This game promised much. A link-up between Russian über-developer Oleg Maddox of IL-2 Sturmovik fame’s 1C Company, and hardcore US strategizers Battlefront. Years in development, it promised to be the greatest payoff from the end of the Cold War since Rocky beat Ivan Drago.
Theatre of War - available now from www.battlefront.com for $45 - simulates small-scale WWII European ground combat, stretching from the invasion of Poland in 1939 to the fall of Berlin. It’s dripping in WWII hardware porn, all manner of lovingly modeled tanks, guns and infantry teams detailed down to the penetration factors of their weapons and the thickness of their armor.
Missions are combined into campaigns that let you command Polish, French, UK/US, Russian or German forces throughout several battles. Every soldier, driver and gunner is individually detailed, with stats for everything from marksmanship to leadership skills. Survivors of battles gain experience and decorations that improve their performance for the next outing.
Inside this game are the makings of an absolutely brilliant realism-focused RTS - the classic Close Combat series stretched over three dimensions. No resource-gathering, no super-tough hero units, no click-fest tactics, nada. And when all hell is breaking loose, shells bursting all around and cannon fire ricocheting off your tanks’ hulls, the game is, as they say, a blast.
But sadly, there’s a platoon of issues lurking to ambush the unwary. First up, Theatre of War is rock hard. As we speak, fan forums are filling up with puzzled hardcore strategy game veterans wondering what they’re doing wrong.
More importantly, the game is in need of some furious spit and polish. The camera control system is wonky, making everything needlessly difficult. There’s not enough info feedback to let you know what your individually modeled troops are doing. The behavior of your units can be erratic, irrational and unrealistic (standing up in a field while being machine-gunned). Plus, the audio is weak too, making the action half as gripping as it could be.
There’s still enough goodness if you crave some proper real-time tactics to have a good time. But if you’re less sure, you’d better bide your time and hope they slap on a man-sized patch soon.