Release Date: May 29, 2013
Developer: Eugen Systems
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Category: Real-time tactics
There’s no question that the world of PC gaming has seen its fair share of tactical war games. I guess there’s just something so appealing about standing by in a nice air-conditioned control room and sending your disposable legions of lemming soldiers into sure-death situations. But of course, as with any real-live war itself, sometimes a tactical war game can offer a glimmer of hope for the future of the genre, while sometimes it’s simply better off not being spoken of again. I can’t say I was really expecting all that much from Wargame: AirLand Battle the first time I loaded the game up on my computer. After all, I mean really, how much more generic can you get in naming a game such as this? But the sequel to last year’s Wargame: European Escalation proved me wrong, by escalating its frantic strategy gameplay in almost every way imaginable.
The first thing that completely blew me away about Wargame: AirLand Battle was the sheer scope of how you could zoom in and out of the battlefield, and the quickness with which you could move around the game screen and give orders to your troops at either end of a vast and sprawling countryside. Within seconds, you can go from overseeing the entire region like you’re looking down at the tiny fields and houses from an airplane window, and then hone in on a level and near-grounded view of your individual tanks and vehicles: getting so close that you can actually see the miniscule details and the chips in their paint jobs. Of course, the farther you zoom in, the less pretty and intricate the visuals become, but they are still extremely detailed for such an unbelievably wide range. Panning through the screen is also a synch, and the only real thing missing that I would have liked to see was the option of rotating your view to better visualize another tactical approach.
It’s somewhat of a shame then that the single player campaign feels a little underutilized here. While Wargame: AirLand Battle offers five brief tutorial missions, and a four-mission campaign that spans varying difficulties and game lengths, it becomes clear pretty early on that the real emphasis of the game is placed on custom-generated skirmishes with computer players or other online commanders. But each campaign mission is completely magnified in scope, and utilizes rich and engaging maps of the world like you’re playing a real-live version of the board game Risk. The attention to detail on these maps is something you just don’t see any more in games of this nature, with rolling oceans and seas, and perfectly rendered tanks and battleships lying in wait on the dotted-lines of country borders. Hell, even the main menu screen is completely engrossing and intriguing, as it really makes you feel like you’re the commander in a busy and high-speed war room, where each of the different options and game modes shows up on different monitors or computer screens as I imagine they would in real life.
The core gameplay itself is fairly simple, but the amount of statistics and faction details that are always readily available for your perusal are truly staggering at times. While the game is certainly more on the strategy side of the fence, Wargame: AirLand Battles exudes “real-time battles” in every sense of the term. The first time I led a cluster of tanks against some opposing enemy forces, the rapid gunfire and explosions that ensued were absolutely exhilarating, and the way that I could constantly change my panoramic views in a split second made it feel like I was more in control of a frantic war movie than a simulation war game. Controlling your troops is as simple as clicking on a group or single ground unit, and then directing them where to move or who to attack. A handful of impressive gameplay mechanics are introduced along the way, like different unit types or attack patterns, and you can even call in reinforcements at regular intervals to make sure you always have the upper edge against your enemy.
Where Wargame: AirLand Battle is really allowed to shine, though, is in the multiplayer skirmishes that have you rising up the ranks to become the world’s most decorated commander. As it stands, there are currently three different game modes that you can try your AirLand hand at to see which method fulfills your real-time commanding fix the most: Economy Mode has both you and your opponents racing towards a target score by capturing control of different command zones with your deployments; Siege Mode sees one team with a plethora of income but no direct reinforcement zone, while the other is rich with deployments, but severely lacking in income; and finally Destruction Mode earns players a correlated number of points for destroying enemy units based on their respective deployment costs. Each mode can be played on one of seven lush and intricate game maps set around the world, including Highway to Oslo, Stromsund, and my personal favorite so far, Vasterbotten. Oh, and did I mention that up to 20 players can duke it out over the online multiplayer battlefields simultaneously?
Given the heavy multiplayer focus, I guess it comes as no surprise that the story in Wargame: AirLand Battle is severely lacking at times. You simply play as the good and loyal “Blue” army, who is tasked with eliminating the always deceitful and malicious “Red” army, for either reasons unknown, or for reasons that just didn’t come across to me given the game’s sparse and thinly-veiled execution in any attempt at a narrative. At the start of each campaign mission, you are given a simple text explanation of what it is that you’re supposed to be doing, and not so much as a “Go get ‘em soldier!” from the voiceover department. But you know what? I didn’t care that there really wasn’t a story to be found here: it just gave me that much more time to spend with my troops and help lead us on to glory amid a shower of gunfire and menacing tanks.
So with minor gripes like story and voiceover work aside, it is still wholeheartedly clear that Eugen Systems has a real impressive franchise on their hands here. With amazingly hectic and equally awesome real-time war commanding gameplay, an expansive multiplayer component with an active online community, and a truly breath of fresh air in the genre when it comes to map and menu designs, as well as the scope you can zoom in on the action, Wartime: AirLand Battle is the farthest thing from watching the battle play out on a tiny computer screen. You may be calling the shots from that air-conditioned control room or spy plane from miles away, but everything about this release makes it feel like you’re always right there on the frontlines. And now in hindsight, those seemingly generic naming conventions make a whole lot more sense: because this is the quintessential “Wargame” right here.
Story – 6/10
Graphics – 9/10
Gameplay – 10/10
Sound – 8/10