Turn based strategy games seem to be coming back into vogue right now, thanks largely to the upsurge in iOS releases and 2K Games’ recent sleeper hit XCOM Enemy Unknown. This latest offering for Xbox 360, PS3, PC and PS Vita comes from Slitherine – well known for its portfolio of war games such as HISTORY Great Battles Medieval – and shoves you firmly into the boots of the legendary US General George S. Patton, commander of the Third U.S. Army during World War II.
The single player campaign takes place circa 1944 and tasks you with braving the beaches of Normandy and progressing through Nazi-infested Europe towards Berlin. It’s quite a journey too, with four separate operations and a total of 21 missions that require you to attack, defend or sabotage targets. Don’t be fooled – this is not your typical war game; it’s rather sedate with you and the enemy alternating turns until you either complete your objective or your squad of soldiers is killed.
There’s very little gloss presentation wise and after a couple of static menu screens you’re able to opt for the single player campaign or a pretty limited multiplayer mode. The solo campaign is the core focus and can certainly be challenging on higher difficulty settings, guaranteed to eat up a fair few hours of gameplay – and potentially keep you coming back for more.
A short tutorial outlines the basics of movement, shooting and camera control, as well as a brief overview about recruiting, healing and upgrading your army. Each mission is fairly self-explanatory; your travails across France, Belgium and Germany requiring enemy soldiers to be tracked and killed, while other objectives could consist of sabotage, rescue or reconnaissance missions.
You’ll quickly be rewarded with new units and unlock upgrades to enhance your soldiers’ abilities. There are 36 different types of units on offer including regular infantry, paratroopers, snipers and commandos. You can even get your hands on tanks and aircraft – although limited fuel is available so even their selection requires some thought and tactical nous.
Every unit has a finite number of moves and shots per turn, meaning each turn needs to be carefully considered to prevent you being left a sitting duck with no cover nearby. There are plenty of decisions to factor in, from the importance of remaining outside an enemy’s line of sight to the type of weapon you’re carrying and the distance to your target when firing. If you’re further away, the likelihood of a hit is reduced – and bear in mind, you only get so many shots per turn so finding yourself surrounded by enemy forces and only able to shoot a couple of them will no doubt result in your untimely demise.
Graphically, everything looks decent enough and despite slightly “meh” title screens and mission briefings, war-torn Europe looks suitably detailed. From the cobbled streets and clusters of trees to the old farmhouses and watchtowers, it all looks very pleasant and serviceable with reasonable lighting effects and textures. Saying that, there’s certainly nothing to write home about and you wouldn’t grab the disc to show off your console’s graphical prowess. The same goes for the sound effects, which largely consist of a brief acknowledgment of “Yes, sir” when you make an order.
The game does feel slightly text heavy in places with plenty to read between missions, although this is alleviated during some sections thanks to a narrator reading everything aloud. I can’t help but feel that some movie clips or official History Channel content should have been peppered throughout and accessible from the outset (like it was in HISTORY Great Battles Medieval – although I did moan about this being low quality during that review), but it’s not a major oversight in the grand scheme of things.
While the game’s title suggests it is an accurate reflection of the times and carries the History Channel moniker, it does explain that some details of the war have been adjusted slightly to help the narrative move along. While this doesn’t detract from the feel of the game, these “Hollywood” tweaks may irk history buffs. In fact, realism isn’t really the main selling point of Legends. After a few times witnessing someone under your command still standing after countless direct hits at close range, or having survived an onslaught of tank shells or grenades thanks to the smallest bit of cover, the realism factor quickly fades.
Rewarded with XP – or Prestige Points – after each mission, survivors can be upgraded – their offensive, defensive or tactical abilities enhanced to make them more effective in the war effort. After a few soldiers have their accuracy ramped up, and have accrued more health or a larger ammo clip, you really start to feel like a bit of a badass – and you can’t help but develop a bond with the tiny fellas. On the downside, their eventual demise really does hurt that little bit more.
Just like the old days of Sensible Software’s Cannon Fodder, there’s a real emphasis on your squad and before long you’ll find yourself growing quite fond of soldiers who have been by your side through thick and thin. You select your squaddies before each mission, lead them through the varied terrain, complete the myriad objectives and wince as when they fall to enemy gunfire. As you progress you’ll take pride in the XP and medals they earn, and the abilities that they develop. It makes it all the more painful when they fall in battle and you can’t help but mourn their loss. There may not be a hill dotted with tiny tombstones as there was in Sensible’s day but the overall effect is pretty similar.
Once you’re done with the solo campaign and have tried the various difficulty settings, the offline multiplayer option allows you to pit your wits against a more formidable opponent. The so-called “Hot-Seat System” means two players take on the roles of American and German armies and can do battle on the same console, taking turns as they would in the main game. It’s a nice addition but unlikely to add too much longevity once the main single player portion of the game is complete. It is a shame that online play isn’t included, although I wonder whether there would be many opportunities to regularly find a willing participant waiting in the lobbies.
After some decent play time, I really enjoyed Legends. It successfully combines turn based strategy with RPG elements. It’s slow paced but occasionally frenetic, and the various difficulty levels mean there is a fair bit of replayability. For the achievement hunters out there, attaining maximum Gamerscore is perfectly possible too. While it lacks the polish of XCOM, Legends is an engrossing and fun game that will certainly appeal to gamers who are tired of first person shooters and fancy a slightly more sedate and thoughtful experience.
This game was reviewed on Xbox 360.
Europe looks suitably detailed, real emphasis on squad based gameplay.
Game feels 'text' heavy at some places, lacks polish.
With a little bit more polish, History Legends of War could have grabbed a bit more attention - nevertheless, it remains a top war game and one that you'll keep on coming back to. Fun, rewarding and refreshing.
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