Previews// Wargame: AirLand Battle

Posted 19 Feb 2013 17:30 by
Fans of real-time strategy games and authentic war experiences have never been left hungry for too long, thanks in large part to studios like French outfit Eugen Systems. And the developer behind the Act of War series (and most recently, RUSE, which was released on home consoles) doesn’t seem to be breaking the habit with its upcoming Wargame sequel, AirLand Battle.

Wait, where are you going? Come back! Don’t go. The name is deceptively boring, yes, but that’s what you get when you try to name a game after a real US Army doctrine. It follows on from 2012 RTS Wargame: European Escalation, which itself is something of a spiritual successor to RUSE in that it uses the studio’s bespoke IrisZoom engine to attempt an immersive experience.

While its predecessor saw some 25 patches and four free DLC packs released for it since release, AirLand Battle is being positioned as a separate, standalone title. The reason, according to Eugen Systems founder Alexis Le Dressay, is because the studios simply couldn’t bolt the extra features onto the existing game.

One look at AirLand Battle’s presentation and you’ll understand pretty quickly. The graphical fidelity and sheer size of the maps on offer are far more advanced than those seen in European Escalation, with battlegrounds featuring mountains, steep hills and a large variety of topography that players can use to gain height advantages and perform sneak attacks.

“What we wanted to achieve was to create a true RTS in real time... not an outright simulation, but rather a strategy environment where depth and realism is unmatched,” Le Dressay said. “Something that is very different from what exists on the market today.

“There are plenty of Action RTS games out there, but if you want an RTS that is about authenticity, realism, thinking, planning and analysis rather than just clicking really fast... this is something we wanted to offer to the player.” He added that another reason for creating Wargame was because the studio is so utterly fascinated with historical warfare. Which figures.

Just like European Escalation, AirLand Battle is set between the 1975 - 1985 Cold War, focusing on the conflict between NATO and Warsaw Pact troops across the continent. To keep things fresh, the focus has been moved to Northern Europe, particularly in the Scandinavian region. A perfect location to show off the topographical improvements that have been added to the engine, don’t you think?

Le Dressay revealed that the studio hasn’t been slack on its quest to stay authentic either, with around 750 different units in the game spanning multiple countries on both sides of the conflict. Tweaks to the IrisZoom engine also offers greater accessibility and less micro-management.

Maps are split into multiple sectors, and units holding up in a controlled sector will use the surrounding environment automatically to try and survive in an attack, or take advantage of passing enemies. And engine improvements also means that Eugen can better present the game so players don’t get lost when zooming in and out.

Explaining the lessons learned from RUSE - which featured the first iteration of the IrisZoom engine, Le Dressay said that the studio has come a long way now that Wargame: AirLand Battle features the engine’s third version. “In RUSE you could not zoom in too close to a unit. Certainly, not as close as you can in Wargame. With this, our third version of the engine, we can display many more elements [in the HUD].

“And in terms of freedom, we have the ability to design maps however we want. In RUSE it was much more difficult, everything was technically the same. But now we can choose to set up something very realistic [in a mission], or stage something dynamically based on level design. It’s a lot more convenient.”

If you’ve played Wargame or even RUSE before, things will be familiar to you - you begin a match with a top-down viewpoint of a map, which can be zoomed so far in that you can position the camera right next to a soldier or tank if you deemed it necessary.

There’s something of a ‘fog of war’ active here, in that you won’t be able to see enemy positions unless they can be viewed within your units sight range. Conquest or total annihilation of your opponent will see you claim victory.

Of the 750 units crammed in the game, some 150 of those are of jet planes. This is another of the big new additions to the game - the ability to build, command and assign tasks to air units as the battle rages on the ground. They work like any other unit, but the fact that they can’t stand still in one spot means you have to work with them a little bit differently.

After ‘summoning’ a jet plane, you can see them scoot in from the side of the map, making circles and scouting the general area when you’re not giving them commands. You then set paths for them to follow, which they will repeat until you overwrite that flight path with another.

They can only stay in the air for so long - once their fuel runs out you’ll need to wait a while before they can appear again - but they can provide formidable support if you’re being harassed by one too many tanks.

On top of this, Eugen Systems seems to have listened to player feedback and decided to implement a sizeable single-player campaign mode for AirLand Battle. Included are a number of dynamic missions and objectives to accomplish whilst sticking it to a CPU opponent, along with various levels that mimic historical battles to an intensely authentic degree.

If you’re looking for something new to sink your RTS-coated teeth into, you could do worse than keep an eye on this one.

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