World War II Frontline Command
by KOCH Media
Few developers can boast a portfolio that includes so many classic titles. The Bitmap Brothers are exceptional developers though. Anyone who owned an Atari ST or a Commodore Amiga will testify to that. Xenon, Gods and Speedball 1 & 2 are just some of the greatest software titles there have ever been. In recent times they've turned their hand to RTS games. Z and Z: Steel Soldiers were both good games in their own right and offered something different to the genre. Their latest game, World War II Frontline Command treads more familiar ground. Let's take a look and see if it has that old Bitmap Brothers magic.
Creating a World War II RTS is not for the faint hearted. Sudden Strike (and it's sequel) has been a superb WWII game and proves stiff competition. We've also had a preview version of Blitzkrieg for a few weeks now and that too is looking great. World War II Frontline Command can't really be considered to be in direct opposition to these titles though. For one thing Sudden Strike lets you control hundreds of units at a time. Blitkrieg is somewhat on a smaller scale and WWII Frontline Command is on an even smaller scale. From the week we've had with the game it's obvious that keeping your men alive is the number one priority, as is the ability to use them as a team and combine their individual abilities to get the best possible result. The Bitmap Brothers have taken great care to make sure you'll have to utilise all of your units effectively in order to succeed and it makes the game feel special.
The single player game offers two campaigns. The first one you'll have access to is the Recruit campaign which has 12 missions for you to complete. As the name would suggest, the game goes easy on you during these missions. Your troops will have unlimited ammo and their health will automatically replenish. There are no such luxuries in the Veteran campaign though and you'll have to use the supply trucks and medical trucks to good effect in order to maintain your troops. The Veteran campaign consists of 25 missions, which are split into 5 blocks of five. In each of these 5 blocks, 4 missions must be completed in order to progress. The Bitmap Brothers have obviously thought the game through very well and the Recruit campaign acts as an advanced tutorial mode in that it enables you to learn the intricacies of the game without being mercilessly punished.
The multiplayer mode enables you to play as the Axis if you wish and offers a range of game modifications that give the game variety. By default the Recruit mode is used, that is to say that health automatically replenishes etc., but if you want to, you can play in Veteran mode. The game can be time limited, which is always welcome if you don't fancy playing for hours on end. You can even add an extra twist to the gameplay by electing to play an Assassination game where you have to kill the enemies commander in order to win. Games can either be played over a IPX or TCP network and the game also supports GameSpy Arcade for easy play over the Internet.
There are a couple of features that make World War II Frontline Command unique. Selecting a unit will select a squad of units of the same type. Initially this seems a little awkward but it actually makes controlling the units a little easier and there is less emphasis on having to manually construct groups like you would in many other RTS games. Everything can be controlled with the mouse and you don't have to touch the keyboard if you don't want to. Right clicking on a group or vehicle will bring up their Order Ring, which is a menu of available commands that you can give to that unit. Of course using hotkeys is still a quicker method of giving orders but at least it gives you the opportunity to avoid using the keyboard if you wish.
We mentioned earlier how you have to use your men as a team in order to succeed and in my opinion this is where the game shines. Your commander has the ability to use binoculars which gives him an immense line of sight. Keeping a commander alive is highly important because of this. Of course some units have a greater line of sight than others but thanks to the shared line of sight feature this needn't be a problem. When a unit with a greater line of sight is situated to a unit with a poorer line of sight, the latter can benefit from the formers ability and can fire at targets that they would otherwise not be able too. This is a really nice touch and adds extra incentive, and indeed value, to all of your units.
The game features all of the modern gameplay elements such as being able to put your units in buildings to increase their line of sight etc. Resource management has been done away with. Formations are also included. You can even set up ambushes for unsuspecting enemies. Unit morale has to be maintained too. Isolated units will lose morale far quicker than ones that are grouped together and particularly in the presence of a commander. If morale reaches a very high standard a unit can go into Hero mode which results in them being particularly brave and putting themselves in very hazardous situations, although it usually works out for the best. Your units can even be made to run, walk and crawl.
We've mentioned the details about line of sight in the game but we should also mention the excellent fog of war system that this game has. Fog of war is usually handled one of two ways in a RTS. Either the unseen areas remain in a black shroud or once visited they take on a slight darker shade. World War II Frontline Command does things a little differently though and has to be the best fog of war system to date. As in real life your soldiers will have a knowledge of the area but will also have no idea of the enemies locations. In the game you'll see the complete area but the terrain will be covered by a grey rolling mist that conceals the enemy units. You can still see the nature of the land and the buildings etc.
Your do not have to completely depend upon their sight to spot enemies, they can also hear them too. When I first came across this in the tutorials I thought it was going to cause problems for deaf gamers but it doesn't. When enemies come within your units hearing radius, a black spinning cross will spin around their location. You can hear enemies before you see them, if they are not crawling, which of course can give you a strategic advantage. Most of the time this works wonderfully but I was a bit dismayed when a moving SDKFZ 223 appeared out of nowhere in one of the earlier missions when I could see that my units could hear units close to it. Still instances like this have been few and far between.
Generally speaking World War II Frontline Command is fine for deaf gamers. The four tutorials are fully subtitled. The mission briefings are given in text as well as speech and the objectives can be recalled at any time during a mission. What isn't subtitled though is the movie clips that are shown between the blocks during a campaign. These inform you of the historical events that provide the backdrop for your missions. This isn't a problem but it would have been nice if it was subtitled.
World War II Frontline Command makes many subtle advances for the RTS genre but graphically the game won't win any awards. The game uses a modified Z: Steel Soldiers engine and in all honesty this shows. Don't get me wrong it looks good, it's in full 3D, and you can enable anti-aliasing and other graphical niceties but there is nothing here that hasn't been bettered (with the exception of the great fog of war). For me though, I appreciate the displaying of the reload circles and other such functions far more that sky high polygon counts. The minimum requirements are a Pentium III 500MHz and the optimum requirements are a Pentium IV 1.2GHz or above. Our PC has an even higher specification and it was fine for most of the time but on a couple of occasions, such as the Normandy beach landing in the Recruit campaign the framerate fell into single figures. In the game's defence though, there was a heck of a lot of action going on.
It's impossible to go into detail about everything we liked, it was good to see our troops climbing through the bushes and being able to hide behind trees though, suffice to say the game has impressed us. The only problems are that the hearing radius occasionally slips up and your men don't always go the safest route from A to B and as a result you'll find yourself setting waypoints, just to be sure. You don't get the mass battles of Sudden Strike but you do get much more depth, which fans of Close Combat and Combat Mission will appreciate.
Game Rating: 9.0/10