Airborne Assault: Highway to the Reich Review (PC)

Well another year almost done and once again life has proven it can come full circle. About two years or so ago I was actually a member of the Beta Team for the first Airborne Assault game (Red Devils Over Arnhem), and the experience was a fascinating look into a game development and the challenges a small company has to face to actually pull off a decent product.

The game will take you through the all the major scenarios from the British and American drops.

The A.I. often put up a very good fight, so smart tactics are a must.

I had to say goodbye to the lads at Panther Games when I took on the role of game reviewer. At that time they were just getting into work on the next version of the game Highway to the Reich. Now some may say, "wait a minute..hold the phone, he can't write a review for a game company he was involved in!!!" And you may be right, but having walked away from the game a year ago does give me a unique perspective. It gives me a feeling of pride to see features we (the Beta Team) were whining about at length actually included. Most of all it makes me very proud to see a small gaming company make a high caliber product on a shoestring and give the mega-corporations something to worry about. Well regardless of your point of view (feel free to write in) I am going to carry on and a pleasure it is to do so.

AA: Highway to the Reich is a true sequel to Red Devils. It builds on the game and delivers in spades. The scope of Red Devils was limited to the battle the British 1st Airborne faced around Arnhem in a desperate bid to show Montgomery had an imagination (this was proven but also showed that old Monty should stop trying to be a rock start and stick to war by accounting, something he was very good at). Highway to the Reich takes the entire Market Garden Operation on and delivers it to the player on a silver platter.

In Highway to the Reich you will have opportunity to play all aspects and major scenarios from the British and American Airborne drops to the push of XXX Corp through a straw..well up a single road actually but a straw probably would have been easier. The game gives, gives and gives some more. If you like hard core "real time" wargaming at a tactical level than this product is for you. It will keep you busy for an awfully long time just be sheer number of battles you can fight of different sizes and scope.

Now if that wasn't enough, the real genius of the Airborne Assault series has been the AI. My friends (and not so friendly) stare at the following sentence for a long that it may be burned into your brains for all time..AIRBORNE ASSAULT HAS THE BEST AI ENGINE IN THE INDUSTRY..PERIOD!! I have played a lot of wargames in this business and AA has em all beat. If anyone out there thinks the Government has a better solution, dream on. I've played those too and I can tell you Airborne Assault has to check under its shoes to see them.

The beauty of the AI engine in Highway to the Reich (which is pretty much the same..with improvements of course as Red Devils) is that it is just that: intelligent. Not only will the enemy AI pull some really decent tactics to make your life difficult but the friendly AI takes the game to a level which you simply don't see in many other places. The friendly AI allows the player to give and order to a Bn; say assault position X in such and such a method. Then the AI takes that and basically develops a Bn plan, moves the companies, sets up a fire base, calls in support fire a goes into action. This takes the micromanagement one normally sees to ensure your little digital numpties don't stroll into a lake and handles it. This means you can play at the Division level..for real!! Want to send a Regt to take a town..go right ahead no need to plot a the route for each truck or make sure that the Arty actually falls.the AI will do it for you and do it well.

The menu system will take some getting used to, but proves itself intuitive.

The graphics won't win any awards, but they clearly present the necessary information.

Now the AI is not perfect but I found that it is close enough that it probably is more realistic being imperfect (a la real numpties) than if it never made a mistake. All in all the major selling point of this game, other than the sheer scope, has to be the AI and the game play that it provides.

Game play itself is very flexible. You play in real time but can pause for orders and planning. This is very handy in the larger scenarios or when the action gets really furious. You have the ability to dial up the realism as high or low as you like as well, which means people in the deep end for the first time can catch a break.

The scope of units is great. You will basically see every echelon unit that was actually on the ground in 44. On top of this all there is a solid editor included so if you want to see how the Royal Regt of Dogwalkers would have faired then play it out.

If there are weaknesses for the average user in Highway to the Reich, I would have to say it is the graphics and learning curve. The graphics are 2-D top down perspective. Now for us old grogs this is no big deal.we looked at hexes for about a decade but for the current generation I am pretty sure the graphics are going to be a bit of a disappointment. That being said, the maps in Highway to the Reich are a big improvement over Red Devils and are a beauty to look at. Units are still little squares of info a la board games but hey take it or leave it. Combat consists of little lines and "sparkly" animations which won't "wow" anyone but then again that is not the point of the game. Sound is solid in the effects department but not inspiring.

The second "weakness" is the learning curve. This game is very easy to pick up and run but to really play it, will take some time to figure out all of the effects combat, terrain etc will have on a given battle. The improved time delay feature (which you can turn off if you are a light-weight) means you will tell a unit to do something and then have to wait.for the twitch junkies out there, this will be a maddening hell. No, Highway to the Reich is a game meant to be savored slowly and over time.

The game plays in real time, but gives you the option of pausing to give orders.

You can take control of many different troops and troop types at one time.

Top game moment: Executing a perfect assault against the enemy with minimal casualties on your side.

In summary, Airborne Assault: Highway to the Reich is an excellent wargame for the true enthusiast. It may be a bit daunting for the newbie but I can guarantee if you have the parts the pay off will be worth it. Highway to the Reich takes the idea of "combat command" and has made this the cornerstone of the product. In my opinion this game is as close as anyone who wasn't there in Monty's HQ in '44 will ever get to Market Garden, and as a "game" rides the line between entertainment and historical re-enactment with style and grace.

by Capt
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