Last year Eugen Systems and Focus Home Interactive brought us Wargame European Escalation, a Cold War Era war game/RTS hybrid that focused heavily on detailed representation of its military hardware. The game took some of the interface functionality from Eugen’s previous game R.U.S.E. and retooled it into a new game that was both incredibly detailed and tons of fun.
Now, just fifteen months later, Euguen is ready to release their follow up, Wargame AirLand Battle. It’s hard to feel like this is an entirely new game when at first glance it seems nothing more than an expansion for European Escalation with the addition of fixed wing aircraft and an extra coat of graphical polish. I recently had the chance to spend some time with the multiplayer portion of the game, and while it often feels like I’ve played all this before, there are definitely some welcome changes.
The game’s multiplayer mode plays out on a battlefield where each player can purchase and deploy units onto the map throughout the match. By destroying enemy units, points are earned and are used as currency to purchase more units while also counting toward the team’s overall score to ultimately determine the winner of the match. Battles can be anywhere from 1 vs. 1 skirmishes all the way up to a new addition of allowing up to 20 players on the battlefield simultaneously. While the new large scale battles are a spectacle to behold, I found that they were far less interesting simply due to the fact that the high player count means that each individual player can only do so much to swing the battle one way or the other. From my limited experience these battles seemed quite chaotic. I can see them being a lot of fun with a full team of friends all coordinating over voice chat, but unfortunately, that didn’t seem to be taking place the majority of the time. Hopefully when the game is released and the player base is larger and more knowledgeable we will see teams playing together and realizing the potential that the larger-scale battles have to offer.
As indicated by the game’s title, the biggest addition to Wargame is the inclusion of close air support units. AirLand Battle was actually the title of a part of the US Army’s military doctrine in Europe during the 1980s and 90s. It emphasized the use of land units as a defense while air forces attacked enemy units feeding the front lines.
The new air units do add an additional useful element to the game, although personally they felt a little fragile, and I almost always felt better off just rolling out more tanks and support vehicles instead. Unlike ground units or helicopters aircraft cannot stand still, which can make them a little tricky to keep track of especially when there are a lot of units on the battlefield at a given time. Hopefully the single player mode and tutorial will do well to teach the player the proper way to use this new aspect of the game. Aside from just the inclusion of the 150 or so new air units, the maps have been retooled to accommodate this new verticality. Mountainous areas are much more prevalent than in European Escalation, and the maps overall just feel more unique. They both add a new twist to strategy by affecting line of sight on the battlefield as well as making the map even more graphically beautiful than before.
Beautiful, Beautiful War
Speaking of graphics, this is one of the most beautiful RTS games that I have ever played. The game’s publisher has been cranking out screenshots for quite some time showing the awesome detail of the game’s units and terrain. I can say that when zoomed in the game does look absolutely stunning. There were many times when I zoomed in on a group of tanks or helicopters and just stared at the screen, taking in the action unfolding. Unfortunately the game is played primarily from a much further zoomed out perspective, where it still looks good even from a bird’s-eye view.
So far Wargame AirLand Battle seems like a worthy successor to European Escalation. I do fear that for those who already own the previous game, this iteration is going to feel a bit too much like something that should have been released as an expansion for a cheaper price. For new players, there has been no better point to jump into the series, as the formula improves upon itself in almost every area. Wargame AirLand Battle is set to release to digital distribution services at the end of May. Look for our review of the final product here shortly after the game’s release.