Review

World War II: Frontline Command Review (PC)

WWII: Frontline Command is the latest RTS Tactical Combat Game by BitMap Brothers and Published by Strategy First. The game is part of the sub-genre of RTS game I like to refer to as “stand and deliver” games. These types of games essentially give the player a finite amount of resources, often just combat troops and a mission is about it. They stand in contrast to “Bake, Build and Burn”(B3), RTS titles which normally allow a player to collect resources and try to create an “arm of decision” of their choosing. B3 games tend to be time sensitive in that the longer you take to chop wood, milk cows, bake bread or squeeze out pikemen/archers/hover tanks, the better the chance that the AI or your opponent will come over the hill with a horde of trolls/orcs/postmen/angry mother-in-laws…what have you.

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The “stand and deliver” sub-genre cuts through the resource management for the most part and streamlines the gameplay. In WWII: Frontline Command, time is not of the essence but conservation of your meager resources will definitely make or break your game. Set on the Western Front (sigh…can we find another theatre of war puleez!?), WWII: Frontline Command is set in a series of tactical (think Company-sized) engagements from D-1 airborne drops all the way to battles across the Rhine. The scope is very grandiose but at the end of the day I found that it really didn’t matter whether you were actually in Holland or Normandy for the game play. It is all green hedgerows and farms with the odd smattering of towns and enemy installations.

“We’re not here to do the decent thing!!”

WWII: Frontline Command, as a tactical game, is not bad, but then again, it is not great either. On the positive side, missions are varied and can be quite creative. Often, you can change from having to destroy enemy installations to clearing out an area or securing an airfield or bridge another time. Game balance is fairly solid throughout; you are generally given enough forces as long as you use them properly. However, on the downside, vehicles are strictly “gamey.” Do not expect there to be a whole lot of difference between a Sherman or a Tiger except the health bar. Those of you wondering if the Garand gives a significant advantage over the Kar 98 can simply look elsewhere because this game treat units in a very bland,shallow fashion.

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In the single player game, you can play only as the Allies, which is unfortunate, but the German kit really acts as a counterpart to the Allied equipment so there is no real difference there. Units look good but pretty much all behave the same. Terrain is modeled here, but only in, again, a very shallow sense. Line of Sight (LOS) is well represented, however tanks can truck through woods with abandon leaving actual terrain to factor minimally in your overall planning.

“How we suppose to shave in cold water?!”

Of note, this game does have high production value, with no noticeable bugs. The graphics are very nice and a decent camera system allows for interesting views, although I found that one normally has to max zoom out in order to actually fight in the game. Lush farmland (and lots of it) is well portrayed and quaint little villages ready to blow up dot the picturesque landscape. Because the environment is mostly plastic you can blow up everything, if that is your thrill.

Sound is a bit disappointing, actually. I found the background battle sound somewhat repetitive and provided not so much ambience as annoyance.

Overall, the interface, visuals and sound are all decent, if somewhat uninspiring.

“Momma…Momma!!”

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Combat in WWII: Frontline Command is definitely Lite…think 0.5% beer here. Basic tactics of using infantry in close terrain and armoured in open terrain are loose, and I am talking “Universal Medicare loose” here. Infantry can be painful in built up areas but as the game is more of a rock-paper-scissors affair, tanks really have more to fear from bazooka toting Engineers than infantry. I found some interesting twists, such as using snipers and commander units for enhanced scouting and then employing mortars on their spotted targets. But for the most part, I was able to wade through the Veteran Campaign using the tried and true former Soviet doctrine of “mass, gas and blast” (ok, I promise this is the last one of these device quips). Keeping your units together and driving in the general direction of the enemy will often be all the tactical thinking you need to win this game.

Some appealing units do turn up but they are fairly infrequent - flamethrowers and flame tanks, for example. These units will add surprises to gameplay, but I found them conspicuously scarce. You will be fighting many missions over similar-looking terrain using tanks, AT Guns and infantry…over and over again.

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Single player AI is tepid. Friendly pathfinding is decent, although you will have to Mother Goose units in certain areas. Enemy AI consists of set patrol paths, followed by charging into range and trying to kill you. The Enemy will target support vehicles such as Medic and Supply Trucks and tanks will try and kill tanks, however that is about as deep as the game goes. Don’t expect brilliant flankings or the like from this silicon opponent.

The game supports multiplayer via Gamespy Arcade and human opponents will provide an interesting enhancement, but here again the blandness of the units will lead to a simple contest of hitting with the most. There is no morale modeling, with the exception of hero modes which your units randomly pop into, meaning that your troops will stand and die regardless of which direction your opponent comes from.

“Quit screaming…it’s bad for morale!!!”

In general, I was disappointed with WWII: Frontline Command, even from the perspective of a lite tactical game. I genuinely enjoyed the first three or four missions but I found my joy transformed into ashes as the initial thrill faded into boredom. I found too much repetition and “kiddie-pool” depth to the game. The RTS bar has been set very high by recent releases and developers should realize that audience expectations are going to rise with it. Perhaps two or three years ago this would have been a more impressive product, but I found that like low alcohol beer, we don’t love it for its “great taste” alone.


by Capt
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