Battles in Italy PC CD-ROM
Published by Matrix Games
Developed by SSG
Release Date: Out Now
Price: £31.99 (£26.99 for a Digital Download)
Battles in Italy, an introduction.
Over the years, as games developers have tried to appeal to the general public rather than dedicated gamers, games have become easier. Making games easier has had a major side effect though. Those gamers who encouraged the industry when it was in its infancy have become disillusioned with weak AI and 'dumbed down' aspects of modern gaming. The strategy genre has seen this phenomenon probably more than any other and for those advanced gamers and grognards it's been a difficult pill to swallow. It's not all doom and gloom though. There are still developers out there that are prepared to make games that cater for the seasoned strategists and make no compromises on their difficulty or depth. Matrix Games have a collection of developers under their umbrella that fit this description. Developers such as SSG are continually making games that delight the experienced gamers and grognards of this world and Battles of Italy is one such title.
What's the game about?
Battles in Italy is part of SSG's Decisive Battles of World War II series that also featured Korsun Pocket and Battles in Normandy. Like those previous games, Battles in Italy is a great example of how good an operational turn-based wargame can be. As the name suggests the game focuses on three key battles in Italy, where the battles were ones of attrition. The battles on offer are Operation Husky (the invasion of Sicily), Operation Avalanche (the invasion of Italy) and Operation Shingle (the Anzio landing). In addition to these comprehensive scenarios the game comes with an editor that will allow you to create scenarios of your own.
What's good about the game?
If you're a wargamer, you're simply going to love what's on offer in Battles in Italy. Even though it might seem a limited game, where it contains only three scenarios, this isn't the case. The game allows you to play as either the Axis or Allies (which effectively means you have six scenarios as playing either side is a completely different experience). The AI is superb and, thanks to new defensive routines, always reacts to your decisions in an intelligent way so using different strategies means the AI adapts its own strategies to counter yours thus ensuring a high replay value. It's great to see AI that actually goes for the jugular rather than pussy-footing around and make no mistake, if you have a chink in your defence, it will be found by the AI. interdiction has been greatly improved since Korsun Pocket and now offers a wealth of options. New bridge building features have been included and minefields and strongpoints can be built. In terms of multiplayer options you can play hotseat and play by email games.
The maximum map size has significantly increased since Korsun Pocket and now battles can be huge. The included editor means that even if you don't want to create your own scenarios, there will be plenty of enthusiasts who will create them and you'll be able to download them to play which is great news. There is a beta of a user-made scenario that features a map of Europe (available for download) that uses the maximum map size possible with the game engine and it's huge, much bigger than the ones that come with the game. The list of great features and improvements since Korsun Pocket (I haven't played Battles in Normandy so I can't comment on that game) is absolutely huge and it would take me a very long time indeed to include them all here. Suffice to say however that whilst Korsun Pocket was a great game, Battles in Italy is without a doubt one of the most impressive wargames I have ever played. Even though it has great depth I wouldn't say it was beyond the reach of any gamer. All you need is the dedication to follow the included tutorials (attempting to jump straight in though would not be a wise decision for most gamers and you'll be oblivious to the finer points of the game) and you'll soon realise what a superb and absorbing game Battles in Italy is.
What's not so good about the game?
There are only a few issues I have with Battles of Italy. Most gamers who purchase the game will want a paper copy of the manual so as to refer to it whilst playing. Matrix Games sell a boxed copy of the game as well as a digital download and whilst, the digital download version comes with a PDF manual, it's a shame that this is also the case for the boxed copy. What this means of course is that you'll have to print off the game, editor and tutorial manual if you want access to them whilst playing the game. In the case of the tutorial manual it's absolutely essential that you have a physical copy of it because none of the tutorial text appears onscreen (you are expected to be reading the text from the tutorial manual as you play through). I would also add that it would have been useful to have been able to save your progress whilst playing the tutorials. Some of them are rather lengthy and if you don't have a lot of time to spare this could be problematic. It's also a shame the game menus aren't as intuitive as they should be and navigating them feels clunky and outdated. It was great to see that the game supported the 1280x1024 resolution of my 17" TFT but it was annoying that the game only used this resolution in the actual scenarios. On the main menu, during the tutorials and when using the editor, the default 1024x768 resolution was used and this made the whole thing look very blocky on a 17" TFT.
How does it look?
With Battles of Italy being a hex-based wargame the expectations for top notch graphical quality would have been misplaced. By today's standards the game looks quite plain. This is not a complaint however as hex-based wargames are not games that need graphical excellence and instead not to be easy on the eyes and offer clarity with units that offer as much information at a glance as is humanly possible. Playing the game at 1280x1024 on my 17" TFT made the units look a little too small for my liking but thanks to the magnifying lens style zoom feature (where you hold down the Alt key to magnify the terrain and units within a certain radius) this isn't too much of a problem.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
I've absolutely no complaints with Battles of Italy in regards to how deaf gamer friendly it is. Our version of the game (which wasn't a retail boxed copy) didn't come with a paper manual so we printed off the extensive tutorials (the tutorial text doesn't appear onscreen so this was a necessity). The tutorials were superbly written and very straightforward to follow which is essential in a game of this complexity. The game relays its information through the use of text and icons, so at no point will deaf gamers have any problems.
The only thing you can say about Battles in Italy is that it is an outstanding wargame. Yes it's difficult to grasp at first (especially if you haven't played SSG's other titles or other hex-based wargames) but following the excellent tutorials, and having patience whilst you manage to grasp and gain an understanding of the game's mechanics, will enable you to have an immensely satisfying experience from playing the game. Whilst the game's not perfect (see above for our very few niggles with the game) it's pretty darn close and the game deserves to be hailed as a wargaming classic.
Overall Game Rating: 9.3/10
Deaf Gamers Classification
(Click here for full details)
SSG have created one of the most impressive wargames I've seen with Battles in Italy. The game has plenty of depth, quality AI and plenty of replay value. Seasoned wargamers will love what's on offer and thanks to a collection of well written tutorials everyone else can enjoy this hex-based classic.