Fiddly, obscure and as ugly as mashed offal. But look closer and Battleground Europe is deep, wide, complex and an overlooked attempt to create a massively multiplayer World War II game.
Pulling together soldier sim, tank sim and flight sim in a grand conflict, it’s played over weeks and months in a single, authentic theatre of war. And you might say that it’s only as pretty as it needs to be.
But does it deserve your money? That’s hard to answer, since the reality of this game is far from what it could be. Whether or not you’ll want to hangs on two factors.
The first is how much you like the sound of the following description: as close to real war as possible. That means riding on tanks and trucks to traverse huge tracts of Belgium; cowering in a hedge in the middle of the night; or soaring over Antwerp in a storm of aircraft.
Then there’s extended bombing runs, where the better part of action is the anticipation; blowing up bridges and plunging through enemy lines with a spearhead of crawling men. These actions are part of a long-haul effort: it’s never over in just 20 minutes.
Infantry combat is stressful in the extreme – as you might expect – but not in a way that will make many people happy gamers. Miss the truck and you’ll be stranded miles from the target. Jump into a tank and you’ll be baffled, looking at the world through a tiny slit. Yes, it’s dastardly realism creeping up and putting a bag over our heads.
Here’s the second factor: if all that does sound appealing, then you’ll need to get involved in the community of players to ensure long-term fun. Battleground Europe is about working together, and it’s massively multiplayer in the most formidable way imaginable.
This latest iteration of World War II Online remains a forbidding and unattractive prospect for most players in search of instant thrills, especially with the monthly fee.
But here’s the thing: it’s remarkably compulsive. The concept and the individual challenges are unique, and the sheer difficulty of it makes riding a tank for 20 miles peculiarly rewarding. Pretty soon you don’t notice the blandness, because there’s nothing else quite like it.