Wargame: Airland Battle Review

Well-protected supply lines are crucial in Wargame: Airland Battle

  • Developer: Eugen Systems
  • Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
  • Release Date: 29 May 2013
  • Time played: 8 hours

Due to the recommendation of my mate and fellow contributor, Luke, I decided to grab a copy of Wargame: Airland Battle on the last Steam sale. It was only $11.00 USD for both Airland Battle and its predecessor, Wargame: European Escalation, so I thought that was an offer too good to refuse. I've been in the market for a good RTS to play co-op with my friends, and I've seen screenshots and videos of Wargame: Airland Battle which made my jaw drop. Over the past few months, I eventually managed to get a few "compstomp" games out of the way with the mates and this review is based off those few games I played (as well as a little bit of tinkering with the single player campaign).

Gameplay (4/5)
The game does contain a single-player campaign but multiplayer is really where it's at for Wargame: Airland Battle, especially when you consider the game can handle up to 20 players simultaneously (that's a lot of RTS players in one battle)! So how is this game different to other RTSs? Well for starters you don't build a base: this game is all about controlling zones with the units you have at hand. In a standard game of Airland Battle, you start off with a Forward Operating Base (FOB) and a command vehicle. You require command vehicles in order to capture sectors and there are several of these scattered across the map. You also start off with a certain number of reinforcement points which you can use to purchase units from your "deck" (the name given to the selection of units you're able to choose from before going into battle). Usually you'll want to get a good mix of units when you play this and boy are there a lot of unit types: you can bring in reconnaissance helicopters, helicopter gunships, fighter jets, attack jets, infantry, tanks, APCs, anti-air platforms, artillery, etc., etc. You name it, and the game has probably got it. Considering there are 12 nations you can play and 750 types of units divided amongst them, that's a hell of a lot of units to pick from! If you're not satisfied with the 12 default decks for each nation, you can always create your own giving you some flexibility in how to play (I managed to create an Australian deck based on Australian weapons and vehicles used in the 1980s).

Then it comes time to play the game and not only is it completely different to the usual RTS, it can be very difficult, especially against an AI that is obviously good at micromanaging. In Airland Battle, supply lines and reconnaissance are crucial. Okay, these things are always crucial in RTSs but in this game I really mean it. Your vehicles for example only have limited amounts of fuel and ammunition. Once they're depleted your tanks will get stranded and won't be able to do anything until resupplied by a truck or helicopter. This is also where the FOB comes in as it is where your trucks and helicopters gather the supplies. If you cannot get supplies safely to your troops they will be sitting ducks. While some might find this mechanic really fiddly I'm actually quite a fan - it makes the game more realistic and emphasises the importance of logistics in conducting warfare. Also, all your units are pretty much blind especially when the enemy hides troops in a forest. If you don't have a reconnaissance unit actually spotting these enemies you can very well end up with an entire tank column being ambushed and destroyed. Again, pretty harsh and fiddly but once again I'm a fan of this because just as it is with the logistics mechanic, this emphasises the importance of good reconnaissance - something actual armed forces have to take into account.

Determining which side is victorious in Airland Battle is a points game where usually the first side to a certain number of points wins the game. Points are awarded by destroying enemy vehicles which means that the game isn't about wiping the enemy army off the face of the Earth, although that would obviously award you with a decisive victory if you did.

As you can see, I can't really find much to fault with the gameplay in Airland Battle, the only criticism I have is that it's quite difficult to beat the A.I. Even playing the first single player campaign mission (which is considered "easy") was a humbling experience for me as my Soviet T-72 tanks slowly retreated back towards my FOB with only Su-24 attack jets being effective at slowing the advance of the encroaching Swedes. Thankfully, I still managed to pull of a Minor Victory despite the dire circumstances, so the points system for calculating victories must've saved me in the end.

While the zoomed-in tactical view is pretty, you'll probably spend most of your time in this view

Sound (5/5)
The guys at D.I.C.E. should take a leaf out of Eugen Systems's book when it comes to audio (or just look at their older titles to be honest) since every faction in the game is voiced in their native tongue. That's right, this game has English, French, German, Russian and voices from many other languages recorded for their respective nations. None of this Chinglish or badly spoken Russian accents that you get in games like Battlefield 4.

Music (4/5)
I don't think this game has much in the way of music - maybe only a handful of themes - and I only just discovered that they've recycled the themes from Wargame: European Escalation (its predecessor). The music also apparently crops up in a couple of other places, like the 1999 fantasy RTS Seven Kingdoms II and even a Machu Picchu infographic on Discovery Channel Brazil! With a little bit of digging I discovered that perhaps Bjorn Lynne, legendary composer for the Worms games, is indirectly responsible as he actually licenses stock music out from his website.

My point is, the music doesn't sound like it's specifically composed for the game, but it seems to suit it well.

Graphics (4/5)
While the graphics aren't exactly the most beautiful when you zoom in close up (at least on default settings for a moderate rig) there's no denying how much detail you can actually see. With maximum zoom you can see blades of grass, trees, signposts and debris from recent battles. At minimum zoom, you can see the entire battlefield as you'd probably picture a general would at headquarters, with the map split up into different sectors and various boxes moving across the map representing different units. The fact the game does the transition between the strategic and tactical view so smoothly, so seamlessly is truly amazing.

Replay (1/5)
Seems a harsh score but if I want to be completely honest, I've only played the game a handful of times since purchasing it: that's 9 months and I've only played the game 4-5 times. This is because the single player campaign isn't as attractive to me as other more story-based RTSs (like the offerings from Westwood Studios or Blizzard) and I don't really like playing multiplayer with strangers - I prefer playing with friends. While I've managed to get a few games in it's probably less than I would've liked. So if there's one good thing to be said, at least the multiplayer is fun enough for me to want to play more, but I only really enjoy playing RTSs in a "compstomp" fashion. Playing alone against the AI is brutal so I'm consequently always waiting for when friends are free (and in the mood) to play - not to mention my time is at a premium nowadays too...

Polish (5/5)
I didn't encounter any serious bugs while playing the game, but mind you I only really started playing the game several months after it was officially released on Steam.

Score – 8/10

Wargame: Airland Battle isn't like your typical RTS and I think that's why I like it. Logistics and reconnaissance are given the attention and respect they deserve since battles aren't just about blowing shit up and capturing territory, even if that's the ultimate goal. The only problem is finding like-minded individuals to give the game a crack due to it potentially being seen as too fiddly when compared to its mainstream competitors. Armchair generals should feel straight at home when playing this though and I can't wait to see the next Eugen Systems release after 2014's Wargame: Red Dragon.

Wargame: Airland Battle is available from these retailers:

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[ LINK: Official Wargame Airland Battle website ]