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Blitzkrieg 2

The original Blitzkrieg was an unusually feminine game. Prowling panzers, swarming infantry, snow-dusted towns, desiccated deserts... they all owed their distinctive charm to an art team consisting of nine women and one bloke.

Today the Nival graphics department boasts a few more testicles but it's still (as the surrounding screenshots hopefully testify) producing uncommonly attractive bitmaps.

There was always a risk that Blitzkrieg 2 would end up visually indistinguishable from the likes of Codename Panzers and D-Day. Happily, this hasn't happened.

The potentially problematic transition from fixed isometric perspective to flexible 3D has been handled with great sensitivity. It's as if the devs just got up one crisp Moscow morning and decided they were going to loosen the rusty nut that prevented the BK camera from rotating and zooming.

There's still that pleasing hand-painted feel. Buildings look as if they've been plucked from some stunning tabletop wargame; AFVs have a form and finish that suggests delicately drybrushed white metal miniatures.

At the heart of the standard WWII RTS business model is a concept known as 'front frugality'.

Generally, the first title in a series does North Africa or the nastiness in Normandy. Subsequent add-ons/sequels then supply snowy steppe slaughter, palmy Pacific pandemonium and so on. The first Blitzkrieg rejected this and so does its successor.

In BK2 you get a trio of elephantine campaigns (Russian, German, and US/British) that involve all the major theatres (National, Old Vic and Royal Shakespeare? - Joke Recycling Ed).

Those slightly annoying 'core units' of old have been demobbed, the sense of continuity now being supplied by promotable Panzer General-style commanders (not present on the battlefield).

The reinforcement system has also been given a good going-over with an oily rag. Supplementary forces can now be summoned in the midst of engagements, the variety on offer increasing with every victory.

A dozen mission designers are credited in the preview code. Hardly surprising then that the scraps we've sampled so far are so bloomin' diverse.

Repelling Japanese beach landings in the muggy Philippines, defending Henderson Field on God-forsaken Guadalcanal, creeping Kraut commandos through a sleeping Tunisian town, battering the BEF in Belgium in 1940, protecting frail Katyushas from frozen fascists... Nival plunder WWII history with extraordinary energy.

Naturally, far-flung skirmishes require a colossal cast of controllable units. Around 250 are claimed, an impressive total even once you've discounted all the superfluous variants (three flavours of He 111 bomber?).

Name any WWII vehicle and there's an excellent chance one of the Nival sisterhood will have spent an afternoon texturing it. Tiger tank? Of course. Churchill Crocodile? Present and correct. Universal Carrier? Likewise. SdKfz 250 halftrack? Actually... no. Panzerbeobachtungswagen IV? Now you're just being stupid.

If you're one of those Blitzers who regards it as important that 15 versions of the Sherman tank make it into the sequel then you may well have contributed to the lengthy BK2 wishlist at nival.com.

At the time of writing, it's 10 pages long, the majority of the requests falling into one (or more) of three categories - 'Make Blitzkrieg a bit more like Close Combat/Combat Mission,' 'Incorporate some of the best ideas from Sudden Strike 2', and 'Add a dash of Soldiers: Heroes of WWII'.

Whether the designers have waded through this sea of closely-typed clamour is anybody's guess; going on the evidence of our playtest they probably popped out for pirogi instead.

In terms of realism and combat detail, the series resides roughly where it has always resided. Grunts never lose their canteens, tanks never succumb to single shells or spill crew when knocked-out, every unit is as myopic as a velvety mole.

None of this make BK2 any less enjoyable (and it is enjoyable), but they do mean the claims of authenticity that will almost certainly litter the advertising come September should be taken with sackfuls of Siberian salt.

Blitzkrieg 2 will be released for PC in September 2005

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