I expected that initially playing Wargame: AirLand Battle would be a process of playing about fifty tutorials that are less interactive than you’d like, but informative nonetheless. The 5 tutorials that are on offer don’t help much. I’m still glad I played them but I was left to progress with much less knowledge and experience than I expected and wanted.
They are also presented in such a dreary and unfriendly way that mustering up the courage to finish them can be a difficult task on its own. It’s all very dull and unappealing especially combined with the incredibly in-depth, and initially intimidating, stat pages for each unit you have. The tooltips that drop down when hovering the curser over the various military acronyms help a lot to explain anything that needs it. Truth be told most gamers will probably know enough about military terminology to get by anyway.
Move onto the deck building section and Wargame suddenly springs to life and starts to make sense. There are a monstrous amount of infantry, vehicles and aircraft for you to choose from. And, to make the process even more customizable, there are also bonuses awarded for adhering to different constraints. Building a deck comprising of only one nation provides access to powerful “prototype” units and allows you to pick more unit “cards”. Limiting the era of your units grants huge increases to the number of units you can deploy. You can also select a specialisation for your army which removes some units from your roster but grants other units a boost.
Once you’ve made your deck you can begin testing and refining it. It’s not the usual promise of an army customizer that so many RTS’s have offered before. It really is a customizer that allows you to choose every aspect of your army.
In battle there is one resource and no way to actively collect it. There are no buildings to setup; you don’t need a barracks to have infantry and an airfield for aircraft. It’s just a case of deploying your chosen starting units and getting into battle. So many of the potentially tedious aspects of some RTS’s are just simply not here. The AI can’t constantly nag you by destroying your harvesters as you frantically build expensive non-combat units. It’s refreshing to be able to concentrate purely on the strategy of battle.
Instead of a pop-cap you are limited to the amount of a single unit you can deploy. For example choosing a single Harrier card for your deck might allow you to deploy 3 Harriers. If you build them in a battle and then lose them that’s it. You can’t have any more. It means that any enemy you destroy actually makes a difference. Simultaneously it means each and every one of your own units is all the more valuable too. You can’t just send wave after wave of cheap units towards a unit safe in the knowledge that eventually they will destroy it. Every loss you suffer and every enemy kill makes a difference.
Because of the limited units and lack of buildings strategy plays a big part of any battle in Wargame. It is entirely possible to keep losing units so that ultimately you cannot build any more and lose the game. The risk that losing any unit actually has a consequence is a constant fear and unit deployment must be correct.
Zooming in on a column of armour as they tear down a highway looks smooth and exciting. Motion blur effects and camera shakes add weight to the units without becoming an inconvenience. The overlays and stat pages on screen look professional and mimic a real military computer overlay. Whether it’s how they actually look or not I have no idea but it does a great job of making you feel like a commander and looks stylish as it does it.
Eugen Systems’ IRISZOOM engine v3.0 really is an amazing engine. The detail on every unit in the game is astonishing. There’s no reskining so that all the jeeps look the same for instance. Most aren’t even the same shape and size. Even different versions of the same unit look different, the detail has to be seen to be believed.
There’s nothing particularly outstanding about the audio but unit responses are good and weapon effects are bassy enough to give a good punch when a tank fires a shell or artillery rains down on an area.
Wargame: AirLand Battle successfully implements a resource system that eliminates the often tedious initial build phase of an RTS. The deck management is a big winner allowing players to spend as long as they want finely adjusting their deck to perfection. Or ignore it all together if they want to, although I’m not sure why you would.
The in battle UI is effective and looks very slick. The amount of units available is shocking and each one has been accurately rendered in extremely fine detail. It’s satisfying, strategic and very good looking all at the same time.
The only problem is the unnecessarily dull and stale start to the game. Even a low quality generic voiceover during the tutorial that actually explains what’s going on would have helped. I worry that many players will abandon this great game because of its first impressions. Stick with it and it’s an amazing RTS.
Wargame: AirLand Battle is available now only on PC.