Thursday, May 23, 2013

A wargamers' first impressions on Wargame: Airland Battle

I saw an eye candy filled trailer of this game a while back and decided to give it a try. Wargame: Airland Battle is a sequel to Wargame: European Escalation, which I haven't tried out. Airland Battle isn't out yet, but if you preorder it you get access to the beta where you can try out tutorials, skirmish versus the computer and play multiplayer. The single player campaign isn't available yet so I can't say anything about that.

The game paints a "cold war gone hot" -scenario set in Norway and Sweden. Apparently the European Front has resulted in a stalemate so NATO and the Warsaw Pact duke it out in the fjords of Norway and in the green fields of Skåne. A lot of the major and minor nationalities of the cold war are present. To my mild disappointment the Finns are not present. I guess we managed to hold on to our red-tinted neutrality even though it would be easy to write the scenario so that Finland would join either side in the fight. We had a cooperation pact with the Soviets even if we were not part of the Pact after all.

The game is basically an RTS like World in Conflict but with added tactical depth and some realism (take the realism statement with a pinch of salt). The objective of the skirmish game is to inflict enough casualties on your opponent without him managing the same. At the same time you conquer zones which give you a faster rate of resupply points you can use to buy units with. The point control / reinforcement system is very basic RTS. The main difference is that you have to park a very vulnerable HQ vehicle in the zone you want to control. The HQ vehicles are easily destroyed if the area is not properly secured and there is a limited number of the vehicles available during the game. Also, games are not won merely by quick grabs of objectives to get the most reinforcements and by swarming your enemy. Rushing headlong into unscouted territory is a sure way of getting your units quickly killed, and its the killed units which count. The more advanced and valuable the unit is, the more it gives points to your enemy when killed and the less of them you have available during the game. This gives Airland Battle a lot of depth compared to most RTS's.

The pace feels a bit too quick at times. You get reinforcement points quickly so while you plot your masterful moves you might earn enough points for a full platoon of tanks without noticing it. Driving from one part of the map to another takes a couple of minutes though. When the manure hits the fan it's also difficult to keep doing smart manoeuvers instead of just pointing and clicking at the enemy. Still, it pays off to use terrain and flanking to your advantage and you can really tell the difference when you drive one platoon of tanks to the enemy's flank while they are engaged at the front.

Tanks dominate open ground, infantry dominates woods and towns, aircrafts dominate everything not covered by AA. Every unit in the game tends to run out of ammo and gas however, and you have to maintain supply lines. You get supply from bases and from supply vehicles you can drive around. Its nasty to see that all powerful platoon of Abramses run out of ammo just short of their goal. At times it feels like the units run out of stuff all the time, but I suppose it's all because of the compressed time scale of the matches and it works fine after you learn to keep and eye on your forces.

Airland battle will probably not please the hardcore modern wargame crowd, but if you're looking for something that is casual without being too simplified, this is a good game to try out.

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