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Eugen Systems

Review: Wargame: AirLand Battle

Jun 08 // Fraser Brown
Wargame: AirLand Battle (PC)Developer: Eugen SystemsPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveReleased: May 29, 2013MSRP: $39.99Rig: Intel i5-3570K @3.40 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 670, and Windows 7 64-bit AirLand Battle is something of a military fetishist's dream, distilled into a videogame. Upon opening up the deck menu -- where players can put together their force, split by nationality and faction, for online confrontations -- I was more than a little overwhelmed by the huge array of units. Where some strategy titles boil troops and vehicles down to health, armor, and how much damage they can do, each unit in AirLand Battle comes with a long list of statistics and important information that have a genuine impact in battle.  Vehicles can run out of fuel; weapons go through ammunition; they might have a high front armor rating, but have little protection on top; some struggle while going through rough terrain, while others happily power through the mud; and they all have different ranges and lines of sight. There's so much minutiae to account for that building a deck could take longer than the match you'll be deploying them in. The build might not even last more than one match -- eventually being consigned to the scrap heap when you realize you've made an egregious error. In one of my first forays into the online battlefield, I found myself completely ineffective because I knew nothing about radar, and I was quickly punished for my ignorance.  Most of my AA support vehicles were using radar, and unbeknownst to me, my opponent was using this to his advantage. He was sending wave after wave of anti-radar fighters after my forces, utterly decimating my AA units. Without them protecting the skies, it was little effort for him to bomb my remaining forces and claim a swift victory.   I learned two things from that embarrassing defeat: every unit has an exploitable weakness, and radar can be switched off. Every match, whether ending in victory or defeat, has forced me to tweak my decks or my tactics. There isn't a cookie-cutter build, or at least not one that I've come across, and all it takes is for a half-decent player to have a force that counters all of your choices for everything to go up in smoke. This is, of course, less likely if you have a good mix of units that allows you to react to a change in the battle or a foes tactics. Having air-lifted infantry is a good way to deploy men quickly, for example, but it's useless if your enemy is just shooting them out in the sky, so it's handy to have a back up plan in the form of armored infantry vehicles.   Deploying the right units for an appropriate task and using the geography of the varied maps to one's advantage will consistently beat numbers and aggression. This is a thinking man's war, where planning and reconnaissance are paramount. There's no fog of war, and players have to rely on line of sight and radar to keep track of enemy movements. The fastest way to travel -- apart from air -- is down roads, which crisscross the maps. Yet they are often a fantastic place to lay an ambush. I can't count the number of times I've seen a force trundle along a road, through a thicket of trees, and not make it to the other side.  Elevation matters too. Garrison your anti-tank infantry in a tall building, and suddenly they pose a very real threat to the many tanks that have puny armor on top. You could send in bombers too, but if your enemy has prepared for this by bringing along some AA chums, then it will be the infantry that saves the day. Thus, there are no medals awarded to those who just churn out the most expensive tanks -- all units have a requisition cost, but more points can be earned by holding certain areas -- and send them in for the kill. Without recon vehicles they will be ambushed, without AA support they will be bombed, without helicopters or jets they will harassed by enemy jets, and if they get destroyed, that's them gone for good. There's a limited number of units per deck, so each vehicle and squad represents a significant loss if taken out. While European Escalation had helicopters, other aircraft were noticeably absent. AirLand Battle rectifies this with a plethora of jets from MIGs to Tornados. Unlike other units, when not active, aircraft aren't present on the map. Airfields don't have a physical presence, so planes are selected from a menu, do their job, and fly around until evacuated or they run out of fuel and ammo. Once they return to base, they cannot be deployed again until the cooldown counter has ended. If they are damaged, they are repaired automatically -- lengthening the cooldown period.  The addition of these new units makes AirLand Battle remarkably different from European Escalation. Air defense becomes incredibly important, as does radar; helicopters now have to deal with additional air threats when preying on ground forces; and new avenues for assault open up. Jets are wonderful at softening up targets and defending vulnerable units when they are suddenly attacked, but they have plenty of weaknesses too: they can be rendered useless without radar and can be taken out swiftly by AA attacks.   Multiplayer matches with allies requires a great deal of cooperation and communication. Quickly sending out a beacon with a simple typed message like "flanking" or "more tanks needed" is a good way to get someone's attention, and it's extremely handy to be able to communicate with such haste and have other players' eyes drawn to the area. When you're playing with people you know and there's a more direct line of communication, things really get interesting. Instead of needing to have something of an all-purpose deck, you can tailor it to what your ally already has. That way it's possible to create a predominantly air or tank deck without fear of being useless.  While multiplayer is undeniably the focus of AirLand Battle, there is a dynamic campaign that can be dabbled in, seeing NATO and the Warsaw Pact butt heads. There's a sizable international map, political events that can have a direct impact on the war, and nuclear weapons that can be deployed. It's all a bit sterile, though. Events are random, no real context is given to the conflict in-game, and the battles are restricted to 20-minute scraps, which at the end of timer result in a draw regardless of how many points one gains or how close to failure the enemy was. This bizarre limit inhibits the slow, methodical nature of the battles as seen in skirmishes and multiplayer scenarios. The campaign becomes a race to score enough points -- by destroying enemies -- before the timer reaches zero. It flies in the face of the realism that Eugen Systems has worked so hard to craft in the rest of the game.  AirLand Battle's presentation is extremely polished, if not particularly flashy. Maps and vehicles are rendered realistically, while the lighting, explosions, and land deformation are effective and believable, yet the aesthetic lacks style and character. War isn't glamorous, and neither is AirLand Battle.  The UI is surprisingly simple and unobtrusive, relaying information flawlessly while never distracting or taking focus away from the battle. Zoomed out completely, the maps transform from detailed depictions of the European countryside to tactical displays revealing units through icons, air and ground vehicle reinforcement paths, and all the key areas in the conflict.  This all goes towards the very business-like feeling that permeates throughout the experience. It's an efficient, focused game lacking in fluff; one where everything serves a purpose and has a tangible impact on gameplay.  Eugen Systems' serious, well-researched approach to real-time strategy makes Wargame: AirLand Battle a rewarding, refreshing title. Not since European Escalation have I had to work so hard for my victories, and with the addition of aircraft and the absurdly huge 20 player matches, a whole new layer of strategy and tactics has been added to an already exceedingly deep series.  
AirLand Battle review photo
The Hot War
It took a truly horrific defeat for me to knuckle down and attempt to break through Wargame: AirLand Battle's tough, uncaring exterior. I'd tossed aside the campaign, had one skirmish match under my belt, and I dived head-fir...

Review: Wargame: European Escalation

Mar 01 // Maurice Tan
Wargame: European Escalation (PC)Developer: Eugen SystemsPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveReleased: February 23, 2012MSRP: $39.99Rig: Intel E8400 Core2 Duo @3.0GHz, 4GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD4830 512MB, Windows 7 64-bit Eugen Systems impressed with their Act of War games and followed it up with the ambitious R.U.S.E.. This time around, they've left the accessibility of their previous titles far behind in favor of the kind of hardcore military RTS they've been waiting to work on. Wargame doesn't quite go as far into niche territory as a simultaneous turn-based strategy game with hexes does, but it's by all accounts a game geared toward the kind of military fetishists who thought the only good thing about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was when the AC-130 was told to use SABOT rounds. This passion for military hardware, especially tanks, is evident on many levels of Wargame. Countless units and unit variations for NATO and Warsaw Pact forces have all been painstakingly recreated in full detail, but the level of dedication doesn't stop there. Set during an alternate-history period of the 1975-1985 Cold War era with a focus on conventional warfare, it quickly becomes clear just how serious Eugen is about its hardware and tactics. [embed]222814:42869[/embed] Something that RTS titles generally fail at is bridging the gap between creating a game that is fun to play and easy to understand, and the intricate complexities that stem from a mindset of military power in the 20th century. Usually you have your tanks, infantry, and artillery that all do a pre-set level of mitigated damage against different types of units. Once you figure out how it works, you either mass powerful units and attack, or use whatever rock-paper-scissors system there is to counter opposing forces effectively. It makes for a fun but unrealistic RTS like we've seen in games such as World in Conflict and Ground Control, but where Wargame differs is in the way it looks at what a military unit is. Instead of offering to build a few types of tanks that differ in their uses slightly, a tank in Wargame isn't simply a unit you use to shoot at things. It's a weapon platform first, and an armored and mobile one second. A helicopter? That's a flying platform for air-to-ground missiles, rocket pods, and machine guns. Nothing more and nothing less. This way of thinking offers a fresh take on the strategy genre, supported by a plethora of different available units that all have their own weapons and statistics. Before long, you no longer think of infantry as a group of grunts that's only good against other infantry or capturing locations, but as a mobile anti-air or anti-tank weapon that just happens to be wielded by human beings. Likewise, a tank becomes a specific type of anti-armor gun that is able to drive around, preferably with as many other kinds of weaponry you can fit on it. There is still a counter-system in place, but it's all centered on individual weapon systems and their effectiveness versus armor and infantry -- weapons you can even turn on and off for each unit. Once you've wrapped your head around this philosophy, you start to understand that Wargame is not a game of tank rushes or single-unit spam, but rather one that hands you a thousand pieces of machinery and wants you to turn it into the best-oiled war machine. Any armored column can rule the open terrain, but forests and hedgerows that litter the map can provide cover for tanks, AA guns, or infantry with their respective and highly specialized offensive capabilities. Within a few missions you are forced to accept the merit in learning about weapon systems, as traditional RTS tactics lead to failure or Pyrrhic victories. For example, placing infantry with anti-tank missiles at the edge of a forest can completely obliterate armor at range, while infantry with RPGs in the middle of a forest has a smaller range to ambush anyone crazy enough to come close without scouting ahead; any infantry caught in the open, however, ends up as minced meat. What seem like paltry armored personnel carriers meant for transporting infantry can end up destroying your tanks with missiles at a huge range. Let them come close to your tanks, though, while keeping your units hidden in cover by manually turning off their individual weapons, and let loose salvos of doom to wipe out the pesky buggers. Add in varying levels of accuracy for ordnance and for units on the move -- as well as the ability to suppress, panic, and rout units using overwhelming fire -- and the military math starts to translate to the practicality of ambushing incoming forces from a static and hidden defensive position. It also means the enemy can do the same, and it often will. In your mind's eye, maps in Wargame soon become segmented into sectors where any forest or hedgerow will arouse suspicion. There is no fog of war in the traditional sense, leaving you to rely on the line of sight from your units to define the level of battlefield intelligence you have on enemy positions. This makes recon units key to survival, and only after a sector is deemed clear enough should you attempt to move in with costly armor. Different designated zones on the map can be captured with expensive command units, who need to remain immobile within such a zone to take control of it. Each zone adds a resource trickle of income, and as long as you have a zone at the edge of the map, reinforcements can be placed anywhere and will take the fastest route to wherever you wanted them to go. The resulting game of recon, offensive, and temporary entrenchment is something that tends to take a lot of time (or skill) to execute properly. The problem is that you can't always afford to take this slow-paced and calculated approach, since you tend to start with a limited amount of resources in many of the campaign missions. Capturing each new zone for the income increase required to support your grand strategy is a tense affair, as ambushes abound and a "shock and awe" tactic will simply turn your armor into scrap metal. Long-range artillery and MLRS are fun to use, but are highly inaccurate unless you provide them with nearby recon support. You can't just sit back and let your artillery shoot for an hour hoping for the best, either, as all units require supplies to repair, refuel, and restock ammunition. Supplies that need to be brought in by truck or helicopter, or from a nearby F.O.B. (Field Operating Base) which serves as a large supply depot. Beyond the risk of losing your recon units as you try to scout ahead and look for safe passage, there is always a risk of running out of units. Each type of unit you unlock by spending command points, gained by completing objectives in single-player or by playing multiplayer, offers only a limited amount of those units to call in during a mission. Use them well, and they will gain experience to make them stronger and tougher -- and slightly more expensive to "buy" during the next mission. Lose a few of them, and you lose them forever. Lose all units of one type, and you simply can't bring them into play for the remainder of that campaign's chapter. It's a bit of an odd system, as there is a steep learning curve in Wargame that will inevitably make you lose a good amount of units before you learn how to use them properly, not to mention that it doesn't make sense for the Warsaw Pact to run out of T-72 tanks. While you can choose to replay campaign missions in order to keep more units alive, another option is to just unlock a different or a more powerful unit type. It's a way to encourage the player to try out different units, perhaps, although newer model variations of the same unit are increasingly more expensive and can become a big drain on your resource pool. Another oddity is the lack of a "drag to aim direction" option for groups, as tanks have different levels of armor plating on their front, sides, and rear. They tend to turn the right way on their own without it becoming problematic, but given the amount of micromanagement that permeates the game all the way to ammo and fuel supply, it's a rather strange omission. There are a few other weird instances of balancing from a realism perspective, such as anti-air vehicles being able to rout a T-80b tank, or infantry shooting down armor-plated choppers using assault rifles. These are also the instances where you remember you are playing something meant to be entertainment, not a simulation. All of this may make Wargame sound daunting given its complexity. At its core, though, it isn't all that hard to grasp for any strategy veteran willing to jump into it. You have to make a mental switch and adapt to its way of thinking, but it doesn't take long before you can look at any terrain map in an atlas or on Google Maps and notice prime ambush locations everywhere. If you ever wanted to bring out your inner Patton, this is without a doubt the best game you could play. However, it will kick your ass until you learn how to play it fast and hard. The AI can be downright brutal at times, making continuous attempts to flank and ambush you. It certainly adds a lot of challenge to the campaign, but for some players this may prove to be too much. To give you an indication, I spent the better part of a day trying to pass a single mission with a dozen restarts to no avail. Especially during wide and open levels, it can be very hard to maintain recon and tactical superiority across the huge stretches of land, using the sparse resources you have. It's as if Eugen wanted to give you as much control over as large a map as they could get away with, and only later decided they couldn't give you the amount of units they would've liked to populate such a map, without completely overwhelming what a regular person's brain is capable of handling. As a result, you are continuously fighting against the odds to outwit an ever-mobile AI across the map with the units you have, and often not the units you would've loved to have. Still, the game is never unfair to you as every loss only makes you angry at yourself for making the stupid decisions that cost you the mission. Although it would've been nice to have seen some more variety in the map geography, which consistently tends to look like your typical mainland European countryside, the emergent diversity from the terrain's features makes every map unique to multiple strategies and all kinds of natural defensive strongholds -- as long as you know where to look. This is something that translates well to multiplayer, too. Using the game's default "score" system, a round of multiplayer revolves around scoring points reflected by the cost of both your own and your opponent's units; the first player to destroy enough units will win. A foe might go all out on expensive helicopters that could wipe out your expensive armor, but countering with cheap anti-air could then win you the game. Likewise, one opposing team member might focus on massing artillery to halt your offensive, but that doesn't mean you can't circle around with cheap and fast tank destroyers or APCs and tip the balance in your favor. That is not to say that cheap units win the day, as more expensive tanks will easily destroy cheaper tanks in a jousting match of shells. It just means you have to master your weapon systems and the manner you deliver ordnance in the most effective way possible. The complexity at the tactical level also means that multiple attacks across the map can lead to an information overload for a player, enabling distractions to perform stealthy flanking maneuvers. The combination of utilizing terrain, the vast amount of tactical methods to apply force through an almost ridiculous amount of different units, and the random nature of playing against a human opponent, means you could be playing Wargame for a long time to come before claiming you are any good at it. In case you not that competitively minded, a one vs. one skirmish mode lets you play against the AI, and a co-op vs. AI "comp stomp" mode is currently being worked on. All of it runs remarkably well on my low-end rig, too, even on mostly high detail at a resolution of 1920x1200. There might be some minor slowdown at times on older rigs when you zoom in for a detailed look at the action, but since you'll spend most of your time zoomed out to a bird's eye view it never becomes detrimental to the gameplay. Wargame: European Escalation is the closest you'll get to a full-fledged military simulation of the Cold War era of modern warfare that is still fun to play. It's a cold, calculated affair set in the last decades of the 20th century where the tradition of the Clausewitz style of military doctrine for large-scale operations was still relevant; a style rendered almost obsolete by postmodern 21st century asymmetrical warfare. There is no room for personal glory in the age of industrialized warfare depicted in Wargame, where war is won encounter by encounter, battle by battle, and in which the only human elements that remain are the effect of morale on performance and the personal affliction of losing a high-value unit. In such a sterile environment, it can be hard to imagine there is any room left for personality, yet you still create your own personal stories through enacting your tactical prowess in the field. You will fondly remember that one time you ambushed a group of M1A1 Abrams tanks with your hidden Spetznaz troops, or that time you drew out a large enemy force with a feint and wiped them out with a pincer move. Even then, such user-generated tactical narratives only serve the greater purpose of victory at a strategic level. Such is the way of war from the command perspective; a way of thinking in movement vectors, weapon platforms, terrain, and statistics. After two decades, Wargame: European Escalation finally does modern warfare right.

Growing up during the dawn of PC strategy games, playing everything from Dune II and Command & Conquer to Panzer General, took its toll on my teenage years. History classes only became worth paying attention to when it co...


Five ways to suck at Wargame: European Escalation

Feb 24
// Maurice Tan
Wargame: European Escalation was released for PC yesterday. After failing at a certain mission and losing momentum, leading to a 1.5-hour mission, I realized there are a couple of ways to play this game if you've played many ...

Get your final Wargame screens before the Cold War starts

Feb 18
// Fraser Brown
Eugen System's latest RTS, Wargame European Escalation, is but a week away. In an effort to tantalize your eyeballs, they've released a final batch of screenshots. Despite the silly name I'm quite interested, I never gave ...


Wargame: European Escalation trailer shows off NATO power

Jan 13
// Maurice Tan
MLRS alert! A new trailer for Wargame: European Escalation, comprised of in-game footage, gives you a look at some of the more iconic NATO units from the 1975-1985 Cold War era. I came away impressed when I saw it in action ...

Europe escalates in these new Wargame screenshots

Oct 28
// Maurice Tan
Eugen System's upcoming title European Escalation will see you travel around mediterranean Europe to protect the monetary union, hunting down tax evaders, bringing to justice corrupt government officials who provide false num...

A look at Wargame: European Escalation's multiplayer

Oct 07
// Casey B
In August, Maurice Tan gave us pretty extensive preview on Wargame: European Escalation. Much in the same vein as Eugen System's R.U.S.E. that came before it, Wargame is a deep real-time strategy game with a focus on epic war...

Preview: Wargame: European Escalation

Aug 21 // Maurice Tan
Wargame: European Escalation (PC)Developer: Eugen SystemsPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveRelease date: November 11, 2011 Wargame is a title about war, set in Europe during an alternate Cold War 1975-1985 era where things escalate. The new version of IRISZOOM features better forests, a much larger draw distance, the ability to zoom in to a unit and see every little detail on a T-72 tank, and it looks like you'll want to see it on as large a display as possible. Just like in R.U.S.E. you can seamlessly zoom out from the closest zoom level to a strategic map view. Being at the closest -- or closer -- levels of zoom doesn't mean you can't have battlefield control though. Simply move your mouse over the unit you want to focus on in the distance, scroll the mousewheel up, and snap the camera to that unit.  The game looks really impressive, what with the scale of the maps you play on and the amount of detail that's there, although RTS veterans will probably stick with switching from the strategic view to a moderately zoomed out level that lets you easily order units around. Realism plays a large part in Wargame: European Escalation. Not only because it features a ton of military vehicles and aircraft modeled after their real-world counterparts, but also with respect to the gameplay. Infantry can enter houses, buildings in towns can be destroyed, and because there is no fog of war, all unit intel has to come from line-of-sight. Enemy units can be spotted at range which shows a silhouette of their unit moving around, but you'll have to get closer to identify them fully. That is, unless you can make out the exact vehicle just by the silhouette -- something that can be pretty hard given the amount of units in the game. Tanks can be positioned in forests or hedgerows where they receive bonuses and stay hidden until spotted -- usually too late to escape the ambush. Traveling through a forest might cause tracked vehicles to de-track, however, and it costs more fuel to drive through.  Using the terrain to your advantage can make all the difference if you take line-of-sight into account, but the enemy will do the same. Hedgerows act as "curtains" to make sure you can't simply see everything on a map with flat terrain. When used properly, a group of tanks in a forest can be hard to get rid of, even if you know they are there. Luckily, forests can be set on fire -- which then spreads depending on weather conditions -- with a flamethrower tank or a volley of missiles from a group of MLRS units. The resulting fire will then potentially spread, depending on the situation. Using the latter option, you'll have a pretty wide target radius for the MLRS missiles to land in, but if the targeted area is within your own units' line-of-sight, this radius becomes a lot smaller. You might still not make a lot of direct hits with your missiles, but that isn't a huge problem since the enemy units will panic and route because of the sheer force of your barrage. Likewise, you can use scouts to spot enemy units that are just out of range for your tanks to be effective, which increases their hit percentage. This system of routing works through morale that decreases if nearby units get destroyed, or if a unit comes under sustained heavy fire. If you hit a BMP-2 personnel carrier with a Leopard tank, for instance, it will get stunned as the crew has to recover from the shell's impact, and will probably route shortly afterwards. Should you make a critical hit on an enemy tank, you can even temporarily disable one of its tech components -- such as a firing computer. Soviet tanks are not very heavy on tech so you might disable a component in a few more advanced models, but making a critical hit on the more advanced NATO tanks can disable them for quite a while. Every unit has its own fuel and ammo, which need to be resupplied by supply trucks or special Chinooks that share their limited supply with units inside its radius -- with more expensive units eating up supply faster -- or at a Forward Operating Base that has more supply. In the campaign, you'll have maps divided into regions and something there will be a central location that acts as a victory condition. You start out with a set amount of resources and buy a starting team before the mission begins. Because there are around 320 units in the game, you'd be forgiven for thinking that selecting the right units might take you quite a while. It's not too hard though, as everything is categorized by unit type and every unit has a lot of variations. A Leopard tank can have around 5-6 types of models to choose from, and every model can be upgraded in veterancy to make it more effective. This costs a lot of money, so you have to choose wisely and decide whether you want a cheap-yet-large army that you need to swarm with, a small-but-powerful and high-tech army, or a balanced mix. The sheer amount of detail that goes into Wargame: European Escalation is impressive and so are the graphics that make you feel just like you did when you saw World in Conflict for the first time. Even more impressive is how accessible all the information is. All data for hit percentages, effective distance, fuel, ammo, line-of-sight, etc., is displayed in such a way that anyone can understand it after a short tutorial. I liked R.U.S.E. well enough, even though the "Ruse" system itself wasn't that much fun to use in the campaign, so the major shift to accessible realism in Wargame: European Escalation that turns it into a pure PC RTS left me quite impressed. Definitely one of the RTS games to look for this year.

R.U.S.E. was a pretty fun game to play on the PC, but it felt a bit like Eugen Systems had to hold back on depth to also make it work on the console version. For Wargame: European Escalation, the developers have seemed to go all out on creating an incredibly realistic, deep, but still fun real-time strategy game that uses an updated version of their IRISZOOM engine used in R.U.S.E.

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