by Derk Bil
previewed on PC
The logical next step
Eugen Systems’ Wargame: AirLand Battle takes players back to the height of the Cold War but not to serve us a stand-off between the world’s superpowers. Instead, it promises to heat things up quite a bit. Taking place in the period between 1975 and 1985, the game features a dynamic campaign that zooms in on Scandinavia and offers some twenty to thirty hours of gameplay during which history will be rewritten. We sat down with Eugen Systems’ co-founder Alexis Le Dressay who showed a past quite different from reality.
Wargame: AirLand Battle will be powered by an updated version of the IRISZOOM Engine which was also used in R.U.S.E. and Wargame: European Escalation. Where R.U.S.E. was a playful RTS that did not take itself too seriously, the Wargame franchise – with the exception of having an alternate history theme - follows a more realistic approach. If you would label the games as ‘war simulations’, you would not be far off the bat.
Individuality in numbers
The game has such an enormous diversity in units that it borders on the ridiculous. Then again, all of the vehicles featured in the game have actually been made and were used by one side or another during the Cold War. So how many are there you ask? Are you sitting down? There are no fewer than 750 units for you to fight with, or against. While the counter for Wargame: European Escalation ended at some 550 units, the airborne units were limited in their variety. The bulk of the newly added units to Wargame: AirLand Battle are airplanes, boosting the variety in the air to the same levels as on the ground.
Eugen Systems is putting a great deal of effort into creating and designing the battle maps and the results are spectacular. One particular map featured a fjord that looked both stunning and credible. Seeing my surprise, Alexis pointed out that the fjord is faithfully recreated from real life and that anyone who has visited it will recognize the fjord instantly. Not having seen it myself, I’ll have to take his word for it but it certainly looked great.
The same level of attention is put towards creating towns and villages that look authentic. Houses are not just for looks. Infantry can garrison inside structures for additional shelter and a better vantage point. Sending infantry to secure a garrisoned building is a recipe for disaster but tanks, for example, are able to take down any building, exposing the soldiers inside. Generally, armored units in AirLand Battle will exercise some degree of caution when moving into residential areas for fear of soldiers equipped with grenades or anti-tank measures. The buildings simply provide too many places to hide and the close proximity to such hiding places can be lethal for even the most hardened tank crew.
There is not much that cannot be destroyed. You can even set fields and forests on fire to deprive your enemy of their cover and forcing them to rethink their approach. To give you the tools to deal with the always changing battlefield, the game has quite an elaborate control scheme for units. Rather than just selecting a unit and clicking on a target or destination, you can move it in formation, have it scramble and even make it travel backwards. This may not sound that important, but the rear of an armored vehicle is usually its weakest spot and retreating backwards gives it the best chance to survive.
All in it together
The main campaign is an excellent training tool and, once you’ve completed it, you should be more than qualified to give the multiplayer battles a go. If you feel especially confident, you can compete in a ladder competition and prove your prowess to both your opponents and any spectators looking in on the action.
Wargame: AirLand Battle impressed with both its engine and its deep level of gameplay. If you would like a taste of that before the game comes out, a closed beta is planned to test out the changes to the engine, tweak balance and try out the various game modes. If you can get in, it’s a wonderful opportunity to help make a better and even more enjoyable game.