World War II: Frontline Command

By Scott Parrino 17 Jun 2003 0

Introduction

Ever since the striking success of tactical World War II games such as Sudden Strike and Combat Mission, there has been no shortage of developers looking to revive a wargame genre that until then had fallen on hard times in the retail sector. Part of the reason wargames became commercially unviable around the demise of DOS was their inability to keep up in the style department. Attractiveness was a concession hardcore players were willing to make in pursuit of authentic game play; unfortunately, however, the numbers needed to sustain the genre in the cut-throat retail sector far exceeded what contributions these "grognards" could or would make to keep their hobby mainstream.

Wargames are becoming commercial again, although not always in a form which the hardcore would approve. But they are getting better. What began as a veneer for conventional RTS games, the focus of late has been to add more authenticity to the products. Age of Empires therefore has begot somewhat more realistic titles such as Cossacks and American Conquest. Sudden Strike has opened the door for a parade of titles seeking to distinguish themselves with finer details, and now we have Blitzkrieg and even a mainstream release of the grognard's coveted Combat Mission. And the latest in the parade is The Bitmap Brother's World War II: Frontline Command.

The Panzer IV tags the Sherman before it can fire back in this multiplayer match. Game details are on the top of the map.

The mission planning map. Pay attention to those infantry symbols on the map, they relate to known enemy troop locations.

A Band of Brothers

World War II: Frontline Command is a tactical level, mission based, real-time game set in the European Theater of Operations from just prior to D-Day until the end of the war. Thematically, one can spot some parallels with the superb book (and HBO miniseries) Band of Brothers by the late historian Stephen Ambrose. While not quite as up-close-and-personal as Band of Brothers, one does get to experience harried paratroop drops and search-and-destroy missions against long odds.

The units in the game are typically squads, fireteams, and individual specialists with occasional vehicles and artillery pieces thrown in. Players normally control about a company of troops, depending on the mission.

The interface is designed to quickly array troops in the desired formation. Typical for games of this scale, multiple units can be banded at once and commanded to assume the same posture. Somewhat accelerated from true realtime, World War II: Frontline Command is not a game where manipulating the clock provides an irrelevant (in game terms) but necessary (to succeed) diversion. Indeed, the clock speed is fixed and orders cannot be issued while paused. This design decision has several consequences; no real concessions are made for gamers who typically eschew realtime games in favor of more leisurely-paced turn-based fare. On the other hand, the chaos and immediacy of battle is rather well conveyed: YOU are the commander, YOUR men are getting shot at; what are your orders, SIR? In a blink of an eye, whole platoons can evaporate under withering enemy fire, and if morale tanks, good luck getting the troops to follow any of your orders?er...SIR!

Commanding the crack suicide squad, I just barely eked out a victory. Somehow I lost fifteen with the opponent knocking out only one; I can only suspect hari kari was to blame.

The mission briefing.

Paratroops land remarkably well intact and grouped together, no scatter to worry about.

On your bellies, lizards!

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