Battlefield Academy

By Scott Parrino 19 Jul 2010 0

A few years ago the BBC created a small Flash-based game that was a complement to a TV series they had created entitled Battlefield Britain.  The game was called Battlefield Academy.  Simple to play with simple graphics BattlefieldAcademy was surprisingly successful as a free web based game. There were literally hundreds of thousands of gamers who swarmed the BBC?s website to play the game.  The game was too popular for a follow-up game to be ignored.  Slitherine stepped in and reworked and improved it so dramatically that the web-based version is essentially unrecognizable from the game that is about to be released. 

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The original flash-based Battlefield Academy game.

And what a game it is.

Traditionally game reviewers are supposed to treat previews somewhat gingerly.  After all, they aren?t finished works.  However, there are times when the picture is clear.  In this case, my build of BattlefieldAcademy is a very late one, and though I haven?t been told as such, if it?s not gold code, it?s gotta be very, very close. 

So I?m tossing convention to the wind.  Slitherine has a winner. 

The first thing gamers noticed when BattlefieldAcademy was announced is the cartoon-like graphics.  The design was deliberate; Slitherine wanted to craft a visual appearance that would appeal to a younger audience.  We crusty old wargamers typically grouse about how graphics don?t matter as much as gameplay, and I think Slitherine has got the right idea in trying to break with a conventional wargame look.  They were likely faced with two possibilities:  first, invest tons of money into eye candy, or second, go with a more affordable low-graphic approach, but use a method that had the opportunity to be accessible to a younger audience.  The product is BattlefieldAcademy as we see it in these screenshots. 

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A bit cartoon-like, but the graphics are nothing like the flash-based game.

I?ve probably invested about ten hours so far in playing BattlefieldAcademy and can honestly say that I am wholly addicted. 

Set during World War II, the map is tile-based, squares rather than hexes, but tanks can face corners as well as sides of the tiles, so they effectively may be placed in one of eight directions.  Turn-based, most units get two shots during the player?s turn as well as a movement allowance.  When applicable units can have several modes of attack.  For instance infantry can shoot at other infantry at a distance with their rifles.  When closer they?ll hurl grenades, and if next to an enemy unit, have the option to assault into the tile and attempt to overwhelm their target.  Some infantry have limited anti-tank ability and can attempt to assault armor.

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A Hurricane exits the map on the lower right of the screen after a successful attack. 

There are engineering units, regular infantry, machine guns, mortars, and so far it would appear that the entire catalog of vehicles and armor used in World War II.  I?ve been playing the North Africa campaign and have seen Italian carros and German Stug A?s as well as Panzer III?s.  As the Brits I have used Matildas and Bishops, 2, 6, and 25 pounder artillery, Hurricanes have been called in for airstrikes?in short, all the right parts are here. 

Comparisons immediately come to mind:  Steel Panthers, the granddaddy of them all.  BattlefieldAcademy is no Steel Panthers, however.  BattlefieldAcademy is less hard core.  Gameplay and fun were the watchword as the game was being built.  There are solid elements of realism here; the unit catalog alone should make that clear.  But in the end, this is a light wargame.  I never played much Panzer General so I can?t really make a solid comparision with it.  However, I did play, and loved, Codename: Panzers, and BattlefieldAcademy is equally fun and addictive, with perhaps a bit more realism in it.

Though concessions were made to fun, the realism hangs in there.  Players don?t have a choice about which type of ammo to use ? the game simply assumes the player would wish to optimize whatever load is required to take out the target unit.  Some units, for instance a Bren or Vickers gun team, simply cannot fire at tanks.  In Steel Panthers I could, and sometimes did fire ineffectively at Russian tanks just to rattle their cages a bit.  Sometimes they?d even break and run if they?d been peppered with the proper mix of real anti-tank fire and a lucky drumming on the hull of an MG.  Not so in Battlefield Academy, but units do have morale states and I have managed to scare off more than a few German units by simply bouncing enough tank rounds off their hulls ? even with no effect.

Armor isn?t fully modeled in BattlefieldAcademy, but rather units are given ratings for all sides and the top (airstrikes are part of the game) and this is a mixture of both the armor thickness and slope which produces a single value.

Rate of fire isn?t exactly true ? most units have two shots, some three, so there is still a gamey feel to Battlefield Academy which could be a turn-off for gamers who cannot abide anything but the highest, purest degree of realism.

For most gamers, however, including most wargamers, we?ll trade a bit of realism for fun if the fun quotient is high enough.  Fortunately for us, BattlefieldAcademy has that fun quotient.  I think most gamers are going to really like it. 

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