To many, myself included, there has always come a certain novelty and boyish joy out of the not-so-simple wargame; an occupation which pitted a lot of my childhood in eager sessions of assembling and painting tiny plastic armies, only to be butchered on a minute synthetic battlefield at the mercy of a set of dice.
Of course, the world of digital gaming has been no stranger to the art of strategy, although most translations from the classic wargame have been in the form of more action-oriented RTS’s such as Starcraft and the Age of Empires series’, with a seldom few titles coming close to really putting ‘armchair general’-style control in the hands of players. Fortunately the tide may finally have turned with Eugen Systems’ new title; the aptly named Wargame: European Escalation. Does it deliver a decisive victory, or is a general retreat in order? Read on to find out.
The Slaughtering 70′s
It is October 1975, weeks after the Khmer Rouge seizes power in Cambodia, and The Fall of Saigon in South Vietnam, both events illustrated with real-life clips in an almost haunting cutscene before your first mission. However, historical recreation is not Wargame’s main focus, and whilst it (like many tabletop wargames) is set in a historically-defined period, you and your strategic wits will be pitted in an alternative telling of history; with your first assignment seeing your small armoured division of Western Germany holding off an offensive, advancing from behind the ominous Soviet symbol of Cold-War schisms: The Iron Curtain. And what better way to talk Wargames than a recount of this first skirmish?
In response to this affront, the first course of action for your average strategy gamer would be to head on over to your base, select your barracks and queue up some infantry. However, scrolling across the quaint German countryside will find you no barracks nor even a base of operations instead being greeted with a few peaceful suburban towns, for this is a game of troop movement and strategy.
Instead you have been granted but a unit of four Leopard 1a1 main battle tanks with which to fend off the incursion, but let’s not say that these are not to be trifled with! For a quick jump over to the side of the display and a selection of the ‘Info Units’ button will bring up a detailed data card for any unit you mouse-over, revealing that each piece in this quartet of heavy armour packs a deadly combination of a powerful main gun and a hefty range of almost 2000 meters.
With a left-click select the tank brigade responds with a positively German acknowledgement, and with a right click I send them rolling across the fields of crops towards a suitably sheltered ridge. On the way I roll the mouse wheel forward, which sets the camera zoomed in and following the vehicles, which are leaving trails of flattened grass and broken fences whilst the intricately detailed Leopard’s advance to their improvised firing point.
In the distance can be seen a river, over which hangs a suspension bridge, and on the other side, the ominous walls and checkpoints of the Iron Curtain. Soon the tanks have arrived at the ridge, just as T-34 tanks of the NVA have finished crossing the bridge, bringing up their information shows that, thankfully, my tanks outrange them by a comfortable margin, and the attack is ordered!
To a Fault
Amidst the thundering of guns, the clatter of rifle fire and the shrieking of rockets, there was but one thing that Wargame: European Escalation accomplishes with such overpowering strength in presentation; an absolutely faultless attention to detail. Vehicles are unbelievably precise to their real-life counterparts, fields and hedgerows brim with lifelike vegetation, whilst the small German towns peppering the countryside are rendered with the same detail those you might see on a prize model railway.
All this, in addition to a large ensemble of different nations and troops, really makes Wargame feel like a true-to-life digital recreation of the tabletop wargame, and if the up-close visual attention wasn’t enough, there’s more to be had!
The bevy of true-to-life units in Wargame not only look realistic, they also function in similar ways.
The bevy of true-to-life units in Wargame not only look realistic, they also function in similar ways: fuel and ammunition are limited and have to be restocked, pilot/soldier morale diminishes under fire and can cause units to rout, and vehicle damage can cause a number of complications such as damaged treads and optics. The intricacies by no means stop here, in fact, if one zooms out far enough you will see highlighted sectors slowly on the map, designated with NATO phonetics such as Alpha and Foxtrot.
Zoom out further and you will be greeted with the bustly of a war room; voices will chatter and the bleepings of displays and reports will surround you as you are presented with an all-encompassing strategic map of the battlefield. This Strangelovian war-room style approach is mirrored in all of the game’s interfaces, including the main menu; where various options are given in the form of buttons on control panels.
It’s clear that from big picture and the small, Wargame cuts no corners in detail. Multiplayer is also handled intriguingly; with a deck-building system that allows players to purchase new units for their armies in the form of cards, a novel feature that gives a sense of accomplishment and earning to battles.
The problem of entertainment is sadly to be expected with such a true-to-life translation of warfare.
However, even the best titles have faults, and this one is no exception. Wargame’s two main faults boil down, sadly, to an unpolished interface and a game that can get rather dull. The first issue has its symptoms in buttons which are not always explained, and which may leave you scratching your head having accidentally over-re-enforced yourself with combat-useless supply trucks.
The problem of entertainment is sadly to be expected with such a true-to-life translation of warfare; the game can get insufferably dull when waiting for results, and leaves a lot of time spent waiting on units to reach their destinations. As excellent as the rest of the game is these two letdowns, especially the latter, could seriously deter less patient gamers.
However, if you’ve enough interest to ignore these two hiccups, Wargame: European Escalation provides an excellent, true-to-life, and impeccably detailed recreation of the classic tabletop wargame, one I would recommend strongly.