- Difficulty Curve
Wargame: AirLand Battle is not for the faint of heart. The game, developed by Eugen Systems and published by Focus Home Interactive, is the followup to Wargame: European Escalation and features a mind blowing number of units, approximately 800. Battles are fast-moving and can swing wildly from wins to losses if you don’t pay attention. That’s not even mentioning just how difficult this game is. On one mission, I spent over an hour and a half struggling to make headway against my opponent. Every time I would capture a zone, the computer would push back. Once, I whittled the AI down to one capture point, but I made a crucial mistake and soon found myself on the losing side of the battle. I lost. And it was a tutorial.
Fortunately, battles in the campaign mode don’t drag on for as long. Campaign battles are on a twenty minute timer and can end as a win, loss or draw. The campaign map is a new addition to Wargame: AirLand Battle. It takes a cue from Creative Assembly and Sega’s Total War series and involves moving groups of units around a world map to conquer territory and engage in real-time strategy skirmishes. To that end, it doesn’t function in the way that a traditional RTS campaign would. Losing does not send you to a game over screen and require you to attempt the mission again. Ending a battle in a draw just means that both armies are weakened and must wait to battle again.
The campaign is, unfortunately, limited. The map is restricted to Scandinavia and there is little in the way of a fully featured political system like Total War. Every turn in campaign mode generates political points based on the territories you own. These points can be spent on pre-built armies or a variety of strike attacks. There are four different campaign types, two each for the Warsaw Pact and NATO, which are the only two factions playable in the game. Each of the factions is broken down into multiple countries that have their own units and specializations.
The campaign also limits the strategies you can use by only allowing for one-on-one battles. If your armies have an enemy army surrounded, you cannot combine all of your armies when you enter the battlefield. Instead, each must battle individually. For a game that puts such astonishing detail into its units, this seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to add even more depth. This limitation stands in contrast to the game’s multiplayer, which can feature up to 10 players at once. Multiplayer is made all the more fun and challenging by the sheer number of participants and its a shame that this doesn’t always translate to the campaign.
That said, combat is incredibly satisfying and fast-paced. There are no resources to mine, no buildings that spawn endless cannon fodder. The goal of a battle is to capture territory on the map by safely moving your command vehicles from one point to the next. Along the way you’ll have to clear out enemy units with your own. Successfully take over all the capture zones and victory is yours. At a simple level, this works like many other strategy games. The controls are fairly standard and easy to grasp. What amps up the difficulty significantly is the sheer number and variety of units available. From tanks to jets to helicopters to anti-air, it’s all here. Each unit has a bevy of stats that make it ever so slightly different from its peers and ensures that you’ll have to find the right combination of units to use in a given situation. From fuel economy to rate of fire, you’ll never be wanting in terms of micro-management.
This becomes all the more important when you get into the deck building aspect of the game. Units are selected from the deck that you build, just like in a collectible card game. You can build a deck with units from a single faction or both, but knowledge of each unit is crucial to building a successful deck. If you build a deck entirely out of short range units, you’re going to have a next-to-impossible time defeating a deck of long ranged attackers.
The game’s difficulty curve is brutal. In the very beginning, you can get away with not knowing all the specifics and mechanics of each unit, but you need to pick up on them very quickly. As I said, I lost in a tutorial round. When the tutorial is that difficult, you know that the difficulty curve is quite skewed.
Graphically, Wargame: AirLand Battle does well at presenting a large number of units and objects on screen at once. Of particular note are the animations. When one of your helicopters is shot down, it goes into this wavering spiral that brings it down. It’s a well animated and well presented game. While it can get a little pixelated when zoomed in, everything is more than serviceable for a game of this type. One problem I did have was that at incredibly zoomed out distances, you can see black borders around the battlefield. It gives the appearance of the battlefield just floating in nothingness, like Final Fantasy Tactics, and is very distracting. The user interface is clear and very well done. It presents all the information you need to know upfront and at a glance. When it comes to audio, it’s decent, but the different commands can get a little grating. Explosions and gunfire sound as good as they would in a game of Call of Duty, which is great because that’s most of what you’ll be hearing.
For $40 on Steam, Wargame: AirLand Battle is an excellent buy. I wholeheartedly recommend it, especially if you’re into complex, deep, engaging and difficult strategy games. You could easily sink hours upon hours into this game. While slightly hampered by its punishing difficulty curve, the sheer amount of content makes Wargame: AirLand Battle one of the best values of 2013 so far.
Minimum Requirements as Listed on Steam:
- OS: WINDOWS XP SP3/WINDOWS VISTA SP2/WINDOWS 7/WINDOWS 8
- Processor: AMD/INTEL DUAL-CORE 2.5 GHZ
- Memory: 2048 MB RAM
- Graphics: 256 MB 100% DIRECTX 9 AND SHADERS 3.0 COMPATIBLE ATI RADEON X1800 GTO/NVIDIA GEFORCE 7600 GT/INTEL HD 3000 OR HIGHER
- DirectX®: 9.0
- Hard Drive: 15 GB HD space
- Sound: DIRECTX 9 COMPATIBLE
- Other Requirements: Broadband Internet connection
- Additional: INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR ACTIVATION AND ONLINE GAMING