Battlefield Command: Europe at War 1939-1945
A decade or more since we were happily moving little green blocks around the screen and calling them armies, Battlefield Command appears on the horizon - a real-time strategy wargame with more ground level gloss than the average first-person shooter.
Some people might dismiss the look of the thing as trivial, but before we get onto more weighty concerns (or pointless nonsense, delete as applicable) like game mechanics and verisimilitude, Battlefield Command deserves credit simply for being ridiculously pleasing on the eye even at this early stage of development. This wargame is so detailed you can zoom down from a bird's eye view of an entire battlefield right into the bushes where Boris the anti-tank gunner is having a quick slash. I kid you not. You might reasonably expect a vast array of realistic vehicles, day and night transitions, water reflections and some quality explosion effects. But wind rustling the leaves of the trees and individual blades of grass crushed as tanks roll by? That's above and beyond the call of duty, and then some.
With Love, From Russia
Battlefield Command is Russian developer 1 C's (of IL-2 fame) first strategy title. The general idea is that you take charge of a small number of units in major battles throughout the European theatre of war - from the invasion of Poland through to the war on the Eastern front, D-Day, the liberation of Paris and the fall of Germany in 1945. You'll have the choice of playing the Allied/Axis dividing line from just about every perspective, and your missions will involve a host of challenges,
from recon and rescue missions to city skirmishes, ambushes or sabotage. As often happens, the realtime strategy tag is somewhat misleading. Battlefield Command is a resolutely tactical game, presenting you with small but immediate problems in the midst of a wider conflict. At most you might be responsible for around 20 units at a given time. Then again, a unit is defined as anything from a lone infantryman to a tank and its entire crew, so don't go expecting an easy ride.
The net result will be few cavalier tank-rushes and more wet-nursing inexperienced troops and hard to replace vehicles through the grim realities of modern warfare. The troops you command will each have their own personality and skills, and although the same grunts may or may not be available to you in every mission, a decent commander will still be able to develop their abilities to the point where a T-34 crewed entirely by nurses might still acquit itself well. It should be a lot more of a personal experience than the average strategy game.
Resource management chores will be minimal for the most part. It'll be up to you how you kit out your units from a changing pool of available resources and, if you're of the hardcore persuasion, the level of detail runs right through to the choice of handguns and ammunition. But to make the game more accessible for slacker strategists much of this can be automated so that you can concentrate on the simpler joys of life - like blowing stuff up - and occasionally remembering to scavenge useable ammo or fuel from the battlefield.
Tanks For The Memory
So, Battlefield Command majors on visual and historical accuracy. Hardly a surprise that, given its parentage. The game uses the IL-2 Sturmovik engine re-worked to a much higher level of detail with deformable terrain reconstructed from period topographical data. Vehicles are modeled from blueprints and regular visits to Moscow's military museum (why bother with grainy old photos when you can nip down to the park and take a tape measure to a T34 yourself?), and events are played straight out of official archive records.
We're talking realism that's as hardcore as a blindfolded snowboarder attempting a backside 360 while miming the chariot scene from Ben Hur. For instance, I now know that German tanks had stencilled markings while Russian ones were usually scruffier, hand-painted jobs. I'm not sure quite how this will change my life, but I'm happy to wait and see. Perhaps there should be some limits. Filling boxes with individually serial-numbered anti-tank shells, or modeling the spin of mortar shells (as if you can ever see them out of Debug mode) is really taking 'retentive' to sphincter stretching limits.
However, despite the history buff hard-on, the detail is fundamentally there to have a dramatic effect on gameplay. So, for example, survivors of a gun crew will go through new and longer loading animations as they double up on gunnery chores, and when you shell a building you'll see appropriate levels of damage played out on a room by room basis. Complete with interior decor, of course.
Obsessive, Compulsive But Not Disordered
Normally an overdeveloped obsession with military detail makes me very nervous fin case you hadn't guessed). I start mentally booting the release date back a few months or years and wondering whether the misplaced desire to model Corporal Smith's shoelaces might cause something trivial like, ah, a playable game to be forgotten.
But the 1C development team are an odd bunch. In their modern Moscow offices - walls freshly painted in a bouncy shade of grey - there are few pictures or toys, no death metal T-shirts, and not a pizza carton in sight. It's quite frightening.
Instead, they're tidy, disciplined and scarily on top of things. This, after years of listening to hairy-arsed US programmers telling me exactly how awesome and like uh, really, uh, cool their product is going to be if it ever comes out (or how low-rent Porsche Boxsters are, which is clearly far more important to them), is a blessed relief. A development team looking like they might actually do something on time? Wonders will never cease.
With a year until release, the game engine is already performing minor miracles and the animations and the unit modeling are well on schedule. The interface isn't finalised as yet, but is most likely to be a conventional mouse, keyboard and hotkey combination. Meanwhile, 1C is working with designers from Codemasters on mission balancing, multiplayer, and fine tuning the Al. If they can get that right - and I'm not even going to attempt to predict how the Al and mission difficulty will pan out at this stage - then Battlefield Command will be a major success. IL-2 Sturmovik was a hell of a flight sim, but one that lent itself mostly to the purist. This game should have something to please both historical warmongers and the gamer at large. Cute as a heavily-armed button, chock-full of detail and with an interestingly personal feel that you don't normally get in strategy wargames. It's a title we'll be watching carefully when it previews officially at E3.
But if there's one thing about Battlefield Command that really brings home how far we've moved on since those early days of green-block armies it's this: the game has an active battlefield of 1 km2 which you might think is more than enough. However. 1C is scripting entire (historically accurate) battles to be waged around a 16km2 periphery just for the hell of it. Forget the years we've spent trying to clip, hide or generally fudge unnecessary unit action and save a few precious processor cycles, this game is putting them in just to give your missions some extra decoration and a bit of context. Creating a warzone just for the ambience? That's an excuse even Tony Blair hasn't come up with yet.
Meet The Russians
Pirating The Pirates In Moscow
Moscow is modernising like crazy, buzzing and bullish in an '80s kind of way. Yet our host still paid for a meal for ten (including cabbage) with a carrier bag full of cash.
Neo-bleak and Mock-sombre architecture jostle for space with glittering new shopping centres, 130metre cast iron patriotic monuments and cake-like constructions straight out of the Grimm Book of Edible Cathedrals. It's a funny old place to do business. Not least because it's a city where a full price PC game retails at something like US$3, or about two quid to you and me. Why? Because that's what the pirate copies cost, and pirate copies are sold openly in shops. In fact, they're almost brands in their own right - cheekily slapping their own logos beside the real ones and claiming to be 'in association' with them. So if you try to charge any more for original software than the pirates do for theirs, you don't sell. Two quid it is then. There are laws against this sort of thing. Unfortunately, my hosts claim, since one of the largest pirate companies is effectively state owned, the laws are as much use as earmuffs for kippers. In fact, one of the biggest issues in their software business right now is pirates pirating other pirates. Now the concept of a pirate trying to encourage brand loyalty is definitely a new one on me, but it'd almost be worth sponsoring ELSPA to open a Russian branch just to see how they'd deal with it.
Download Battlefield Command: Europe at War 1939-1945
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP