Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation Review (PC)

With this further sequel to the acclaimed RTS game Blitzkrieg (following on from the first expansion pack Fall of the Reich), Nival/CDV continues to plough the already well-furrowed field of WWII tactical simulations. The game is unlikely to win any awards for originality in itself, but that is clearly not the developerís aim, who instead seeks to appeal to a core demographic of would-be PC generals who have a never-ending appetite for reliving the legendary battles of Nazi Germany against the Soviet and Russian forces of the 1940s through a beautifully rendered PC landscape.

Confusion on multiple fronts Ground troops dig in

Unlike many other more generic games of its type, the whole Blitzkrieg corpus prides itself on its attention to historical detail. As such, as soon as the player enters the campaign (having chosen either to fight for the noble allies or the evil axis) he is confronted with a biography of the general he is fighting under, as well as detailed historical information about the battle and its place in the overall WWII campaign. It is this more involved level of historicity that may well attract the history buffs to this game over its competitors, and indeed continues to lend a pleasing air of authenticity over the whole scope of the game.

There is a choice of four difficult options ranging from easy to very hard, and once that choice is made the battle begins. By battle, I mean battle, because regardless of the difficulty level you select, the armchair corporal is one for one hell of a test here. It is clear that Liberation is intended to appeal to converts already won over by previous Blitzkrieg offerings and as such there is no gentle intro for the inexperienced gamer. Even the opening missions for either campaign present hideously difficult odds against computer opponents superior in manpower and weaponry. As a casual player of previous incarnations of Blitzkrieg I was familiar with general handling and use of my troops but even so I was overawed by the intensity required for any successful execution of a mission. As such, newbies may well wish to test out an earlier outing before cutting their teeth on this tactical monster.

Difficulty aside, the game-play itself hones the already successful format of previous offerings in providing beautifully rendered and highly detailed maps of war-torn Europe through France and Italy. The fully 3D environment was reminiscent to me of the 2-D Sudden Strike but with far greater mobility and detail. The landscape not only aesthetically pleasing with incredible levels of detail in the intricately drawn scenery and combat units, but also highly functional. The insane difficulty of some missions means that you will end up scrutinising every inch of the terrain for the most effective cover for your beleaguered force. The proper utilisation of a particular copse of trees or trench can be the difference between failure and success in any number of missions.

The soundtrack is effective and initially engaging on an emotional level although after some intense hours battling the frustratingly difficult to kill Nazis, I began to find the orchestral score more than a little overpowering in places. Regardless of the mission I felt like I was being emotionally pulled into the trauma that Oliver Stone so effectively created in Platoon through his use of Barberís Adagio for Strings; thatís fine for a 2-hour movie, but after multiple repeats of any given mission, the powerful and haunting string pads can fray a gamerís already tattered nerves. No such complaints about the other use of sound (other than the exclusively Russian accents in this version which I am assured will be varies to include US and German accents for release) with bullet cracks and shell explosions nicely executed.

The depth and range of all campaigns is very impressive. The game boasts over 250 authentic WWII units and 60 types of infantry, and pretty much each and every one demands to be used to its full and specific tactical capacity in order to maximise your chances of completing a campaign. Although the tutorial sets you up for the basic elements and fundamental control of your army, it is really only experience and sheer bloody-mindedness that can allow full realisation of the potential that is locked up in each tank, sniper or artillery unit. Time prevented me from completing a campaign all the way to its epic conclusion, but such is the investment required in each mission that I am confident that any gamer who is won over by fiendish tactical demands and the requirement for patient exploitation of every different permutation of grenade, bullet and shell will be rewarded with weeks, if not months of game-play.

Pre-battle organization Home fires burning

So how good is it? Well that really depends on what youíre in the market for. If you can stroll through most historical RTS games with your eyes shut and have a hunger for something to really get your teeth into, then Liberation offers the perfect 3 course meal along with complimentary with after-dinner mints. If however, youíre looking for a fun looking WWII game to give to your history-mad yet gaming-inexperienced uncle, stay well clear. I would be concerned that for anyone other than the hardcore gamer, a couple of frustrating hours and limited success may be enough to turn off the casual player for life. That said, the developers clearly have a specific demographic in mind, and in meeting the stringent demands of creating a taxing game for such outrageously competent RTS gamers they have succeeded admirably. For the veteran, this game probably merits a 9 ranking, for the virgin 5, and as such, I am led to an overall rating of 7.

Top Game Moment:
The most involving campaigns require the linking of land troops, air support and naval elements and as such an effective general needs a steady hand on all the elements.