stocked PC games and now, eight years and five games later, I’m playing the second in the Wargame franchise. Does this make me sound biased? Probably. Still, here’s what I think.
At times Wargame: Airland Battle feels a little too much like an expansion than an actual sequel or another full game in the franchise. This is primarily due to the campaign which is a large misstep on Eugen’s part. Thankfully this initial impression isn’t completely correct. Airland Battle is Eugens tried and true method of adding a few new things in and polishing everything to a near shine.
If you’ve ever played Wargame: European Escalation then you’ll know how this works. Wargame gives you an outstanding variety of detail for each and every unit and all of them have an impact on the battle, making it essential that you pay attention to them and use your judgement. Unlike a large number of strategy games it isn’t possible to simply overwhelm enemies through sheer numbers alone. Positioning, tactics and the simple composition of your army is essential to victory. Even if you’re not up to scratch with your military tactics and you don’t know the finer details of one Main Battle Tank to the next, the details given allow you to make an informed decision.
Of course It’s not as simple as choosing the right mixture of units for destroying the enemy. Your group of T-80 tanks may be overwhelming at first but eventually they will run out of ammo and they guzzle fuel like mad. Heavy tanks aren’t exactly the most fuel efficient of vehicles, weighing over forty tonnes does require a bit of an engine to push you along. You need to be prepared to keep your supply lines open and keep your supply trucks, or choppers, moving from your Forward Operating Base to your frontline troops. But don’t forget that you’ll need to be smart exactly where you move your units, a forty tonne tank can get stuck in mud can still get a bit stuck in wet mud.
To say that Wargame is one for the military enthusiasts is an understatement to say the least. There are over eight-hundred units to select from and while there is a base deck for each faction, the units available in your combat group is represented through what is in the deck selected, the only way you’re going to get a strong force is through creating your own deck. You’ll probably find yourself spending considerably more time actually building your deck of units than the time taken using it as well due to the number of options. Then at the same time it’s very easy to find that you’ve spent up to and over half an hour building a deck that was rendered useless by a glaring weakness that you didn’t notice until you’d already lost a battle.
Where Airland Battle really gives itself a unique point is the inclusion of jets. Unlike the rest of your units, your jets aren’t featured on the field of battle until you actually send them in. They will then circle the battlefield until ordered to retreat or until their fuel levels dictate they retreat. Once off of the field of battle they are unusable until a timer has finished counting down. Honestly, I would have preferred the planes be placed in an airfield on the field of battle, giving them a bit more of a fragility to them. If you remove the enemies anti-air forces then it’s effectively game over, whereas if they can push or sneak through to the airfield even after losing their anti-air forces then it doesn’t make it an inevitability.
These new units have opened up another corridor of movement and combat that European Escalation was lacking, the air. Sure, there were choppers before but they are slower than a fighter jet and have less impact than a bomber. This means that tactical positioning and movement is even more key than before, especially the placement of anti-air and infantry units. Wargame aids with this by having a huge variety of terrain, from the forests to cover your units and hide them to the coastal grassland that can bog you down with soft mud and of course the roads that criss-cross the landscape. This links with the very rich line of sight and radar methods of knowing the field of battle but even those can be used against you. Radar can be locked on to and line of sight is a fickle thing when a group of tanks are hiding behind a nearby warehouse or forest.
All of the details, as well as the complications that come with trying to find that perfect balance, make multiplayer such an interesting experience. Everybody has to deal with the same situation and it really does move down into the requirements of technical maneuvers and, most important of all, patience. Offensive moves are going to fail the vast majority of times unless you out maneuver your enemy as you are very easy to pick off by waiting opponents while slowly trundling towards them. This means that teamwork is especially useful if you actually talk to your teammates when playing online.
This is what Wargame is all about, online. To really illustrate this a new multiplayer mode has come, a ten vs ten game which ends up being quite chaotic to say the least. Where it really improves is when you work with people and communicate, it really makes it interesting and gives you a strong chance of winning. This is one of the few games where attacking from multiple sides even with two weaker forces can change a battle due to everything from front or side armour on the vehicles actually mattering.
Another way where multiplayer really increases the interest is when you can communicate with people on your team. It makes it so you can arrange things you don’t have to worry about being a jack of all trades with your deck. Up to now I’ve created six decks, three for each side. One is just a general deck where it tries to be functional all around. Another is a support deck, artillery and anti-air. The last is a heavy strike force for the frontline, focusing on heavy tanks and infantry.
I’ve mentioned already that the single player is where Eugen have slipped up and I stand by that. There are four campaign stages that follow the conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in the Scandanavia countries during World War 3. The sad thing here is that they actually start so promising and it was theirs to ruin.
Where it shines is the grander scale offered. Instead of the campaign being a sequence of set battles your battle groups are persistant enteties on a larger scale and you how and where they will fight. Your kills and deaths last, victories raise both morale and public support which enables you to bring in more groups or use more support. The support can be defensive, like blocking enemy scouting manouvers, or offensive, like using a tactical nuke. What you have at your disposal is determined by choices you make during events. Do you allow your paratrooper brigade to be sent to Korea or not? If not you may find that NATO have lost Korea and soom the Pact has more troops in Scandanavia.
As good as the positives are, the negatives while fewer are considerably overwhelming. Well, there is only one real negative and that is that the battles in the campaign are limited to twenty minutes. Twenty minutes and you have to win by gathering a number of points, no matter if you’re defending or attacking. Even if you’re winning on points when the limit is reached it still results in a draw, which damages your morale and political support.
Airland Battle like other Eugen games is polished to an excellent level. The maps, buildings, vehicles and infantry are all finely detailed, very realistic and not too flashy. At the same time the lighting, explosions and effects of the war on the land are very believable and again non too flashy. War isn’t glorified here like many other try to and it’s all the better for it.
Eugens detailed and realistic approach to strategy is always a breath of fresh air and Wargame: Airland Battle is no different. It requires planning, thinking and hard work. No amount of rushing will win you a battle and it’s impossible to not get enthralled in a twenty-person war with more armour than Pattons wet dreams.