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Wargame: Airland Battle

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By JcDent20-06-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
MrJenssen (editor)
Wargame: Airland Battle

The Defence

Developer:
Eugen Systems
Publisher:
Focus Home Interactive
Genre:
Strategy
Release Date:
29-05-2013

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Dual Core 2.5 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 7600 GT
AMD Radeon X1800
RAM:
2 GB
HDD:
15 GB
DirectX:
9.0c, 11

The Case

 

The Cold War saw roughly 50 years of enormous military build-up that resulted in pretty much nothing. And while I'm grateful for not being a handful of irradiated ash floating somewhere over Poland or Hungary, it's still a shame that we didn't see NATO tanks tested against Warsaw Pact armor back when it was still modern and crewed by decently trained crews. Apparently, some French guys thought the same when they made Wargame: European Escalation , which focused on some plausible NATO vs. Pact confrontations in Central Europe. The sequel, Wargame: Airland Battle ups the ante and brings the battles to Scandinavia.

The Trial

 

Wargame – probably named after the Kriegspiele, favourite past time recreational activity of Prussian officers and the precursor to table top wargames, basically has no plot (“AirLand Battle” was an American military doctrine during the late Cold War). Airland Battle happens alongside the unspecified NATO-PACT war and takes place in Scandinavia. No heroes, no characters, no bullshit – only men, tanks, planes and helicopters clashing over forests, mountains and probably fjords of the capitalist socialist states. And then they throw multiplayer in the mix, oh God!

Fireworks. They light up the skies and then the enemy.

Fireworks. They light up the skies and then the enemy.

But before you go and get bested by people who spent hundreds of hours on European Escalation and never slept once since the multiplayer beta came out, try the single player component first. It has the tutorial - I can’t stress that enough, stop asking about it in the chat - and four (two for each side) campaigns of increasing difficulty. You get a battle map, some troop formations, a pittance of political points and some attack powers. Orders are set and carried out concurrently, with turns lasting a day each. Special attacks are carried out, units move, special events happen (“We’re sending 82nd Airborne to sort out Koreans, m’kay?”) and political point trickle in. Tame stuff, right? The trouble is that the early combat groups you’re given are pretty lame - the 1st British infantry division has almost no AA capability, and any French unit is cursed by having French tanks. Couple that with an enemy AI that doesn’t give a damn about irreplaceable casualties on the battle map, and you have one hell of a fight on your hands. Even more so, if two occupied sectors share a border on the battle map - guess where the enemy AI arrays most of its forces?

Have this is mind - Wargame is a hardcore game. While the availability of unit commands looks sparse compared to some of the more mainstream games, there are still plenty of ways to suffer a terrible defeat. Every unit type has its own strengths, and there are situations where they should be used, so you best start mastering them. For example, infantry is dead if caught out of cover. Recon is king, but is a sparsely available, lightly armored asset that has to constantly move towards the enemy lines in order to be effective. Tanks have variable armor values (yes, even top) and their kinetic guns lose effectiveness over range. Armor loses to infantry in close quarters – unless you have a flamethrower tank - and can easily be demoralised by artillery. Radar AA is (supposedly) deadly, but SEAD planes have rockets that target it from far far away. This goes on for some length.

Play with deckss, roll around the hangar.

Play with decks, roll around the hangar.

Now, apply this to over 800 unique units, each with their own book of stats. The light Sheridan tank might be as feeble as any other lightly armed tin can, but it has the Shileagh ATGM missile that makes it a danger to probably all other tanks. The Spetsnaz have a napalm launcher instead of the usual RPG or LAW – which is perfect against infantry, yet not so much against armor. There are more T-55 and T-72 variants than you can shake a hammer and sickle at. And French tanks are so lame, it's heart breaking.

We can't forget the airplanes, either. While European Escalation had helicopters, it had no fixed wing aircraft – which is silly, considering the part they play in modern conflicts. And while you won't field AWACS or FACs, you'll be able to call jets from off-map. There's more than 100 of them and their roles go from deploying smoke screens to mass napalm bombardment and interception of other planes. How you deal with them is very important because an unmolested raid by, say, four ground attack planes will stop any attack literally dead in its tracks. Then again, your expensive and rare planes can be shredded by AA in hiding. Yeah, come on and check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self - ‘cause sneaky Tunguskas are bad for your health. Now take these units, build yourself a deck and try not to lose too hard.

Aye, deck building, the most intriguing and involving part of the game. It's like The Sims – where you would build a house and abandon a family in it because building is more fun than taking care of them. So you'll spend an irrational amount of time going „ooh, aah“ in the Armoury over the highly detailed vehicles, plane models and not so pretty infantrymen. Oodles of armor values, weapon ranges, accuracy rates and so forth. Some of them, you can even order around in the garage to see how they move, like how tanks sway when stopping rapidly. And when time comes to build a deck... Well, there are unit categories and they have slots, each of which is worth a certain amount of allocation points.

A Su-25 can kill a helicopter. Sometime more effectively than an interceptor.

A Su-25 can kill a helicopter. Sometime more effectively than an interceptor.

Don't like the costs of slots or how they're spread in categories? Then specialize. The first tier is making national decks. It's a given that you won't be making NATO/PACT mixed decks anyway – and now you're limited to one nation. Not an issue with USA or the USSR, but, say, the newly added Scandinavian countries don't have that many units to choose from anyways. On the other hand, national decks give you more activation point and access to prototype units – they were never mass used in the period depicted in the game, probably due to being new, but they still kick ass. Like the BMPT, that kicks more ass than it should. Army type comes next, bearing various limitations to unit allowances as well as random bonuses. An armored battalion will feature more tanks, but only three slots for infantry. An airborne battalion will mostly be made up of motorized infantry and so on. Not all tanks and helos are fit for a mechanized force, you know? The last and the most challenging specialization is year. There's a lot of differences between the usual selection and what was available pre-1973, for example. On the upside, this might grant you up 80% more unit availability. Which means you can simply flood the enemy in cheap tanks. It's harder to do than in usual RTS games, though.

Wargame doesn't have base building and, unlike World in Conflict, you don't have infinite reinforcements. Depending on held map zones, points trickle in during a battle and you use those points to order units. A cheap old T-55 might be worth 15, a prototype T-80U – whole 180 points. This, you consider when building a deck and later on when you risk your units. Since one of the most popular victory condition in Multiplayer (and the only condition in Singleplayer) is reaching a points risk. You better see if it's worth risking an expensive jet to take down a band of 4 infantry squads who might, in the end, be cheaper. Decisions, decisions.

That’s what an enemy would call a “zerg rush”.

That’s what an enemy would call a “zerg rush”.

It’s especially important to keep in mind, considering that if your unit levels up and then dies, it's lost forever. This is especially poignant in the campaign, where battlegroups start with a fixed unit count and don't really get more after battles. In Multiplayer however, you have to consider your air defense and air attack needs, since these categories are usually niggardly with units. Or, in protracted battles, you start running out of supplies. Oh yes, you must never forget the fuel and ammo needs of units – especially of the ammo hungry, miss-prone ATGM launchers, who are a bane of tanks...if they hit.

All of this looks very pretty up close, but, as I've said time and again (and actually started to piss myself off), you don't have time to marvel it. You have too many units spread over too much ground to zoom in on your Challenger I's assaulting an enemy position. You must watch for enemy helos, jets and maybe ATGM launchers who reveal their position as they start to lock on. Hell, you might even spot where the artillery shots are coming from and blind fire some of your own. It's probably why infantry fights are so boring – two circles of men shoot at each other until one circle runs out of man-pegs, or routs. There's no changing position, taking cover and shouting various things in the heat of battle like what made watching fights in Company of Heroes so fun. Even the shots fired look pretty colorful and simplistic – so we could see them way up there, in the sky where we direct the course of battle. Of course, if you get the chance, do watch your Blackhawks fire their miniguns or Su-25s dive towards enemy tanks. It's a joy to behold.

An American developer might have pussied out and left China out of this. Vive la France!

An American developer might have pussied out and left China out of this. Vive la France!

Not so joyous is the „your unit is being fire upon“ claxon. It's ugly enough to quickly gain your attention, but, due to the hardcore nature of WAB, most of the units are already destroyed by the time it sounds. Unit quotes are nothing interesting either – artillerymen have some funny quotes, and even Russian helo pilots hum the „Ride of the Valkyries“, but most of the time it's only acknowledgements that are no more interesting when they're made in the units native language. And, as far as I understand, they're just translated versions of the English ones. Menu sounds and music is passable, though, the sound that signifies the beginning of the battle is marvellous.

The Verdict

 

Wargame: Airland Battle is awesome and whoever says otherwise is a Chicom mutant traitor. I've played about 30 hours and I still suck, yet I still pine for more. More ground attack planes taking down helicopters. More bombers plucked from the sky by AA missiles. More T-80s blown apart by Super Etendard's missiles. More screens that show how many Canadians did my Mi-24 send to a very polite hell. More Wargame.

Case Review

  • And What Army?: 800 units to choose from. Multiplayer that goes up to 10 vs. 10.
  • Ace in the Making: You now control airplanes. They're awesome.
  • Parade Ground: the units are really pretty – even if some of them aren't historically accurate (looking at you, BMPT).
  • Hardcore: It's not Combat Mission, but still more than a simple RTS. New players, do the damn tutorial, damn it.
  • Breeds Conformity: seriously, we need more unit quotes.
4.5
Score: 4.5/5
The penultimate Cold War RTS experience.

Appeal

Wargame: European Escalation was a highly underrated game, but justifiably so - it was a game with an impossibly steep learning curve, married to jaw-dropping depth. It was a game for the patient, the calculating; the ones who could judge 2700 metres at a glance on a battlemap using approximate distances. It was an incredible game. And now, its sequel, Wargame: Airland Battle is out, and I immediately spot the first flaw. Again, the developers forgot to hire anyone with a talent for naming stuff. I mean, really, Airland Battle? But then, that was the only flaw I managed to spot. Wargame: Airland Battle did not back down from the hardcore nature of its predecessor, but instead went the extra mile. Where the previous one had a small section of statistics for the number-crunchers, it now has a huge page filled with real-life statistics of various tanks. Where the previous one had already a boggling array of units, AirLand Battle has troops and vehicles from nearly any country with a relatively well-known military. It has brought everything up to eleven, and I fully approve.

Wargame: Airland Battle appeals to its crowd - it appeals to wargamers; people who love to crunch numbers and stare at battlemaps, constantly looking for ways to outwit their opponents. It appeals to those who love to see accurately represented models of tanks facing each other in long lines, taking potshots at each other. Yes, it needs a better tutorial and perhaps a more intuitive UI. Yes, the graphics are slightly dated when looked at closely. Yes, people outside the game’s target audience would no doubt pass by the game without a second glance, but that's the whole point. Rather than attempting to satisfy everyone and failing at it, Wargame: Airland Battles has found a niche - and driven a tank straight into it.

4
Score: 4/5

Appeal

Wargame: “Silly Name” Battle is the sequel to a game I never played. But being the big strategy fan that I am, I was sure it’d be great. And it is... to an extent. You see, the game is meant to torture people who are suffering from ADD. It is punishing and cruel. I had to break a sweat to even finish the tutorial - which didn’t exactly go overboard trying to explain how the game works. The ins and outs of AirLand Battle can be “learned” through trial and error (in theory), but that’s a very inefficient way to play, and will take ages. Unless, of course, you have military training, four brass stars and know how military command works. That would probably make it much easier. You see, the game is trying to be quite realistic. That means you have to worry about such nonsense as ammo, fuel or reinforcement count. A big open map, with its set of rules and conditions, and a real need for strategy, all come down to a need for careful planning and execution of your attack. Mistakes are fatal and so is blind rushing. Every unit has its role. Your forces best work in sync with different types of units providing support for each other. And this is not a suggestion, this is a requirement in order to succeed.

Wargame: AB has very underappreciated visuals. They are quite pleasing to the eye up close, but you will never have a chance to enjoy them, as you will always need to see the bigger picture... literally. But if you decide that you lost and just want to see your useless units burn, then this experience will be quite satisfying. What isn’t satisfying though, are the sounds. The voice work is ok, but the sound effects are dull, with an alert sound straight from Total Annihilation. But with all that said, the game delivers a mighty dose of satisfaction. It’s like carrying a piano to the top floor of a 10 storey building that has no elevator – it’s hard but when you’re done, you’re on top of the world. Though don’t get used to that feeling when you step into MP – people eat champs like you for breakfast!

4
Score: 4/5
Comments (2)
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Posts: 15

Been looking at this series for a while now...now steam can feast on another part of my wallet.

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Posts: 2552

Focus *shrug* I'm convinced