In a year that PC gamers will be treated to several high quality RTS games, Wargame: AirLand battle looks to make its mark and improve on last year’s release Wargame: European Escalation.
There are 828 units to play with from a host of countries on each side of the NATO and PACT forces, a range of new jets and a new interactive campaign to give a taste of what Airland Battle has in store. It’s a game that makes me smile, watching your Tornado eliminate a hostile helicopter or planning a successful ambush in a town is extremely satisfying. However that mood can change very quickly to frustration when you find out there was a SAM site hidden in the woods and your once beloved Tornado is now hurtling towards the ground. That’s very much the nature of AirLand Battle, it’s brutal, but once that brutality is pushed through, there’s a highly rewarding game to be found.
The game’s campaign takes us to Scandinavia where PACT and NATO forces are battling it out for control of countries such as Norway and Finland. Upon starting a campaign mission, players will come across the war map. Those who have played games such as Shogun will be familiar with this. Different battle groups will be at the ready and assistance can be found from air strikes and recon too. Correct deployment and use of tools at your disposable is just as important as the battles themselves. However it’s all very limiting.
All in all, there are four campaigns which can last 1-2 hours but each campaign is pretty much the same thing; either hold here or re-take there. Snippets of information are provided throughout the game, telling the player what is happening around the world. These were interesting but made me wish I wasn’t just restricted to Scandinavia. There’s plenty of potential in the campaign for something much bigger and much more enthralling.
There’s something slightly tragic about Wargame: AirLand Battle. It’s the tragedy that this game sounds and looks fantastic but a vast majority of the time playing is spent zoomed out on the battlefield. All units except the infantry are very detailed and true to their original designs. The only fault I managed to find was with the infantry. Their design is poor, and on close inspection they remind me of something from a 90’s video game. Still, the way the game looks plays a large part in making Wargame as exciting as it is. Watching jets dog fight or artillery flatten buildings is a morbid joy to watch. Against the carnage, the back-drop is just as beautiful, and you’ll find yourself getting distracted following tanks around due to the overall design being so sublime.
Despite everything, the main part of a RTS is the gameplay and without strong gameplay any RTS would be dead in the water. With the game focused around two factions; NATO and PACT, the basic principles are simple. With NATO, the caliber of unit will be better but at a higher cost. On the other hand, PACT will be cheaper but the caliber of the unit will be lower (Quality vs Quantity).
It works as a fair fight for the most part, PACT is more suited for those who wish to having a high volume of attacking force throughout the battle and NATO for those who want to building up a strong force over a duration and strike hard nearer the end.
With Airland Battle, the system of command points and areas returns. Units are bought with command points and points are gained by holding a command area with, you guessed it, a command vehicle. It’s more progressive than a resource system like Starcraft’s as the more ground you gain, the more command areas you can hold. It cuts off the hassle of having to source resources and creating a distraction from the main battle.
Still, if there’s one word to describe the gameplay; unforgiving. This especially applies in the multiplayer section of the game, which, in turn, is more exciting than the singleplayer. While the AI isn’t bad, it acts strangely at times and seems to apply the tactic of buying as many units as possible and having the main tactic of just throwing those units at you. Even on the harder difficulties I couldn’t find any satisfaction in beating the AI. This is reinforced once multiplayer is tried.
Multiplayer, of course, is the spine of the game. It’s an endurance race where there are no quick wins or shortcuts. It’s all about having a plan A, B and C because no one plan will be a solution to every scenario within multiplayer. The brutality of the game really shines here. Players are much more punishing than an AI; at times, too punishing. The 10v10 battles bring a whole new level of chaos to the game, good and bad.
There are the moments when the bad chaos seeps through and this can put quite a downer on the entire experience. It’s the age-old problem of players leaving, leaving you two armies to control. As i’m sure you can imagine, this is a horrible hassle.
The game doesn’t punish players for leaving either. Their exit just counts as a loss. A feature to discourage players from leaving multiplayer games when they feel like should be mandatory at this stage of game development. Multiple battles will be taking place all over the map and the scale of it, if your machine can run it, is quite exciting. The whole multiplayer experience is adrenaline pumping; providing a tense and fulfilling experience than all multiplayer games should long for.
Wargame: Airland Battle is very much an improvement on European Esclation. It takes the parts that the original excelled at and improves on them, while adding new content that makes the overall experience sounder and more polished.
For a multiplayer RTS game, it’s very hard to go wrong with Wargame. However, those looking for a singleplayer experience might be better off looking elsewhere. This game is ferocious, prudent and enthralling and can certainly makes it’s claim of being one of the best RTS games of 2013.