Point of Attack II

By Scott Parrino 16 Jan 2004 0

Introduction

Eight years have passed since Scott Hamilton of HPS released a major game developed primarily by himself. Panthers in the Shadows was the capstone of the Tigers in the Snow tactical World War II series. Light on frills, this series was data-heavy and modeled command and control to highly realistic levels. As M. Evans Brooks states, this system was ?a grognard?s dream?. Has Mr. Hamilton been slacking off? No, he?s been busy producing many games designed and developed by the talented John Tiller and Jim Lunsford, serving as the guiding light for HPS? policy of updating all games in a system whenever the innovation muse strikes. He has also been creating training tools for the US Armed Forces. This latter activity is nothing new; his first forays into computer simulations came when he commanded an Army engineer company. His unit always missed out on field exercises because of engineering projects, so he designed computer programs to keep his troops? combat skills honed.

With such a great track record, serious gamers have been awaiting Point of Attack II like a Hollywood ingenue waiting for photo ops. Hamilton?s WEGO system (each side issues orders with moves being executed simultaneously) has a unique flavor. This latest game, a commercial version of a tool written for the U.S. Air Force, looks at modern conflicts, usually from battalion level. Theaters of war cover Europe, the Middle East, Korea and bases in the US. Map scale varies per scenario, but the baseline is 100 meters per location. Many weapon platforms are present, representing the all-important combined arms philosophy of warfare. The scale could be called battalion level but, given the different ?building blocks? such as sections, platoons and so forth, many levels of combat can be experienced. The question is if the amount of data present translates into realistic and accessible game play.

Installation and Documentation

Point of Attack II installs smoothly, taking up a hefty 1.08 GB of hard disk space. The game boots very quickly with an automatic window offering to load the last game played.

For those of us who are shying away from inadequate print manuals with their picnic ant fonts, the HTML manual with this game is a joy. The hyper-linked table of contents takes players to where they need to go, fast. The very large HTML files contain every detail and concept needed for play. The manual?s first section describes everything needed to play, the second details what exactly is going on during game play, while the third part contains detailed explanations of the concepts behind the games features. Two appendices include a bibliography and a guide to making maps using HPS? Aide de Camp II. Although very detailed, the second part of the manual could be clearer in terms of what parameters cannot be changed in pre-made scenarios. The database view manual, also HTML, contains an awesome array of things that boom and sizzle and allows for modifications and additions to the database. The tutorial scenario has a superb concept rarely seen in wargames, although fairly common in fantasy game. Step-by-step instructions on a Powerpoint-like screen walk players through the menu and mouse interface via a movable window over the map. Most screens and tables have their own help buttons, delivering pertinent information. Players don?t have to fight to get the basics; they can save their energy for the advanced features.

Right-clicking brings up the first order menu.

Staff officer screens are invaluable sources of information and easy ways to give orders.

Sound and Graphics

Glitz aficionados will be disappointed with Point of Attack 2. No slam-bang introduction logos or movies are shown. No background music is heard.  I tend to keep background music tends to be kept on for very few games, exceptions being Tiller?s nineteenth-century games and Paradox?s epics. Hamilton continues his no-frills tradition by eschewing unnecessary features. The in-game sound effects for combat are not spectacular either but are more than adequate. They provide the needed audio feedback to let the players know their commands are being carried out and are having effects. WAV files are present for movement sounds if players want to use them and tolerate a cacophony of noise.

The graphics are 2D, so the pizzazz of other games isn?t there visually. The real purpose of graphics is to help gamers handle the game and Point of Attack?s graphics succeed in this goal. The main map has three levels of zoom. At the highest level, the overall situation can be grasped while, at the lowest, terrain features and unit silhouettes can be seen clearly. The player?s forces are shown in a Windows-like tree diagram from which units can be selected down to platoon level.. A smaller window beneath that describes locations in terms of terrain and units present as the cursor moves over them. Toggled overlays superimpose information concerning elevation, line of sight, concealment and other important elements onto the main map. These overlays can be summoned through the main menu or another, larger, ?floating? location information window. The overlays use colored dots to indicate intensity of the information. For instance, terrain that impedes movement will have a darker dot than the fast lanes. A long-range map displays off-board assets such as off-board artillery, aircraft and offshore vessels. The units are 2D NATO symbols, but have images of flame, smoke and craters added during combat. Default colors are the usual red and blue, but players can choose their own color schemes. Movement causes tracks and dust to appear when appropriate. The action during operations are detailed in a text window in real-time or as a summary. Actions are punctuated with strike paths, a flash around the target and weapons sounds.

An important element of Point of Attack?s play is several windowed tables. These tables can be resized and moved to provide the best view of the main map. The information on these windows is very clear and logically laid out. Players don?t have to guess at fuzzy icons and can just rely on their reading skills. A serene feeling of maturity can be sensed here. These tables can be toggled through either main menu icons or right clicking on units.

This zoomed-out view of the German map displays the operational situation.

The second zoom level of the German map shows the general charter of the area.

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