Order of Battle: Red Steel review23 Apr 2020 1
It may sound odd, but I tend to categorize wargames as a type of movie when it comes to realism, fun factor and the like. Some are documentaries, some are 'based on' real events and some are 'inspired by' real events. In the latter category are games such as Matrix/Slitherine’s Panzer Corps 2 and now,the Red Steel DLC for the same company’s popular Order of Battle World War II product line. Here we are talking less detail for enhanced ease of play and fun.
And following in the footsteps of other games of this type, the base software is free, but campaigns are sold separately as DLC. Red Steel will sell for $14.99 (10% off if pre-ordered) and as with all the other campaigns, the first scenario will pop up in the base Order of Battle software as a teaser. I was fortunate enough to snag a preview of that first scenario, the January 1942 Staritsa Offensive that drove the Germans further away from Moscow, the first chapter in the game’s coverage of Moscow’s counter offensives in 1942 and 1943. Here are my thoughts.
I won’t go into details as to exactly how Red Steel plays, because obviously we’ve been down that path before with all the other DLC produced prior. Instead, I recommend you take a look at the late Jim Cobb’s marvelous review of the original product, back in 2016, when it was known as Order of Battle Pacific. Suffice it to say the game does play a lot like Panzer Corps 2 (see my review), but whereas this game provides its World War II specific flavor at the lower tactical level, Order of Battle does so at the more strategic level as well.
Here we are talking about Command Points that limit the number and type of units deployed, a geography and point-based supply system, as well as a Resource Point system for purchasing units that is scenario dependent, less influenced by capturing territory. There are also unique Specializations (radar or plane upgrades for the Russian VVS?) as well as the ability to attach leaders to units, which are normally regiments. Now I have no idea why Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov has any business leading a charge of KV-1s, but you can do it. Also, the new DLC allows the player only the Soviet perspective, something increasingly common within this sub-genre.
However, there are a couple of areas that I was exceptionally pleased to see had not changed. The first was hardware requirements. As good as Panzer Corps 2 is, my previous review did find a much heavier load on computer resources. For my wife’s work station that I use to review games like this (as opposed to my gaming computer NASA uses to move the International Space Station) the specs are an Intel i-5 3570 CPU running at 3.4 GHZ, 32 GB of high speed RAM, and an AMD Radeon R5-240 low profile video card with 1 GB of VRAM. Quite frankly, while the video card is better than the original onboard graphics, I got it because it was about the only thing that would fit in the case, so overall is a bit of a lightweight.
It showed. Panzer Corps 2 was still playable, but cursor movement was slow and there was often a significant lag time between what I clicked on and watching the desired result happen. Overclocking the Radeon helped a little, but it was obvious my machine was huffing and puffing to keep up. Not with Red Steel, however. There was absolutely no lag time with anything, and all movement was very crisp and super-fast. No overclocking was necessary and given the amount of animation on the screen, I have to admit I was impressed.
And since I have mentioned graphics, that is the other area where the game has thankfully not changed. I am not a big fan of the 3D visual presentation of games like these. As a miniatures guy it just looks weird to see a single tank model represent a full regiment of T-34s, one that is also three times the height of the tallest building in the town its defending. But I've got to admit, the winter 3D graphics of Red Steel are absolutely stunning, especially the terrain which would do any miniature wargamer damn proud (and folks, coming from me that means it’s really, REALLY good).
The turf, water and urban areas are very crisply drawn with sharp edges and an exceptional amount of detail. The same thing for units, but here the attention to detail is even more pronounced to include national markings and more. Given the ability to change camouflage schemes on any unit, you can really deploy a sharp looking formation to go with some of the slickest animation I’ve seen anywhere. Artillery howitzers recoil, tanks clank along leaving dust and track lanes while shell holes often pock the battlefield. And rounding up an excellent effort is the ability to adjust the size of the unit model in relation to the hex where it sits. Very nicely done.
The most substantial difference with this DLC concerns the Resource Points used to produce new or replacement units, combined with a bit of random event management. The issue is Lend-Lease, the UK and US effort to provide the Soviet Union with much needed supplies which included actual fleets of combat machines such as tanks and aircraft. There is a Resource Point cost of course, but now these specific weapons are only available if the player unlocks several Lend-Lease options through the so-called Specialization process. If you don’t choose the Lend-Lease option over something else, the weapons being supplied don’t appear for purchase.
God knows why a Russian player would ever want the venerable US Sherman over a T-34, but the P-39 Airacobra attack aircraft is another matter. This flying tank was heavily armored, sported an engine strapped in behind the pilot and mounted a 37 mm cannon firing thru the prop shaft out the nose. At the low and medium altitudes where air combat took place in the East, the P-39 was fast and could turn on a Rouble. Stalin liked the aircraft much better than the more famous P-40 Warhawk because it could take far more punishment, while Soviet ace Nikolai G. Golodnikov said “It was the best aircraft I ever flew.” Five of the top 10 Soviet aces in the war made the majority of their kills in the plane, so yes, this is something you might want to consider when a Lend-Lease option comes your way. As well as trucks, lots and lots of trucks.
Otherwise the changes typically concern the linked scenarios that form the campaign, and all the nifty new units you might have access to. There are 16 scenarios in the game, covering from the aforementioned Staritsa engagement through the battle for Kharkov in 1943. Both battles around that city are present in the game, as are Stalingrad scenarios and operations in the Crimea. As a nifty and somewhat unique bonus, one of the 16 scenarios concerns the massive air clashes between the Luftwaffe and VVS in the skies over Kuban in April 1943. I’ve never played a game of this ilk where the combat was primarily in the air, so this is something I would really like to try out.
There are also a host of new units you can purchase outside Lend-Lease. These include the OT-34 flamethrower tank, the ZIS-3 field gun, as well as improved models, such as the Pe-2FT attack bomber. The Axis powers also field a lot of improved models, but I am especially intrigued by some of the equipment deployed by Germany’s allies, such as Hungary and Romania. The former flies a version of the Italian Reggiane Re 2000 Falco I fighter while the latter weighs in with its own homegrown IAR-80 aircraft. These are weapons that gave good service – the IAR-80 has been described as a Hawker Hurricane on steroids - but are little known to most gamers, so their inclusion is a nice bit of historical chrome.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to use those sweet little machines, as I only had access to the first scenario, and right now am only halfway through that. I can tell you that when the initial briefing says to watch out for ambushes and always have a combat air patrol supporting your bombers, they ain’t kidding. Even at the 'Lieutenant' level the AI was quite aggressive and did not hesitate to launch local counterattacks at every possible (and sometimes impossible) opportunity. Also, as a Russian, you had better hit hard at the beginning because although the initial Wehrmacht forces are few and in shambles, as the game goes on German reinforcements arrive, and they get a lot tougher and far more numerous.
All this really turned the game into a junkyard knife-fight where the only rule was the lack of rules. This is pretty much how the East Front was in World War II, and there is no mistaking the fact that Red Steel exudes this kind of historical ambience. It’s what pushes the game squarely into the wargame family rather than a strategy game category, and though admittedly I’m more of a realism and detail kind of guy, I have to say my experience was an especially good one.
Bottom Line – if you are into these historically 'inspired' types of wargames, or are simply looking for a little less complex but still competitive change of pace, then the Order of Battle product line is an excellent choice. Likewise, the Red Steel DLC is a very solid reinforcement at a good price that certainly deserves a spot on your hard drive. Don’t pass it up.
This article was kindly donated to Wargamer.com by the author.