Battle Isle: The Andosia War
|a game by||Cauldron Ltd.|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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My ideal strategy game - aside from pornographic Patience, of course -would be something with the pace and exhilaration of Red Alert with the immersive 3D graphics of a game like Ground Control and the depth and replayability of a resource management game like Civilization. Nice idea, huh?
Meanwhile, back on earth, Blue Byte has tried hard to make the fifth incarnation of its seminal Battle Isle strategy series into what they call the definitive 'conflict simulation'. If the numbers confuse you, Battle Isle 4: The Andosia War is actually the fifth instalment because the one-time classic Incubation continued the same storyline at a squad-level game.
But wait, according to Blue Byte, it has announced a new genre. Battle Isle 4 is certainly a big step forward in strategy game terms. It combines real-time and turn-based elements in a fully-rendered and textured 3D world. So how on earth does it manage that? Well, the economics of the game - mining resources and creating useful things like tanks, planes and ships is done in real time with no let-up at all.
However, the bomb-blasting, bullet-bouncing bits are strictly turn-based. This is achieved by giving you forever to sort out your economy, but only a finite amount of time to move and fire your units before your opponent gets his, her (or its) turn. You get anywhere from a couple of minutes to quarter of an hour, depending on the scenario and settings, to do what has to be done. During your opponent's turn, you switch back to your base and manage your economy. It sounds weird, but it works, sort of.
The plot pits the forces of General Bratt against a sect called the Children of Haris, but that's irrelevant as both have the same weapons and tactics anyway. Whichever side you play, you start out with an 'economic' island and a 'battle' island which helps you get used to the two intertwined elements of turn-based and realtime gameplay. Eventually the distinction blurs as you'll soon end up either defending your base or invading someone else's.
The combination of real-time and turns works well enough. What causes initial problems -but what eventually makes the game so good - is the 3D element. Battle Isle 4 was created in 3D twist-and-spin-around 'whizzovision' and it takes some bloody mastering, I can tell you.
It can even give you a stomach-churning dose of motion sickness if you overdo it.
You control an amazingly flexible camera that can zip up overhead for a bird's eye view of the landscape or zoom in close and get right among your soldiers and vehicles. You can rotate at any angle, examine any terrain and even scout the whole map. You won't see enemy units until they reveal themselves but you can at least plan your next moves.
With a reasonable PC and a decent graphics card, the results are impressive. The landscape and buildings are a real delight, as are the vehicles and men. You can even zoom in and see the paint peeling from the flamethrower soldier's back-mounted tanks.
The turn-based nature of the battles doesn't give you the same atmosphere as say Ground Control, with all its burning wrecks and continuous explosions. In BI4, you're treated to some good firing sequences and explosions, but only for a second or two. You can get an idea of the detail involved by zooming in next to a missile-equipped Buggy - you can even make out the red and white squares on the missile as it launches.
Better still are the incredible weather effects - and they're not just for show. Rain and snow and darkness severely restrict your options, so planning an attack means keeping as much of an eye on the weather forecast as on the clock.
The game has 40-odd units and 25 different buildings, each upgradable in up to four steps. Admittedly, most result in simple increases in productivity but it does require some intelligent research decisions rather than blindly following the obvious paths.
The essence of the game revolves around three resources-aldinium, iron ore and water -but it's essential that each building is kept on the 'energy net' either by building close to others or by ERP, or energy relay posts. Also, buildings have to be connected by pipes before they function and these have to be laid manually. Just to give you something to do, of course.
The first few hours of frustration - and the tenth time you end up looking at a particularly well-rendered stretch of empty ocean or a deserted mountainside - will almost certainly have you twiddling with all the graphics and control settings to slow down or speed up the mouse and try and inject some sort of sanity.
Fear not, there are loads of twiddlable options to lose or gain game speed and, after a while, the interface will become second nature. Especially if you use the four camera memory settings and the Control and Alt keys which slow the camera down to tolerable settings. The main problem is that below-average PC owners can get lulled into a false sense of security - a game on a 400MHz Celeron with Voodoo 3 card appeared to whip along -until about 20 enemy units appeared in range and the game quickly became unplayable. Back to the options and game settings panel... On the other hand, the same game on a 500MHz Pentium zipped along and hardly stuttered. Only the obvious control problems still remained with the camera swinging wildly about from one side of the island to the other. That is, until I got used to it, of course.
Back in the game, there are two campaigns to play with 23 missions between them. How well you do in one reflects directly on the subsequent ones, so you can find yourself reverting to save games more often than you'd like. You can also attempt network games against the computer but these bear no relationship to the main plot.
And, of course, this being the multiplayer day and age, there is the possibility of playing up to four players on each of two sides, via Blue Byte's own server. It wouldn't let me on, but then I did only have a review copy of the game. Miserable bastards.
The AI might have one or two problems. Its transports once ended a move well inside range of my tanks. Result: no more transports. But that aside, BI4 is a generational leap ahead in terms of strategy games. It's involving, clever, addictive and even fun. Ground Control has atmosphere, other games have depth. Battle Isle 4 is brilliant. Flawed, but brilliant.
Lines Of Command
The arc described by the thin purple line, which is activated automatically or by pressing the Alt key, shows the units range of vision while the thin yellow arc shows weapon range and the red line picks out targets in range. The thick red line shows the furthest a unit can move while the dark blue area delimits positions to which the unit could move if it wanted to keep its one remaining shot. Move beyond that and it won't be able to attack - or defend in the next round.