Game Review

Wargame: European Escalation Review

Published by Focus Games and developed by Eugen Systems (which previously developed R.U.S.E.), Wargame: European Escalation puts you in the role of commander for either NATO forces, led by the United States, or Warsaw Pact forces, led by the USSR. The units for both sides are based off real-life military designs circa the mid-1970s, and are comprised of tanks, infantry, recon vehicles, helicopters, and artillery. The air force and navy don't make any appearances, but Wargame is frantic enough that you'll have plenty to worry about anyway.<br/><br/><img src="http://pcmedia.ign.com/pc/image/article/122/1220232/wargame-european-escalation-20120307011142864.jpg" /><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>Wargame sets itself apart from standard real-time strategy games by introducing a virtual card system wherein you choose your units prior to a battle. First, you create a profile that will track limited stats, and you'll earn experience points based on your performance in battles. Leveling up earns you Command Stars, the in-game currency to buy new units types. You can build a deck of up to 25 unit types, mixed and matched however you wish from any country within your alliance, allowing you to fully customize your deck to play to your strengths. The interface for setting up your profile and deck is incredibly streamlined, and you'll immediately grasp how to use it. This is great because you'll spend very little time out of battle unless you get caught up in the minutia of comparing unit types, allowing you to get to the battles as quickly as possible.<br/><br/>Battles themselves are straight-forward. The only "resource" in battles are command points, and all players will start with the same amount to create and position their starting army. Once the battle starts, more command points will slowly trickle in based on how many control zones you or your allies own around the map. You score game points by destroying enemy units, and whichever side scores the most game points (either by time limit, or by a game point limit) wins the battle. I love simple victory conditions, so I don't mind the lack of other modes; this isn't a game that needs territory victories or "kill the general" victories.<br/><br/>Battles have an incredible scale, almost to the point where it becomes a fault. The maps cover areas that can be several square miles with almost a dozen control zones, and you'll normally have to keep the camera zoomed pretty far back to see everything you need to see, causing the units to be the size of pin heads. Every unit has a name plate, and you'll likely have to select and command units by interfacing with the name plates instead of the units themselves. You really have to know your deck so you can know whether your M551 Sheridan or M60A1 Patton would be a better tank type to send forward. Explosions and gunfire will be frequent enough that you'll still see the spectacle of battle, and fires will rage across the forests and fields where the majority of the fighting takes place. It's not like you can't see your units at all, just that they're minuscule compared to other RTS games. Besides, the scale of the battle itself makes up for it, as you'll need to keep the camera back to see the dozens (or possibly hundreds) of units in play. I play RTS games for the competitive nature and the tactical maneuvering, so all I care about is whether I know where my units are, and the name plates keep the information at my fingertips.<br/><br/>Comparing units is a minor pain even while building your deck, as you cannot directly see two units' statistics side by side. You can bring up information about any given unit&#x2014;its accuracy, weapon types, speed, etc.&#x2014;but you'll need to write them down or memorize them to compare them to others. Generally, more expensive units are stronger, but the hundreds of possible units per side would have benefitted from a comparison interface.<br/><br/>The interface in general is streamlined, allowing you to quickly access game modes and deck selections out of battle, while fully concentrating on the fight in the field. The tradeoff is that you have less micromanagement control than in other RTS games. For example, while tanks have different armor ratings depending on which side they're facing, there is no way to order them to face a particular direction. They are smart enough to rotate in the direction of an oncoming enemy, and generally will face the enemy's closest control zone if they're not currently engaged, but you'll have no control over when and how they'll rotate. Also, when selecting and moving a group of units, they'll create their own formation, but generally will not move together; they'll move as fast as possible to the destination regardless of whether a slow unit gets left behind. This can be pretty frustrating as it causes some units to travel without a planned escort, and that can throw your entire tactic out the window. I lost one particular match because my tanks out-ran my anti-aircraft artillery, subsequently getting trashed by some gunships that could easily have been shot down if my entire army had moved together. Infantry also often falls so far behind the column that they become irrelevant to the front lines.<br/><br/>Success hinges on your tactical thinking. Units can hide in dense areas, and recon units can sniff them out. Every unit has a counter, and reacting quickly to a rush can keep you alive. Luck plays a little part in the game too, as units can become stuck in the mud, or a tank may detrack for a real-time minute. These little events seem far less likely to happen in multiplayer than in single-player, but you'll need to pay close attention to your army to make sure these little problems don't wind up causing your entire force to be defeated. It's a good system that rewards you for paying attention and micromanaging, while mimicking the frustration a real military commander would feel when everything hits the fan and mechanical problems delay your big plan.<br/><br/>That's all there is to Wargame, and yet it's an RTS that's greater than the sum of its parts. Every battle plays out differently depending on the commander and his deck, and the limitless possibilities for building your decks will keep you coming back for more. There is a single-player campaign divided into 22 missions, and though you can earn some Command Stars there, you'll earn far more just playing multiplayer games, even if you lose. You can skirmish one-on-one against the AI, but that's only for practice. In multiplayer, you can have up to eight players at once (four per alliance), or create unbalanced teams to give skilled players a challenge. As of this writing, you can't bring AI-controlled bots into multiplayer games, but the developers have mentioned on their official forums that the feature will be added by patch "within a month."<br/><br/><image/><br/><br/>Graphically, Wargame is beautiful, but you'll need a fairly powerful rig to run it at maximum settings. Honestly though, there is little reason you'd want to: given that you'll rarely have the camera down in the mud next to your units, the texture quality isn't very important. Wargame sounds about as good as it looks, with explosions and gunfire loud enough to get your attention. You'll hear almost dead silence between every exchange, which is more striking than hard guitar riffs or other genre inappropriate music. The sounds do exactly what they need to do to immerse you in the game and give you a sense of the battle without becoming annoying.<br/><br/>One final note we have to mention is that Wargame comes with some added DRM even through the Steam version, which isn't mentioned anywhere on the game's store page, limiting you to five installs. The DRM is an offshoot of the StarForce DRM, which has been known to cause problems for some computers. I haven't encountered a single problem with Wargame, and the community seems to be more upset that the DRM was never mentioned on the Steam store than whether it actually causes any problems, so it's doubtful you'll run into troubles either.<br/><br/>&#169;2012-03-07, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved
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