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Old 05-26-12, 06:00 AM   #1
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Post Wargame: European Escalation review

Growing up in the '70s was a scary business. With the Cold War at its height, there was always a chance some idiot had started WWIII while you were walking home from school, or that Leonid Brezhnev's eyebrows had become even more sinister.

I still get shaky thinking about those formidable forehead ferrets, and had to quickly picture My Happy Place (Torquay) when they popped up unexpectedly in the campaign prologue to this ace RTS.

Remember Ruse, the WWII wonder with the vast maps and the enthusiasm for misdirection? Eugen, its French fabricators, have proved it wasn't a fluke by producing a sequel just as refined, just as fresh, and just as hard to tear yourself away from.

A few formation options would have been nice.

The '40s kit and stealth powers are gone. In their place, 300 Cold War land and air units and an emphasis on plausible low-level tactics that's sure to tickle old OpFlashers, and Close Combatants. Wargame feels like a proper wargame, albeit one played at a slightly accelerated pace. To carve out victories in either the generous quartet of campaigns or the slick skirmish and multiplayer modes, you must utilise every shred of cover, scout like Baden-Powell, and make bally sure supply trucks aren't savaged en-route to frontlines.

The combat is stylised (tank repairs take seconds rather than days, for instance) but as you watch your Lynx choppers disgorging Green Jackets on the edge of some contested German hamlet, or your treeline-hugging Chieftains exchanging long-range AP fire with scurrying T-55s, the compromises don't seem to matter much.

Just about the only strategy gamers that should be wary of Wargame are slowpokes and turtlers. As in Ruse, an energetic dynamic AI, a constantly bubbling reinforcement system, and a missing Pause button mean dithering in skirmish and MP modes isn't wise. Just seized a new victory location? Picket it with flakpanzers and missile-toting infantry by all means, but don't stop for a celebratory brew just yet.

No Opel Kadetts? So much for realism.

As someone who spends an unhealthy amount of time shepherding Shermans in Combat Mission and tending T-34s in Achtung Panzer, I particularly like the way Eugen sprinkle micromanagement-free uncertainty into their armour drama. Every so often a little red label pops up to tell you an AFV has bogged, thrown a track or decided to skedaddle to safety. Time and supply trucks automatically heal these setbacks, but the unpredictability prevents battles from turning into straight hit-point whittling contests.

With its plethora of units, each with its own role and vulnerability, and its elegant embedded matchmaking, it's little surprise Wargame has already spawned a lively and cut-throat MP scene. If you're the sort of gamer whose chin starts to wobble when his entire army is wiped out by an early gunship rush, you might want to stick with solo play for few weeks.

More linear than Red Square May Day parades, the campaigns redeem themselves with credible character-free storytelling, solid mission design, and an engaging equipment unlock system. Victories earn command points that can be spent unlocking new units for coming engagements. At present I'm debating whether to activate the T-80 or the Havoc gunship. Whichever I choose, life is about to get Breszhnev-eyebrow hairy for those NATO dogs.

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