War games, above all else, need to make you feel like you're in the thick of a life-or-death struggle between bitter enemies. Battalion Wars wastes no time in bombing your skull into the charred, corpse-ridden ground, but its squeaky-voiced troops and cartoony presentation make it a hard game to take seriously.
Rather than sticking to the turn-based missions of Advance Wars, Battalion Wars puts you in direct control of your troops. You'll take to the skies with helicopters, jet fighters and concept craft like a supersized stealth bomber, or tear up the earth by marching squads of machine gunners and tanks right through the enemy's stronghold. There's no shortage of unit or terrain types here, but handling an entire army simultaneously is a gangbang of bad control.
Each unit type can be given specific orders like "attack this!" or "stay here!" but that's about it. They tend to ignore enemies in their midst even though they're being shot at profusely. More than once you'll find a rogue gunner pelting the group from within your own ranks because no one's smart enough to take him out.
The size of your army fluctuates from six specialists to a legion of 15 or more soldiers. You can give commands to individual men in a unit, but when you're being bombed into the Stone Age the last thing you want to worry about is the shoddy C-stick interface. On the same note, the act of organizing your groups for a precision strike often goes awry when soldiers start running in circles or drowning in rivers due to poor A.I. This, along with the clunky targeting system (will anyone ever get this totally right?), keeps the game down.
Looking past these two rather large annoyances, the rest of the game is quality. Hulking tanks and ominous bombers blast massive shells at your lowly soldiers and send them flying through the air in a cloud of dust as missile troops launch a cascade of projectiles into the sky, homing in on airborne nuisances. It's a bat-nuts crazy experience that mirrors the chaos of a battlefield; just ignore the stereotyped, cheerleading characters and fire away.
It's no surprise Battalion Wars carries no online mode, but there isn't even a deathmatch option. Nothing at all. There may be 20 or so missions but they're over in 10 hours at best. Some form of multiplayer really would have helped. As it is, there's barely enough shooting, burning and razing to keep one player happy for long. However, each mission is graded, so all you straight-A gamers may get a bit more mileage out of this extremely civil war.