WWII Online: Blitzkrieg
The orders came down from Strategy First at 1550 hours: "At 1600 hours you will meet up with Sgt. Primo and Sgt. Megadeath at the staging facility outside of the town of Namur. From there you will proceed south to protect the town of Namur from invading German armies that are attacking from 2 sides."
I arrived at the staging facility and surveyed the carnage that happened before I got there. I cringed at seeing my fellow British tankers lying dead among charred, burnt-out tanks. Sgt. Primo walked up as I was taking this all in and quietly said, "Don't worry, Dbltap; the time for revenge is today and today we will be the victors!" Striding purposely toward my tank, I jumped in and got the engines ready, glancing one more time at the destroyed tanks and bombed and burnt farmhouses, vowing that the Blitzkrieg would stop here and now!
Welcome, my fellow gamers, to the new massively multiplayer game called WWII Online: Blitzkrieg, where you and thousands of players from around the world get a chance to see what the WWII front lines were like and maybe even change history a bit by stopping or slowing down the German forces. If you still don't understand what this game is, think Everquest but with trench warfare, heavy artillery, strafing runs from airplanes, massive tank battles and my personal favorite, the "lone sniper." So grab your combat boots and meet me at the next section, you wet-behind-the-ears recruit -- we've got a game to review.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The game is set in the spring of 1940 when the German army began its onslaught of terror and destruction. You, the player, get to choose which side you will fight for, Axis (Germany, and later on Japan) or Allies (Britain, France, USA, and later on Russia). After that you will access a map to see where the battles are taking place. I must note that this is an awesome part of the game. Because battles are taking place all the time, even as I write this review, the next time I log on to play the town that I fought so hard to capture just might have been taken back by other people playing online. The war is constantly evolving whether you're online or not.
After picking which country to fight for, you then proceed to the screen that lets you choose which branch of the military you want to play as and what type of character you want to be. You can be a pilot, infantryman, tanker, troop transporter, or artilleryman (more types of weapons and vehicles will become available as the game moves on). What is really cool is the option of being able to join other game players and operate a tank as a crew, instead of trying to do everything at once by yourself.
Once you've picked what you want to be, the game will load and you will find yourself at a staging area where you can meet up with other players to form a battle plan or check your map to see where you need to go. Once the game is loaded you're put in first person view and the countryside is yours to drive, walk, fly, or crawl through. Just remember there are other people out there itching to kill you. The game progresses as the different powers (Axis or Allies) take towns, supply depots, and control buildings. If players don't work together they'll find themselves constantly trying to retake towns or get pushed right off the map.
The controls for the vehicles and infantry take a bit of practice. I recommend using a joystick if you plan on playing in a tank or any other type of motor vehicle; the same can be said for all aircraft in the game. Even if you are using a joystick you will still have to learn a few keyboard commands, but the game is much more enjoyable with a joystick. If you're playing as infantry, you'll probably wind up using the keyboard and mouse together, which works great if you're used to playing first-person shooters.
After mastering the controls, I found myself constantly getting sucked back to my computer chair, wanting to check in and see how the battle was going. I would hear desperate radio calls for help from other players and would immediately try to find out what town they were fighting in so I could come to their aid. The only time I found the game lacking in zest was when players were unwilling to cooperate with each other. This game's success depends on how many people Strategy First can get to participate and the type of people who play. When there are lots of people playing and people want to help each other out, this game is a total blast; if no one is playing or if the players just don't want to cooperate, then the game is very boring. I should also mention that playnet.com, the company running the servers for this game, charges a fee of $9.99 a month to play WWII Online. You do get the first 30 days as a free trial to see if this is something you'll want to play on a regular basis, so it's not like you're signed up for life. I would also like to point out that when I played this game for review, it was done on a 56k modem. At first I was worried that there would be too much lag for me to really enjoy the game, but I was pleasantly surprised. There is some lag, but not enough to discourage me from playing. If you have high-speed Internet access, you should be one happy soldier.
The entire game is multiplayer, you low-life yellow-belly recruit! Now skip this section and read on immediately, or drop and give me twenty!
I'm very picky when it comes to graphics, especially when they are in the first-person view, but I'm happy to report that aside from a few things even I, the great Doubletap, was satisfied. I'll break the graphics into two sections for you.
The first section is the vehicles in the game. I really loved the attention to detail that Strategy First put into the vehicles, especially the tanks. Depending on the type of tank you're driving, you'll have anywhere from one to five views available. You'll get to look through a gunner's viewpoint, tank commander's viewpoint, or even the driver's viewpoint, and each one gives you the feeling of being right there. The same can also be said for the graphics for the aircraft, artillery and infantry; they all come across as realistic as possible.
The second section of the graphics is the actual gameworld and its terrain. I found that the graphics look awesome when you are up close and personal, but the farther away you get, the farther the quality goes down. When I was on the move in a tank, I would notice jagged lines instead of straight lines representing the horizon. I also noticed a lack of trees and shrubs, which is key if you want to plan ambushes or hide because you've just seen 20 German Panzers heading your way. I also enjoyed the look of the buildings after a town has been fiercely fought over for days. You'll see buildings that look more like Swiss cheese then actual structures, limp flags stuck to the sides of houses, and smoke rising from recently destroyed tanks. I definitely got the feeling that I was in a war-torn land and that my chances for survival were slim to none.
There's not much more to say about the graphics because they do the job they're supposed to do -- making you feel like you're fighting in the war-torn Europe of the 1940s.
I absolutely love it when the audio flows seamlessly with the game and graphics, and that's exactly what's been done for WWII Online. I found myself scrunching down in my computer chair when I heard bullets zinging off the outside of my tank, or getting anxious when I heard a new shell being loaded into my tank's turret gun. I also loved the deep, heavy boom of firing the main tank gun; it gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside to know that someone else is on the receiving end. You'll also notice all the different sounds while driving a vehicle, the grinding of gears and the bogging down of a motor on steep inclines. The sounds for the airplanes are just as good, and nerve-wracking depending on how you look at it. If you're pulling sufficient G forces, you'll hear the wind pounding against the cloth skin of your airplane, which can be quite unnerving when you have more important things to worry about, like getting shot down. All in all I would say that Strategy First did a nice job making the audio fit we ll with the rest of the game.
PII 400Mhz or faster, 128 MB RAM, Win 95/98/ME/2000, 16 MB video card, DirectSound audio card, 8X CD-ROM drive, 56k or faster modem with Internet access.
Gamers who love lots of info with their games will be very happy about the manuals in WWII Online. You get not one, but two manuals in the game. The first manual contains everything you need to know concerning installation of the game and setting up your account with Playnet.com. The rest of the manual teaches you how to play the game, whether it is driving a tank, flying a plane or manning an anti-aircraft gun. The second manual is an info junkie's dream with a breakdown of every weapon, vehicle, plane or other handy instrument of destruction used in WWII. After reading both manuals, you'll be more than ready to step into the virtual battlefield and show everyone exactly what you're made of.
I'm so glad I waited a few weeks before writing this review. If I had completed the review when the game was first released, I would have had to give WWII Online a negative review because of all the bugs and the inconsistency of the game servers. Strategy First has done a tremendous job of fixing the bugs by releasing patches on a regular basis. Playnet.com has also done a pretty good job of fine-tuning the servers so that your online gaming experience is fun and hassle-free. There is still much work to be done to make the game work even better, but there isn't much need to worry if you look at the effort Strategy First has put forth so far, fixing bugs in a timely manner.
Right before this review was written, I had a chance to talk with Adam (Sgt. Primo) Phillips from Strategy First. He filled me in on what the company has planned for the game in the coming weeks and they are as follows: There should be one massive game world instead of multiple game worlds by July 6. Grenades, satchel charges, and the deadly Blenheim bomber will also be available by July 6. The people at Strategy First also wanted me to let you know that they'll be working to substantially reduce the memory requirements over the next five weeks. With everything being done to improve the game, I can honestly say that I won't mind paying the $9.99 a month to play at www.playnet.com.
As I've mentioned, one of the key elements that will make or break this game is the actual people playing WWII Online. I found I had a much better time playing when people were communicating and trying to work together toward a common goal, instead of the usual "me, me, me" attitude that I've seen in online gaming. Anyone who is into WWII games, or who feels capable of leading troops into combat, should give this game a try. I think you'll walk away pleasantly surprised at how much fun massive multiplayer games can be. So what are you waiting for? Grab your rifle and meet me at the front lines; we have an invasion to stop and pretty French girls to kiss as we smash the Germans to smithereens.
On that note, I'll give WWII Online: Blitzkrieg a score of 77/100, but with all the improvements being made the score could easily jump to 87/100. I'm off to have a spot of tea before jumping into my tank and racing to the front. Tally ho!!!