PC Game Review: Strategic Command 2: Patton Drives East
Battlefront updates Strategic Command 2 with new campaigns and AI that focus on Alternate Histories. Is it enough to hold gamers’ attention?
Author: Lance Larka
“In ten days I'll have a war on with those Communist bastards, and I'll make it look like THEIR fault.”
Strategic Command 2’s latest addition takes a different look at the end of World War II. What if Patton had been allowed to take on the Russians? What if Stalin had decided to drive the other Allied forces off the continent using military might after the Berlin blockade? These scenarios as well as a re-worked World War II campaign are explored in Strategic Command 2: Patton Drives East.
Whereas the previous expansion, Weapons & Warfare, featured many visible changes such as unit and map changes, Strategic Command 2: Patton Drives East keeps most of the improvements under the hood. The astute consumer will notice that Patton Drives East includes all the changes from Weapons & Warfare, but not the scenarios. So if you want to play them you will need to install it as well as Patton Drives East. For those not familiar with Weapons & Warfare you will notice Roads, Rail lines, Special Forces, Artillery, Anti-Air, Anti-Tank, Destroyers, and Tactical-Bombers. For a complete list, please see Jim Cobb’s after action review at http://www.wargamer.com/article/2499/birds-of-a-feather:-comparing-strategic-command-2-weapons-and-warfare-with-commander-%E2%80%93-europe-at-war and the Weapons & Warfare page at Battlefront.com http://www.battlefront.com/products/sc2/sc2_wwe/index.html
“You know, Dick, if I had my way, I'd meet Rommel face to face; him in his tank and me in mine. We'd meet out there somewhere... salute each other, maybe drink a toast, then we'd button up and do battle. The winner would decide the outcome of the entire war.”
The most visible change to the game specific to Patton Drives East from the player’s perspective is the inclusion of “Decision” pop-up windows. These events give the scenario designer the flexibility of allowing the player to decide which action to take. For example, in previous campaigns (going all the way back to the original Strategic Command) if Germany defeated the French, an armistice was automatically signed and Vichy France created. In Patton Drives East the player is now asked if they want to sign the Armistice or continue fighting. Hubert Cater and his team did a very good job with these windows. Not only is the option there, but pro’s and con’s of each decision as well as your Allies’ preferences are also included. In that particular decision window for Vichy France, Mussolini assures Hitler that his African forces can defeat the French forces in Algiers and Tunis. This particular campaign starts in March of 1939 to allow the player to approach the ‘start’ of hostilities in their own way.
Just in case the player feels singled out, the AI also takes advantage of these decisions when planning. In one campaign I played in Storm of Steel (the complete World War II scenario) I was completely surprised by a near simultaneous US invasion of Northern Africa in Winter of 1942 followed by a UK invasion of France in spring! Perfectly timed to take advantage of my re-orienting of forces to face this threat. In another game the AI completely ignored Africa and concentrated on liberating France. These decision events change the flavor of the game in very good ways.
The AI’s handling of Naval assets has improved greatly as well. It uses insidious planning when placing units to make maximum usage of spotting & surprise as well as picking off subs lurking around convoy lines. I’m not sure if it did it on purpose or was just lucky with the weather, but one time in the Mediterranean my Italian navy was nearly annihilated in one turn when the UK fleet took advantage of a couple turns of rainy weather to ground my spotting aircraft and setup a trap for my units moving to protect Tobruk.
“We're gonna keep fighting. Is that CLEAR? We're gonna attack all night, we're gonna attack the next morning. If we are not VICTORIOUS, let no man come back alive!”
My one negative observation of AI Naval handling is in Amphibious Assaults. While defending against one such assault I sank ¾ of the troops on the transports using naval and air units concentrating on HQ, Tanks, and Armies leaving the Arty & anti-tank units alone. The AI didn’t retreat the surviving units leaving them in place for me to mop up the next turn.
I also noticed that the AI basically evacuated secure positions to enact what looked liked pre-planned Amphibious ops like this shot of US troops attempting a Sicilian landing.
“The last great opportunity of a lifetime - an entire world at war, and I'm left out of it? God will not permit this to happen! I will be allowed to fulfill my destiny! His will be done.”
All-in-all I feel this expansion pack is a welcome addition to the Strategic Command franchise. While most of the improvements and additions happen under the hood and primarily benefit the modding community, the average player will reap the rewards in the end. So even with the somewhat odd naval behavior this expansion pack adds enough material and enjoyment to the game to warrant spending $25 USD.