The Bitmap Brothers, developers of World War II: Frontline Command, could possibly claim to be among the greatest game creators of all time. Illustrious achievements such as Speedball 2, Gods and Xenon 2 left gamers of yesteryear in spasms of awe. Recent success has been harder to achieve. The Bitmaps no longer possess the breathtaking originality of yore. The problem is - we've seen it all before. RTSs rain down on us like mortar fire from a clifftop cannon - and most of them are equally as unpleasant. WWII: FC is by no means the worst, but it's extremely bloody average.
In an attempt to simulate the extreme stress and hardship of WWII, this 37 mission RTS claims to possess a morale system that directly affects the way your troops react. In theory it's a hint of the innovative Al the company was once so renowned for. In practice the system plainly doesn't work. There's simply no noticeable difference in reaction speed or weapon accuracy regardless of whether your boys are stuck in the middle of a field surrounded by Nazis, or safely entrenched in an Allied bunker.
It'd also be nice to have an interface that worked. Grouped units tend to split up as soon as they start walking (or crawling), making advancing through enemy territory infuriating.
Equally mystifying is the supposed dynamic engine incorporating 3D line of sight and hearing. As far as we can tell this is no different from any other RTS. If anything, your soldiers' ability to spot the enemy before they spot you is probably worse than most - it's certainly not a patch on the eagle-eyed, quickwitted survival instincts of the units in C&C: Generals.
Look But Don't Touch
Even visually the game is disappointing; landscapes are bleak and lacking detail, the 3D camera reveals little of the terrain around you and units are small and poorly animated. The only redeeming feature atmospherically is the sound, which features anguished cries of the dying and bullets fizzing and ricocheting around you.
Though it pains us to say it, the reality is that this is an enormously uninspiring RTS. There is the occasional moment of joy, most notably the D-Day beach mission, but again, we've been there before.
For a much more wholesome WWII experience, Blitzkrieg, Commandos 2 and Medal Of Honor: Allied Assault are all infinitely more entertaining prospects. And when it comes to all-out modern warfare you cannot beat C&C: Generals. We just hope that whatever problems befell the development of this game they do not herald the end of The Bitmap Brothers. It really would be a terrible way to go.
Download World War 2. Frontline Command
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
As Any fan of Speedball, The Chaos Engine or Xenon will tell you, the Bitmap Brothers know gameplay. Take Z: Steel Soldiers, their most recent offering. OK, so it didn't sell so well, but the gameplay was solid as a robot's ass. Luckily, the Bitmaps haven't taken their harsh lesson at retail too much to heart, and their latest effort looks just as stupidly playable as any of their games.
Though in many ways the most straightforward game the Bitmaps have ever attempted, WWII: Frontline Command is a fine-looking RTS set against the familiar milieu of war in Europe. While lacking the daring, almost arcade simplicity of Steel Soldiers, it's no manual-heavy military simulator either. Instead, the Bitmaps seem to be treading a middle ground that both casual and hardcore gamers can enjoy.
Being a bit of a spoon at military strategy, I can happily confirm that Frontline lets the less tactically minded among us enjoy some good old-fashioned toy soldering, while at the same time providing veterans with plenty of scope for complex and satisfying strategic decisions. One of the game's key strengths is the emphasis on clever use of limited resources, frequently putting you at a numerical disadvantage and forcing a victory of wits. On the harder difficulty level you also have to struggle with secondary objectives and extra-tough conditions such as lack of ammo for your tanks and artillery.
Like Z: Steel Soldiers, the interface is completely clean and uncluttered, leaving the entire screen to the action and making everything fast and intuitive. While tanks and other units can be ordered around singly, riflemen and other smaller units automatically form squads, a now familiar trick for reducing micromanagement.
The first set of missions leads up to the D-Day beach landings, culminating in a bullet-riddled Saving Private Ryan affair that plays like a zoomed-out version of Medal of Honor's Omaha Beach level. As well as France, the cratered backdrops are provided by Belgium, Holland and, eventually, Germany itself.
Certain units in the game have special abilities. For example, engineers can set charges in buildings and commanders can use binoculars to increase your field of vision, a la Sudden Strike II. The commander has another purpose, though, since his presence serves to bolster troop spirits. This is another key to the game's potential strength, with your troops' actions being heavily governed by a powerful morale system. If morale gets too low - say, after a surprise ambush resulting in high casualties - they'll drop to their knees and mope uselessly for a while like a bunch of students who forgot to buy Rizlas. The hope is that, rather than the broad strokes painted by other morale systems, Frontline Command will offer a more meticulous and convincing portrait of troop behaviour.
Visually the game is solid, if not mindblowing, enhanced by a fully 3D camera and satisfying zoom range. It may not have the fanfare of Steel Soldiers, but FC could be a bigger hit by far.