I am a fan of certain real time strategy (RTS) games. I played, and liked, Starcraft and Warcraft, but my long-time favorite was the Warlords Battlecry (WLBC) series. This was knocked off its throne this year by Dawn of War (DOW). Well, here comes another RTS game in the remake of the classic board-game Axis and Allies. Will I enjoy it as much as the other games?
I never played the board-game much. I enjoyed it for about 30 minutes to an hour, and then my attention wavered and I wanted to quit the game and do other things. This is a pretty close analogy of my experience with the PC game. I was very excited about the prospect, and they did a few cool things, but overall I don’t see myself playing this game ever again, especially with some of those titles I mentioned in the first paragraph.
First, let’s clear the air, this is NOT a remake of the board-game, but instead a RTS representation which uses the Kohan 2 engine. Don’t buy this if you are not looking for a turn-based strategy game. I just wanted to get out the warning to all you RTS-haters.
The game is a strategy game in which you play out World War 2 in a turn based fashion with an RTS battle instead of dice, or you play one of the several RTS modes including multiplayer, random maps, and campaign.
Let’s delve a little bit into the details which make or break an RTS game. Resources are not gathered. You do not need workers to search for any of your resources. This is a big reason why we love WLBC and DOW. I hate having to manage resources. I don’t want to think about how many workers to create, or where to send them. I want to blow stuff up! If you like that type of thing, stick with the ‘crafts (War and Star respectively).
There are three resources, but only one of which you stock up on, money, ammo, and oil. You gain money in set amounts over time. Ammo and Oil are basically troop limiting resources which you have to increase through creation of supply buildings in order to gain larger armies.
You have four different troop types, infantry, armor, mechanized, and airborne. You need specific buildings to create these troops, and the troops are tied to the buildings. Each building can support a set number of troops. Infantry buildings, for example, can hold 5 infantry units. Each unit type has a picture representing its type, and also each building has an icon so you can quickly tell a unit’s type and owner just by looking at the screen. This is a huge plus. Great work guys!
Notice I said units here; this is a squad-based game (much like Dawn of War) in which you don’t control 1000 little units, but instead several big units. Each soldier/truck/etc in the unit has its own health and morale, but this really leaves you to move and command your armies, not worry about how I fit my entire army into the hotkeys allowed.
Now, when you create these buildings, they start in a truck, you drive your truck to a location and then unpack. Upon unpacking you can either create troops, and/or research new technologies (better machine guns, new tank types, etc) depending on the building you are using. This really sounded like a neat idea where you can pack and unpack your base, and be very mobile. In reality, however, this is a giant pain in the booty. You have to manage all these little huts of troops and research. Not only that but you have to take the time to drive them around and place them. It’s just complicated for no reason. They took a risk in this area, and failed quite boldly.
The supply chain is related to your income of oil and ammo. To gain more, you have to create supply buildings which give more resources, and extend your supply line. A supply line is a similar mechanic that’s used in Rise of Nations where you have an area of control. Anything in that control zone will automatically resupply/reinforce. Any units which consist of at least one man can be fully restocked if they are in the supply zone long enough. For units, this is pretty quick. This leads to a cool mechanic of pushing your army forward, and moving the supply lines after. If you manage to break one of your opponent’s supply lines, those troops or buildings will be stranded without reinforcements, and easier to take.
The actual fighting and unit balance seemed ok, but not stellar. There is the usual rock-paper-scissors game where one troop type beats another but is beaten by yet another. Most games implement this for easy balance. I don’t fault anyone for this. I do fault them for how hard it is to maneuver.
Once engaged with an enemy unit or building, you cannot retreat (or change targets or move apparently) unless you run away which requires a conscious button click/hotkey. You can also all-out-retreat (route) as a last-ditch effort. This is fine, and I actually like this idea, but to properly cover your mortar team with infantry is about ten times more complicated due to these restrictions. Add formations into the mix. There are offensive and defensive formations which grant bonuses and penalties to movement and attacking depending on the situation. These formations are per unit, so you cannot have a group of three units march in a specific formation which again, adds to the pain of trying to manage your troops in battle.
The balance isn’t quite there either as the early game rush against the computer AI is much too powerful. In all RTS games rushing is a key part of the game. Do you counter-rush or do you build defense? This is where the game is decided. Unfortunately, in Axis and Allies, there’s no choice as defenses require many different prerequisites, and if you were to defend, you’d be quickly swarmed by a few units of enemy infantry, losing the game.
Each of the different nations (USSR, Germany, Japan, USA, and Britain) has different generals who have different powers. These are pretty similar to the powers each god has in Age of Mythology, or even the powers in Command and Conquer Generals. The powers range from boosting production, to temporary supplying an unsupplied area, to nuclear weapons which do area damage.
Aside from these powers, each side has a slightly different build tree. There weren’t enough differences for me to really feel like the sides were different. This is a shame since you get a lot more nations in Rise of Nations, and while not all of those nations are night and day there is enough of a difference to matter. Here it seems that they needed more to distinguish each nation.
So overall I’ve laid out the cool points, and the horrible points of the actual battling. Overall the ideas are sound, but the execution is poor, and there is more bad than good in the battle and actual RTS part. What else is there?
Well, the random maps are pretty neat. A big problem with most RTS games are the number of maps. I can speak from first-hand experience that we’ve exhausted all the maps in Dawn of War that hold at least four players. The random maps are good enough to play on, and I didn’t see any craziness like players trapped in areas they can’t get into or out of. This helps the replay value a lot. Random battles are just the standard RTS games played on these maps.
The campaign mode is a series of battles (one set for the Axis and one set for the Allies) with some scripted sequences, and set starting forces which you progress through to eventually defeat your enemy. As usual with me, I much prefer the strategy of the skirmish games. I like to win or lose based entirely on my own skill, not because I outnumber the enemy greatly (or vice-versa).
The final mode is the World War 2 strategic battle. This simulates the war, and you select one of the five nations and off you go. You play in a turn-based map where you can move one space at a time, and only attack one enemy held space per turn. Battles are resolved either through auto-resolve or RTS playing. The auto-resolve seemed to give much heavier losses to both sides. This reminded me of a really lame version of Rome Total War. It is just too shallow to hold your interest. It seems like it was put in just as filler.
Ok, so far the game isn’t looking too good. Will the graphics and sound sway you? Not a chance. The load times are long, the color schemes are very drab, sounds don’t pack enough “oomph” and the voiceovers are not well done. Add the fact that the tutorial is skimpy, the UI takes up the bottom 1/4th (yes, I said 1/4th) of the screen, the game is non newbie-friendly, and you have a formula for a really bad execution of a decent idea.
I cannot recommend this game to anyone. There are just too many games in this genre that are much better packaged. Axis and Allies for the PC is more frustrating than fun. I’d rather spend my valuable RTS time playing Dawn of War.
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