Wargame knows how to do scale, not only that, it also knows how to make it’s scale seem intimidating and bewildering. I mean, I didn’t know Europe was that big. But this is merely the tip of the iceberg of problems you face as commander in this latest from Eugen Systems, developers of the over-looked WWII epic R.U.S.E. No, the size of the battlefield you’ll be fighting across is nothing compared to the problems of resupplying units as they push forward to capture new strategic points, or adapting quickly to counter an emerging platoon of enemy tanks you only just spotted creeping forward from a nearby forest.
Here the cold war is still very much in full swing. Adopting a “What if” mentality, Wargame takes certain events from the 70’s and 80’s and asks “what if NATO and the Warsaw Pact actually stopped sabre rattling and launched into a full scale war?” the inevitable answer being, probably nothing good. What story there is can be called nothing more than window dressing, a means by which to give background and reason to the ensuing carnage as it has you switching back and forth between the armies of West and East.
This gives the game an impressive range of metallic death-dealing toys to play with, as eight nations and upwards of 350 tanks, helicopters and support units – each accurately reproduced from the types of military vehicles used at the time – are offered to you. Thankfully Eugen realises that Wargame’s scale would have been too much to handle all at once, and so each unit has to be gradually unlocked via Command Stars as you progress through the single and multiplayer missions. This in turn gives reason and meaning to each of the objectives you face per mission.
Objectives themselves range in difficulty and importance, with the most command stars being awarded from those that are the hardest to complete. Typically the best units cost the most to purchase, so there’s a desire throughout the game to get as many objectives complete in is fast a time as possible. This in itself gives rise to numerous other complications, and it’s not long before you realise the way in which Wargame does things is quite considerably different to what usual games of the RTS genre do.
You units are limited throughout. They can rank up an improve their abilities as they carve through the enemy forces, and eventually can be called on again in later missions, but you have a limited number of these units available, loose one in an early mission and don’t expect to see it replaced down the line. This gives rise to careful planning and an often skittish progress as every assault against a fortified enemy position is one you tend to plan beforehand rather than charge in guns blazing hoping for a quick resolution.
Information is key, and it fast becomes imperative to use the individual skill of each unit to help one another. Recon units have to be used to uncover the fog of war, their keen eyes can spot the numerous foes often hidden in ambush mode for your advancing armies. Tanks become the mainstay of any commander arsenal and as such are the one unit you may find yourself the most protective of, they can be devastating in large numbers but are easy pray for any number of specialist teams tasked to destroy them.
Anti-air can be vital in clearing the skies of devastating attack helicopters, long ranged artillery can pound enemy positions to dust from vast distances but chew through ammunition at an alarming rate while air power can drastically increase your overall view of the battlefield but are themselves vulnerable to even small arms fire. You’re constantly having to adapt, learning to use each of the skills of every unit under your command to their full advantage. It’s a tricky skill to learn, but deceptively, despite the initial steep learning curve, not a difficult one to master.
Supply also becomes a constant concern. Every unit has a limited amount of fuel and ammunition. Some fire through these faster than others, so you’re always on the lookout for field bases to capture that can replenish armies to full capacity. The sting in the tail is that these bases don’t regenerate, once you’ve used their supplies you’ll have to venture out and find other bases to plunder. Re-supply trucks and helicopters can be called on to fill the role should these bases become elusive, but even so, such is the rate at which ammunition can be burnt through that you’ll often have to hold back the most powerful units until you absolutely need them.
This is a game all about tactical deployment and swift decisive surgical strikes more than it is about sheer brute force. It’s quite refreshing to play a strategy game where simply charging forward with the largest army of assembled tanks is never the right, or most efficient option to rely on. Largely this is down to that sheer bewildering scale of the games maps. Using the same graphics powering R.U.S.E. these battlefields tend to sprawl miles in each direction, and like R.U.S.E. can be zoomed in and out of at various distances.
A seamless transition can allow you to pull back to an almost satellite style view on the environment, where farmlands, forests and rivers meld into each other. Up close every vehicle in the game is recreated in some impressive detail, never wavering as the camera re-focuses from it’s birds eye view to an an over the shoulder viewpoint of whatever tank you might have currently selected. The game looks the part, even though it does come across as functional, sacrificing cinematic bombast for realism.
Oddly, in spite of the vastness of the battlefields you often fight across, the game remains small scale. You never find yourself commanding armies, instead smaller groups of units are more easily manageable. The enemy on the other hand dominates and hides in every nook and cranny, always waiting to pounce on you as soon as you leave the sanctity of the starting zone. He can also be quite relentless, attacking in large numbers or pulling back ranged units just enough to keep the pressure on you without attracting the attention of your guns.
Here again, the terrain becomes and important part in how you wage war. Elevated hills can obscure units below while giving units above free reign to dispense destruction without too much difficulty. Forests are perhaps the most troublesome and advantageous environmental obstacle in the game. Both providing opportune hiding positions for enemy soldiers who can go undetectable until your units land right on top of them, but also offering you the chance to take advantage of the cover provided and lay in an ambush of your own.
For a game that initially seems intent on drowning you under a sea of information overload, there’s a surprising lack of fiddly micromanagement. What first seem daunting quickly become second nature.
You can also take the fight online where up to 8 players can form their own alliances and wage war on a huge scale. Command points are shared through the game, so it’s entirely possible to play online only and still amass the points needed to unlock the units you want, and you’ll have the added benefit of challenging yourself to some real competition. Although the game seems pre-built around helping the online community thrive around it, the scant 11 maps on offer can feel limited, more so when you factor in the offline skirmish mode which shares them. With a (current) lack of any kind of map editor to allow user generated content, it’s unknown just how long casual RTS players will stick with the online portion of the game.
Other problems are few and far between. Information about individual units is available, but for some reason you can’t compare this information to another unit of similar design. It’s an odd choice given how some of the units you get are simply variations on those you’ve already unlocked, and while inevitably it’s clear the more expensive they are the more powerful they become, it would be nice to compare the differences of ammo consumption, fuel capacity and other necessary pieces of information to make sure you’re spending your hard earned money on the right things.
Also, while the environments themselves are nice enough to look at, they lack variety. The endless green fields of Europe are really the only thing you’ll fight across, and while pretty enough, there’s not much diversity, leading to some serious fatigue in the theatre of war you’ll be fighting in. These are small scale complaints for a large scale game however, and while problematic, they never break the flow of the game on the whole.
For the most part Wargame excels where it needs to, offering a game vast in scale and ideas yet simple in execution. Where the like of Supreme Commander simply used it’s large battlefields to cram in as much things as possible, here that size never feels as chaotic. More than that however, it’s just a fun, challenging game to play, rife with incredible, if never cutting edge, visuals and an intriguing setting that give it a uniqueness of it’s own.
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