Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Wargame: AirLand Battle Review!

   We don't usually get to play many Real Time Tactics games , probably because this genre is complex by design and scares away the casual gamers. The communities for this type of game are small even for strategy games standards and formed from hardcore players, yet this should not be a reason not to try these games out, you might miss on some incredible and complex experiences that no other strategy genre can offer.

   Wargame: AirLand Battle is a Real Time Tactics game developed by Eugene Systems and released on may 2013 and is the sequel of the Wargame: European Escalation released in 2012 (yes, the first game has a better name...).
   The action is set in Europe during the Cold War between the years 1975-1985. The campaign is not really the main focus of this game and it feels more like the training for multiplayer, but is's still worth playing it. The missions are split in four different campaigns, each campaign has a different and progressive difficulty set by default. The player takes control of NATO (USA, France, Canada, UK, Federal Republic of Germany, Sweden, Norway) or Russian (East Germany, USSR, Poland, Czech Republic) forces and commands them from both a tactical and a strategical point of view. Each campaign has two phases: phase one is on the map of Northern Europe and here you have to decide where you want your troops to be deployed, the areas you want to attack or defend and you can use multiple tools that you have at your disposal (tactical strikes, scouting units, submarines, etc.) in order to have a better control over the map; phase two is the real time battle, here you deploy your units at the beginning of the game and send them to control multiple objectives on the map in order to win the battle. Politics plays a role in the campaign as well, as events occur on the political scene you are forced to take action according to them affecting your current and future battles. The campaign is challenging and tests your strategic mind, some of the battles are incredibly difficult and if your actions are reckless later on in the campaign you might find yourself in a position impossible to win. The campaign doesn't have much production value because no high quality cut-scenes or voice acting are used and after a time this can become repetitive because the battles take place in the same region of Europe and maps start to repeat themselves. Even if the campaign of AirLand Battle is not heavily scripted it is a step down from the European Escalation campaign, which was much more rewarding (including achievements and rating system for missions), entertaining and with a larger variety of missions.

Campaign map.
   The strongest point of the game is the gameplay which is a combination of statistics, complexity, tactics and units micromanagement and works very well. Being a RTT, the game's economic system is not based on resources that you gather but on reinforcement points. Every game starts with a set number of points which allows the players to create their army during deployment phase, after deployment these points continue to grow as the game progresses and help you reinforce your army with more units. As the player you have to be very careful how you use your units, there is a limit of reinforcements you can bring from each type of unit, so as the battle goes on even if you generate points you might not have units left to reinforce with.
The two factions are split in multiple nations each with their detailed units, including aircrafts now (!!!). Every weakness and strong trait of an unit are shown on the stats chart and on the battlefield as well, resembling reality as much as possible. There are many factors to take in account for units: weapon stats and efficiency against different types of enemies, speed on roads and rough terrain, the amount of ammunition a unit has for each type of weapon, the amount of gas a vehicle has and how far you can travel with that, all these are just some of the unit stats that affect your gameplay and ignoring these could lead to a quick defeat. The stats can also be affected by the damage your units take during battles, for example when a tank is hit the accuracy of the gun can be affected). You have to know your units' strengths and weaknesses very well in order to use them properly on the battlefield.

Unit details.
Deployment phase.
Vehicles affected by the damage taken.

 The complexity and realism of the game mechanics don't stop here. The map design and the terrain plays a huge role in each battle and the way you should think your tactics as well, rough ground slows your units' movement, cover from buildings and terrain can be used for both offense and defense, but you can't hide your units forever as all cover can be destroyed etc. Combining all these factors creates realistic and challenging battles.
   The multiplayer is a battle of tactics, strategy, micromanagement and mind games. The micromanagement of the units is a factor during battles but is not as important as it is in a RTS game making for a more tactic and less hollywoodian style battle scenes (still this doesn't mean battles are not spectacular!).
Multiplayer armies are created using a deck system, players can choose from premade decks from each faction or create their own decks of units in order to better support their strategies. With the huge number of units present in the game the variety of decks that can be created is huge and can go from a deck focused only on one type of unit (infantry, armored vehicles, air) to all kind of hybrids and this brings a huge element of surprise in battle, as you never know what to expect from your opponent.

My NATO deck.
There are four game modes for multiplayer:
-     Destruction in which you have to annihilate your enemy.
-     Siege a mode in which a faction starts in the middle of the map without the possibility to deploy units and the other factions have all the objectives surrounding the center and can deploy from all sides.
-     Economy where you have to win an economic battle
-     Conquest which is the standard mode where you have to control more objectives than your enemy does in order to receive victory points.

   Each of these modes can be played with two players and up to twenty players. The 10v10 games are quite interesting, because you have the option to play a match with low economic points and the number of units that you would actually control alone or with a few teammates are now split between 10 players, each controlling a smaller army, the economic points are generated much slower reducing the reinforcements and basically the army you have at the beginning of the game is the army you will control for the rest of the match. This really makes it a very strategic battle as every unit loss has a huge impact on you as a player and on the entire team.
A big improvement over European Escalation, for both singleplayer and multiplayer, is the fact that the entire area of an objective is highlighted on the battlefield so you know the exact position of the objectives without having to look on the map to know where to go and how much area you have to cover when you defend an objective.
Overall the multiplayer experience is intense, challenging and immersive and the ranking system of the game makes the victories even more rewarding than they already are.

Unsuccessful push...
   Airland Battle does great on the technical part, the graphics are very detailed and accompanied by good physics and realistic sound to make the battles even more immersive. The graphics are not a huge improvement from the previous game but the differences can be spotted, especially with the color saturation tuned down a notch. Considering the level of detail, the game runs great even during the most intense battles which is a big plus.

Graphic details.
   Even if this year a new title in this series will be released the game continues to receive support from the producer with constant balance updates. Two free DLCs have been released so far adding a new game mode for multiplayer, new units and more maps.

   Wargame: Airland Battle is a masterpiece of the RTT genre, a game focused on complexity and attention to details as every game of this genre should be. It's sad to see that such a good game is so underappreciated and has such a small community, but this happens often with strategy games. Later this year, Red Dragon, a new game in this series will be released, bringing Chinese army and naval battles.
If you are a fan of strategy games and modern warfare and you have the patience to study the units and learn the complex mechanics of this game you should definitely give Airland Battle a try!

+ Detailed graphics
+ Complex game mechanics
+ Solid multiplayer matches
+ Units level of detail
+ Realistic sound
+ Good map design
+ Free DLCs

- Low production value and repetitive campaign
- Minor bugs
- The name


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