The Cold War was a time of deep tension as America fought a philosophical battle against the Soviet Union. The threat of armed conflict and nuclear tension was high between the two towering nations, with numerous proxy wars and close calls. Those troubling possibilities were thankfully never realized, but video games offer unique opportunities to explore that world gone hot. Eugen Systems and Focus Interactive do just that in an alteranative 1985 with Wargame: AirLand Battle, a real-time strategy game and sequel to 2012’s Wargame: European Escalation, where NATO and PACT forces battle for control of a war-torn Europe. But unlike other games of the genre, Wargame‘s scale is massive and with a keener focus that beginners and veterans can equally enjoy.
Wargame: AirLand Battle doesn’t follow the traditonal real-time strategy format. It focuses almost entirely on the battles themselves and the tactics therein rather than the mining of metals and construction of bases. This is arguably in its favor, because it gets to the core of what we love in a real-time strategy game: managing armies and seeing the destruction they cause. This also has the benefit of allowing those of us who are less nimble with fingers the hope of success. Speed does not matter in AirLand Battle as it does in other games. Instead, the onus is on how you compose, position and manage your units in battle. It’s more methodical, but it’s not a watered down experience.
Similar to 2007’s World in Conflict, units are called onto the map via a pool of deployment points. Every unit has a cost associated with their deployment. More powerful ones are naturally more expensive. Those points are gained through battle as you destroy enemy units and automatically every few seconds, the latter amount depending on how many domination zones your team controls. Depending on the game mode, victory points – their title should require no definition – are gained similarily.
Earning enough victory points may be the ultimate goal, but managing your armies to get there is easier said than done. A great deal of AirLand Battle‘s depth comes from a healthy amount of realism they’ve infused into its mechanics. Every unit has a limited amount of fuel and ammunition. They have differing values for armor, armor penetration, the distance they can detect enemies, range of operation, morale and a dozen different statistics. It’s almost too much to take in at a glance, made more difficult by the abundant use of military shorthand. Memorizing them isn’t as critical to success as two other core concepts, however.
AirLand Battle‘s maps are full of small towns, forests, plains and broken sight lines. These provide a lot of cover and potential chokepoints and it’s important to use them to your advantage. That’s right, it’s a real-time strategy game with cover mechanics. Units in the open are not only more visible but less likely to avoid attacks, as well. If they get shelled too hard they can even become stunned and unable to retaliate.
Equally important is what you fill those maps with. Without a balanced variety of units, lines will quickly crumble. It may seem fun to call in dozens of heavy tanks, but they won’t be able to hit what they can’t see unless you reinforce them with scouts. Every role is important. And thanks to its slant toward realism, there’s a weight to each pawn on your board. Losing one can really hurt, making each battle – and the silence before the storm as everyone moves into position – tense and exciting at the same time in a way other real-time strategy games lack.