Wargame: European Escalation is a real-time strategy game based around hypothetical Cold War conflicts in the period of 1975-1985. The name alludes to the fact that the game is designed to be more like tabletop wargames than fast paced, resource based RTS games like Starcraft 2. Currently on sale with 40% off on Steam, the game normally retails at £30. At the time of review I’ve played 4 hours (according to Steam), and haven’t sampled the multiplayer yet. This review is my initial thoughts.
The wargame aspect of this RTS is embodied by a more realistic approach to the battlefield. Hundreds of units from eight nations are present, modelled and playable, with a fairly easy-going unlock system giving you access to more as you play. These units are either pre-allocated in reasonably accurate orders of battle, or , in the case of multiplayer and skirmish games, made up of ‘decks’ created before play. In-game there’s no base management, instead you are given points for achieving objectives which can be used to call in reinforcements from off-table.These reinforcements must enter through specific zones which need to be controlled by command vehicles, adding another tactical consideration. In the field units can be resupplied by logistic units and forward operating bases. This is important, and keeping your lines of supply clear is a consideration, as units have finite amounts of ammunition and fuel with which to operate. This isn’t as restrictive as it sounds, most units will be able to fight an average length battle without running out of either, but probing scouts constantly in motion can find themselves needing a refill. Vehicles and troops are to scale and move at a realistic pace (thank goodness for APCs in the latter case), and it seems to be modelling damage and accuracy rather than just allocating hit points. Tanks occasionally throw tracks in rough terrain, and hits can cause temporary minor malfunctions. This means you can never be quite sure how an encounter will turn out, although fluke shots are rare. Nasty surprises are more tactical, usually. Tanks crashing through woods unsupported and without scouts fare badly when bumping into LAW wielding infantry. The sight of a platoon of your MBTs exploding in quick succession from a volley of rockets is brutal and crushing. Most combat, though, is long ranged tank-on-tank action. All this adds up to an experience which is slower placed and with more emphasis on unit placement and tactics than economies and actions per minute, and people who enjoy the tactical planning and response of Total War, Combat Mission, or apparently RUSE (I didn’t play that one) should enjoy this.
Sights and Sounds
The graphics aren’t going to make a decent gaming rig sweat. They’re as functional and basic as one would expect from a simulator-style game, although the level of detail when zoomed right in is quite impressive – crops are flattened by tanks as they roll through fields, fires spread from exploding ammunition, and vehicle models wouldn’t have looked out of place in Battlefield 2. Sounds are equally utilitarian, limited mostly to the rattling of machineguns and the screen-shaking thump of AT rounds being exchanged. I can’t really think how much more they could have added without it being over the top, apart from maybe a period soundtrack (I’d recommend Def Leppard’s Hysteria by the way for anyone wanting background music). Graphically some destructible scenery wouldn’t have gone amiss, but since urban fighting is pretty rare it’s not likely to be a noticeable absence.
Stuff that sucks
RTS veterans will find a number of features conspicuous by their absence. The base building and economy aspect is the obvious one, and if you like your tank rushes then this game is not for you. Less obvious is the lack of basic features like movement waypoints and assigning groups to hotkeys. They aren’t really essential as the game is paced slow enough to be able to micromanage your units, but their inclusion could have only enhanced the game. Unless of course it does do that and I don’t know how yet, which brings me to another mild criticism; the tutorial. It isn’t unusual for tutorials to be less than great, and its only real fault is that it doesn’t feel very comprehensive. Even so, it can make the game feel quite daunting when your only pointers are a few quick popup boxes. Some may also find a paradox of having a huge and potentially baffling amount of choice, which add up to lots of similar units with slightly different stats. As such there’s not much depth despite the breadth. This could have been fixed by off table support like paradrops of troops or supplies, off-table artillery, and air strikes.
Wargame is a refreshingly cerebral RTS which relies on tactical thinking more than click-skill. Those looking for a semi-simulator, large scale battle game could do far worse than look this up. The current retail price is maybe a bit high for people who don’t generally play RTS games, but if you feel overwhelmed by the frantic pace and hardcore skills of Starcraft 2 and yet would like to try your hand at being an armchair general then this is certainly worth considering when the sales come around. Those who know what they like and think they might like this should take the plunge now (and play some multiplayer with me).