A cardboard classic, the original Squad Leader board game - and its follow-on, Advanced Squad Leader orASL-took up most of my waking moments when it was first released back in the 70s. To a whole generation of wargamers it is, without a doubt, the definitive squad-level, hex-based wargame, so when giant games developer Hasbro bought Squad Leader's original publisher, Avalon Hill, I expected a real classic. Let's face rt, I've waited nearly 30 years... To be fair to Hasbro and Microprose, there is no mention of Avalon Hill or the original game anywhere on the packaging or in the manual - partly due to complaints from buyers in the US, suspect, where it was released slightly earlier - but all wargamers know that this was meant to be 'it', the classic board game brought to life on a monitor.
The result is nothing short of a farce. Take an early X-Com game, give it a World War II flavour, and you're nearly there. Unfortunately, it's all been done before with Soldiers At War and 101st Airborne In Normandy, neither of which were particularly memorable. Indeed, if there are improvements, they're hard to spot.
Basically the game is a blend of squad-level wargame and RPG. You choose your squad from more than 100 individual soldiers, each of which has a different personality. As you progress through the missions they gain experience and improve their skills. If they don't get killed, of course. Occasionally a soldier will get a randomly-determined letter from home, which either raises or lowers his morale rating. It doesn't work though - the soldiers never come across as much more than a bunch of statistics.
You can choose up to three five-man squads for some missions and add specialists such as snipers, medics, engineers and platoon leaders. In campaign mode you play either US, British or German forces through ten to 13 missions. Alternatively, you can play single one-off missions or randomly generate them according to taste. However, there's no multiplayer element at all and no scenario editor. The uninspiring 800 x 600 graphics are little better than those in many DOS games, and the animations are monotonously routine. While the terrain looks good, the vehicles are only vague representations of the real thing.
The Fog Of War
The level cutaway feature, which allows you to remove higher terrain to see what's going on, is pathetic, except for occasionally finding lost men and equipment and working out where you might move to. The big problem with the engine is that there are no tools for gauging line of sight or the relevance of terrain as cover. Place your crosshairs on an enemy and you'll get a percentage chance to hit, but there's no indication that he can see you or how well protected you are by a wall or hedge or whatever.
Just to make it more difficult the enemy soldiers pop up and disappear rapidly during the ATs turn, leaving you hopelessly confused about what's going on. I've heard of fog of war but this is ridiculous. The sound effects are equally retro and weapons sound flat and insignificant. The dialogue is wooden and repetitive too. American soldiers that are hit shout things like "Mom" and "I'm hit" with incredible regularity while the Germans offer much the same but in a different language. Probably German.
Add occasional crashes and the game's refusal to reload some saved games and you've got a pretty dire two-dimensional combat simulation. It might have raised some eyebrows in the mid-'90s, but it's a waste of time in 2001. This game is basically Soldiers At War in another guise with little added. It's not the original in any shape or form. A massive disappointment and not far short of a total rip-off.
Download Squad Leader
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP