Your perseverance is rewarded in this inaccessible, but elegant RTS.
Games are one of the few hobbies equally comfortable offering short bursts of entertainment on one end of the scale, and gruelling challenge on the other. Some games are best experienced as learning curves that must be traversed to gain the maximum rewards. Airland Battle is one such game, rewarding you greatly for your perseverance. Poor productions values and a weak tutorial are barriers to an otherwise engaging RTS experience, but they are obstacles worth overcoming.
The sequel to 2012’s European Escalation, Wargame: Airland Battle puts a small army at your fingertips once more, with the sole objective of taking ground and annihilating your opponents. Your first port of call is, naturally, the tutorial. Traditionally a gentle playground where users can test their agency, Wargame’s playground is filled with barbed wire and malice. It skims over many important units, mechanics and concepts, leaving the player bewildered and forlorn. It isn’t a great start.
"Once you start to get the hang of things, the strategy becomes exhilarating. Though the macro turn-based overworld gameplay isn't the greatest example of turn-based strategy, the no-frills formation juggling of the core RTS gameplay is refined, elegant and engaging."
Things only get better from there though. Four campaigns throw you into fictitious battles from World War III and, with an overworld map where you move your forces around in a turn-based fashion, there’s a whiff of the Total War series to the single player proceedings. The actual battles will be familiar to previous Wargame players or, going further back, the amazing World in Conflict. Unlike other titans in the RTS genre, Wargame does away with base-building and resources in favour of more tactical unit play.
Once you start to get the hang of things, the strategy becomes exhilarating. Though the macro turn-based overworld gameplay isn’t the greatest example of turn-based strategy, the no-frills formation juggling of the core RTS gameplay is refined, elegant and engaging. The interface itself is surprisingly clean for a game with such great depth and, though it takes a long time to get to grips with, everything about the core mechanics makes enough sense to be picked up through trial and error. It can be a bit of a grind early on as you get accustomed to defensively reversing tanks and juggling recon units, but it’s worth it.
Outside of these pleasantly outlandish skirmishes, you have a massive chunk of multiplayer modes that will really test your mettle. Ranging from smaller matches to 10 vs. 10 team fights, there are a plethora of modes to sink your teeth into. I was surprised by how active the community is, as I was never left without an opponent or match to dive into.
"Graphics are simplistic and, though detailed enough for you to efficiently throttle your foes, the aesthetics are very much a secondary concern. Likewise, the sound, functional as it is, fails to evoke the emotions of the dynamic battles you fight."
There’s even a customisable element to the proceedings, with trading-card game style unit sets you can accumulate and assemble around various themes. The matches are certainly competitive but, if you can get over the initial matches you’ll inevitably lose, there’s something very addictive about the multiplayer setup in Airland Battle.
Whilst the bits under the hood are a real draw, you be forgiven for being turned off by Wargame’s outer shell. Much like European Escalation, it isn’t much of a looker. Graphics are simplistic and, though detailed enough for you to efficiently throttle your foes, the aesthetics are very much a secondary concern. Likewise, the sound, functional as it is, fails to evoke the emotions of the dynamic battles you fight.
With a vibrant community, lengthy campaigns and a host of engaging modes, Airland Battle is a high-value package indeed. When you also consider the many units on offer, each one possessing realistically modelled weapons and ballistics, it’s a wonder developer Eugen Systems managed to fit it all in. Add in the strategic depth and a host of Valve’s new Steam trading cards and you have serious bang for your buck with Wargame: Airland Battle.
Gaming is about many levels, with casual and hardcore fans alike being catered for by the wild variety of titles available. Wargame: Airland Battle is definitely in the more hardcore camp, with poor guidance, a brutal online component and complex gameplay theoretically shutting out RTS newcomers. It’s a shame really, as the game itself is beautifully distilled, offering a simplistic and clear interface that anyone can learn with enough time. Still, accessibility issues aside, Airland Battle is a treat for all the armchair strategists out there and, whether you game alone or in communities, you’re covered in this exciting instalment of Wargame.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Refined mechanics, Deep and meaningful strategy, Looks good, Fun multiplayer, Great lifespan
Poor tutorial, Steep learning curve, A slow-burner, Poor visuals and sound
A focused and deep strategy romp, Airland Battle continues the refined design of its predecessors, but keeps up the inaccessibility and rocky presentation as well.