Battle of the Bulge21 Feb 2013 0
Some people enjoy sandwiches and tea for their lunch breaks. Personally, I prefer the rolling sound of Panzers breaking through enemy lines. Here to deliver, like a fresh airdrop of supplies, is Battle of the Bulge: the popular new iPad game from Shenandoah Studio that highlights the eponymous battle. I have written many times before about strategy games on the iPad and I was very excited when I got my hands on a copy of this game. To start off, Battle of the Bulge places the player as either the Allied or Axis forces in one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. It is a turn-based game utilizing easy-to use-touch commands such as single-finger scrolling, tap unit control, and single-tap orders. This uncomplicated and easy to understand tactical overlay is deployed on a map of the heavy forests of the Ardennes where the famous engagement was fought. The map is divided into various zones and each player manages their units of infantry or armour.
The tutorial covers most of the basics of gameplay and it only takes one playthrough for most gamers to be acquainted with the game. There are two different scenarios: Race to the Meuse and Battle of the Bulge which one can choose to play against the AI, face to face, or online using the iPad's wireless capabilities. Both these scenarios contain mission objectives that the player must meet in the historical timeframe in which they were accomplished or frustrated depending on which side one chooses to play. Once the player acquaints himself with the basics of the game, it's not that difficult to begin to be immersed in this rich and exciting offering from Shenandoah Studio.
The opening cinematic and its aesthetic presentation already pulls the player into the setting. The cold snow brings thoughts of a war that has already gone on for so long. The fiery map of Europe denoting the advance of the Allied forces sets the mood for Wagnerian conflict. The black and white historical clips demonstrate that this game is meant to be a serious recollection and experience of this epic battle. The entire aesthetic is amplified by the musical accompaniment. The steady rhythm of the music mixed with the images is reminiscent of the kind of music used in documentaries about World War II or games and movies that feature heroic scores.
The tutorial is well-annotated. Not only that, but it has a sense of humour that invites the player to read the tooltips in the spirit of a game as opposed to a laundry list of instructions. The controls were exactly as simple as they needed to be so that the player still felt the joy of commanding divisions with his fingertips but without complicated motions such as holding one's finger down or creating shapes. This is as 'point and click' as one can get with a touch game and it should be this way. This simplistic style perfectly coincides with the turn-based dynamic. Some people argue that strategy games that employ turn-based mechanics are outdated, but I believe that such a mechanic is germane to World War II scenarios because it is an emulation of the planning styles of generals. Real-time strategy games are about tactical supremacy, but being a general also meant spending a lot of time looking over a map and waiting for reports to arrive on the wireless and updating in an almost ?turn-based? speed.
The two scenarios themselves are rather fun to play and each accounts for the various factors involved in the battle. Far from being merely a representation of the battle, the developers intentionally tried to make the conditions as faithful to the situation on the ground at the time complete with calculations of stationary Axis artillery, Allied close air support, and the myriad choke points and river crossings on the map. In essence, it is a World War II enthusiast's dream mobile game. In fact, aside from the amazing aesthetics of the game which use all of the usual tropes when presenting World War II scenarios, the historical database present in the game is almost worth it to purchase on its own. A breakdown of the scene day by day, historical biographies, background information, and a glossary: all are presented in finely-tuned typeface and in an interface that would be worthy to use as an interactive museum exhibit.
The attention to detail is one of the most attractive aspects of this game. Even the units on the board are properly named with special icons denoting any special status they might have. Recordings of radio messages playing while one reads the mission briefing pulls one back in time and even the sound effects of the skirmishes is a tantalizing draw to this game for any enthusiast. The overlays and the interface are all well-crafted and is certainly not a cartoony or mediocre attempt at representing warfare.
Aside from being in love with the aesthetics and historical offerings, I was thoroughly impressed with the strategic considerations and options available. Usually, I found that when I would play strategy games it tended towards concentrating one's forces and simply overwhelming an enemy position. In the case of Battle of the Bulge, there are several aspects that force strategic consideration every turn. The first is the time limit. This should not be underestimated. Adding a time limit to an operation was a reality of war since the beginning of conflict and this provides tension and emotional investment in the scenarios. It is not merely a ?sit back and wait? type game: it is one that asks you to accomplish a goal in a set time or the war may end badly. There is also the question of supply lines. While some games merely forget about the idea of logistics, Battle of the Bulge takes it very seriously. Units out of supply cannot move on that day and are effectively bottled in until they are liberated by friendly units. This dynamic is one of the most appealing mechanics of the game as it provides real incentive for envelopment tactics. I had great fun surrounding whole swaths of the enemy army and cutting off their supply line. Lastly, there is a limit of three units per area which represents the real life limitations of concentrations of men in various zones. One cannot simply stack a hundred units into one zone and expect to be unbeatable.
While it is a bit easy to outwit the AI at almost every juncture, the game truly comes alive in face to face or online where another human being has a chance to capitalize on one's mistakes and strike out boldly in ways one might not have anticipated. It is probably here where the game retains its replay value and solidifies itself as a worthy investment of ten dollars.
There are a few drawbacks with the game. I found that although the turn-based system was well done, they had gone a little too far by allowing the player to only give orders to one unit at a time. I would have actually suggested a more exciting possibility by making the turns simultaneous for both sides though secretly done like in the game Diplomacy. This would require a player to not only think about his deployment but what the enemy might do and would offer fun twists as well as allow a person to order all of his troop movements at once. This would have also been a great option in order to add flanking as a maneuver that was overlooked by the developers despite being such a crucial part of any wargame.
The number of scenarios was also very small which struck me as unfortunate considering how easy this game could have been a whole library of famous battles without necessarily creating new mechanics especially for a ten dollar game. To be fair, the multiplayer aspect helps to make up for the lack of new scenarios, but at least providing new maps would perhaps be a good compromise even if it might cost another dollar or two.
Overall, Battle of the Bulge is a fun game for serious wargamers and is definitely on the road to fulfilling the destiny of the iPad to be an excellent platform for the aspiring general and I hope that more developers are willing to charge forward to grab the opportunities of this new medium for games. Until then, don't miss the opportunity to test your mettle in Battle of the Bulge especially in online play. Your Panzers await and, as they say: ?the goddess of victory is waving her underwear in your faces!?
Review written by: James Tanaleon
About James Tanaleon
James Tanaleon grew up in the sunny suburban sprawl of Orange County, California and has had a long history of console and computer gaming thanks to his avid gaming father and his tech savvy friends. While receiving his education from both the University of California in Irvine and Franciscan University in Ohio?graduating with a Bachelor's Degree in Western and World Literature?he never lost his enjoyment for games. During this time he also cultivated his knowledge in music, history, religion, and international studies. He currently works in Orange County as lead writer for the startup game company Diecast Studios LLC and produces freelance writing on the side. James once served as editor-in-chief of Paradox Interactive Forum's monthly magazine The AARlander, and has written over a thousand pages of after action reports in his preferred genres of grand strategy and RPG.
Forum username: Aristocrat