Monday, 17 June 2013

Review: Wargame Airland Battle (Steam PC)

The cold war is a fascinating period of world history.  It has been the inspiration for countless spy novels, James Bond movies and endless debates over "what if" scenarios if both the Warsaw Pact and NATO forces should ever engage in warfare.  The truth is that we would be living in a more radioactive 2013 without the iPhone so it wouldn't be all bad.

Regardless of the nuclear truth Wargame Airland Battle allows players to engage in world war on 3 on a truly epic scale.  There is no story mode to play here, simply a dynamic campaign of varying difficulty levels.  The mechanics of this system are fun if not a little difficult at times, with objectives generally being to score a number of points to win.  The campaign map looks like a 80's movie style computer graphic complete with blue colours for NATO and red for PACT forces.

The level of detail is impressive to say the least
The player takes it in turns to attack territories and engaging in combat with enemy forces present in those sectors.  During these planning phases you can launch preemptive strikes such as bombing runs, tactical strikes and even nukes should you be desperate enough to need them.  The battles themselves are fought between combat groups that are of varying setups.  Motorised brigades will bring numerous tracked vehicles to the battle but lack any real air support.  Armoured brigades bring plenty of heavy weapons but lack the necessary speed to capture territory necessary for victory.

The only real downside of these campaigns are the strict time limit and rules that govern them.  Unless you achieve the score for the level within the time limit the battle will be considered a draw, even if you have had the upper hand the entire battle.  Worse still is that you will have to fight again but now with a depleted force, unless you have a different fully rested unit to attack with instead.  You will still need to achieve the same objectives though and the map is reset to it's starting position.

There is the option for mass skirmish battles against the AI if you prefer to just jump in test your skills.  The AI do a pretty good job overall and can be set to a few difficulties to give further challenge.  For those not into the multiplayer meta, this mode is pretty good and allows for large scale battles without the worry of annoying another player through your relative noobishness.

Dynamic campaigns are fun but can be very tough
Still the dynamic campaigns and skirmish battles are merely a warm up for the main event, multiplayer.  Multiplayer is really what wargame is designed for and it shows.  There is a massive and this isn't hyperbole here, massive number of units available in game.  Somewhere over 800 individual units are playable in the game, split between both NATO and PACT forces and this means choice and plenty of it.  Of course you don't actually have all of these units to choose from during a match since the deployment screen would obscure your view of the action.

Players build decks of units for use in multiplayer and with the huge number of units available you can imagine the kind of depth this has.  Decks can have nation specific bonuses along with unit specific ones to make for an even deeper level of customisation.  Of course you can make a deck made up of multinational forces maybe featuring British infantry, French armour, Canadian air forces and Swedish artillery if you wish.  The choices you make have to be carefully made as certain units may be more effective in combat but require way more fuel to continue the attack.  Other units may be fast and have a much greater range but lack the armour or weapons to effectively combat heavier units.

The new jets add another level of tactical depth and are cool
This kind of setup makes for near unlimited mix of brigades for very different types of play style.  The biggest addition in Airland battle is that of jets.  Now you can deploy a wide variety of jets to the field to give you even more tactical choices.  Unlike helo's though, jets only remain on the field for a very brief time before requiring a rearm and refuel session, along with repairs if needed.  The use of such precious assets can quickly turn a battle around as the ability to suddenly napalm a forest, strafe a tank column or strike enemy air assets means both sides need to be prepared.  Preparedness comes in the form of AA units which now have an even larger emphasis than before.  Ground units will need some form of AA cover to ensure your attack force reaches it's destination unmolested.

10 vs 10 multiplayer is awesome and basically takes the gameplay of World in conflict and turns it up to 11 as hundreds of units swarm across the map, capturing territory, launching artillery, duelling at range or sneaking around to make flanking attacks.  It is possible to play more intimate, smaller matches but this is the main attraction for a RTS title of this size.  Communication is key for players who want a more coordinated battle and really Wargame is one for those gaming clans who enjoy the meta.  This isn't about spamming units, turtling across the map or base rushing, it's about tactics, coordination and a force deck built for the task at hand.

Graphically it looks stunning considering the amount that is going on in any single match.  Like RUSE before it the iriszoom technology works brilliantly here as you can quickly zoom from the grand commander view of the entire map, right down to a single tank as it rolls across the map firing it's cannon.  Unit detail is very accurate and it's nice to see so many nation specific vehicles in use here.  I would recommend a mid range PC to run this smoothly enough with decent visuals, but higher end systems should easily cope with it running everything at maximum.

Maps are huge and this view is essential to coordinating units
The sound is good for what it is.  There isn't really a wealth of dialogue here outside of the generic unit quotes when you select them, but at least units will speak their native language instead of being a stereotype English voiceover.  The remainder of the sound design is for all the whizz band shooting and explosions and yeah they are pretty good.

Overall Wargame Airland Battle is a deep tactical strategy title that rewards players for working together and building a synergistic force.  Maps are few and far between at the moment but considering the support shown by Eugen systems, this will likely be improved over time.  I wouldn't recommend it for the Company of heroes/Starcraft crowd who enjoy a more smaller scale conflict by comparison, but outside of that it's a fun game with plenty of replayability.  Skirmish mode is great, multiplayer is awesome and even the dynamic campaign can give you a real challenge.

SCORE: 8.2/10


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