World War II evokes a lot of images for people. It has driven me to study it, and ask questions from my elders who were present. Blitzkrieg II brings to play another way to look at the war, through the eyes of a commander. This is a tactical real time strategy game that almost resembles tabletop games such as Flames of War. You do not build bases and pump out units in this game. You are tasked with objectives and provided with specific resources to take them. This results in a very elegant system that can simulate grand battles with hundreds of men, or small skirmishes at the edge of the front lines involving special operations forces. Before I dive into the full review, here is the system I used to play the game:
Dell Inspiron 9100 Series Laptop
P4 3ghz w/hyperthreading
ATI Radeon 9700 Mobility video card
Logitech MX1000 mouse
The previous version of this game, Blitzkrieg, used a fixed camera with 2d sprites. At first glance, this game uses almost the same graphics as its predecessor. It all changes once you rotate the camera and change the view angle smoothly. This is a beautiful engine. The men, tanks, and other vehicles are wondefully animated. Troops walk, run, and crawl their way through the three different campaign theaters. Tanks and vehicles have turrets and other details that animate both during idle times and in combat.
This game is quite detailed at all the visual levels, which make me very happy from a historical standpoint. I am not a detail nitpicker (WHAT?!? Those units didn’t get the M1 garand with a scope until 1943 at Okinawa!!!) but the game as a whole looks right. The planes have the appropriate markings for the theater that they are stationed in, and even have the correct model types for those years. My only serious issue is with the US forces in the Pacific maps wore khaki clothing, which makes them very hard to pick out against some of the terrain. This occurs even when they are already selected, which can be very annoying until you look at the minimap to see where the unit actually is. This situation only really occurs in the US campaign and is more a function of the history rather than being an extremely poor design choice.
This is another game in which they have managed to get the ambient sound just right. The troops have a fair bit of voice tied into their actions. The vehicles sound like Army issue diesel engines complete with clunky transmissions. With the music turned off, I really did feel that I had walked into the middle of a fire fight.
The different weapons on the battlefield also had their own unique sounds. Handguns and rifles popped like popcorn, and changed in volume depending on where they were located onscreen. Tank cannons and heavy machines guns made me want to duck the first time I heard them. The team who put the sound effects together deserve a hearty clap on the back for their work.
The music is also very good in Blitzkrieg II. The instrumental score changes in both volume and tone during the course of the fight. Quiet periods of moving troops are accompanied by soft pieces reflecting the calm. A troop of vehicles and infanty pinned down by fighters is reflected by tense dramatic music. The classic pitched conflict results in the high energy classical music that switches from major to minor keys and back, depending on your success. The music is near perfect in all situations.
The controls for the game are pretty industry standard RTS controls, using features that Warcraft III has made familiar. You move around the map using the mouse, creating groups of units and ordering them to their destinations. If you have different units in a group with different special abilities, the tab key will cycle through the units in that control group so you can access all the abilities. Commands also have hotkeys that can be used to trigger them.
You have some control over the camera. It will tilt low, to provide a good view of the different elevations on the map, and can go high enough to provide a top down tactical view. You can also spin the camera to view the battlefield from different angles. This camera control, tied to the middle mouse button, helps you become more familiar with the terrain and situations you face as a battle commander. Some of the maps have some cliffs or elevation changes that you have to go around, and it is not immediately obvious through the standard camera angles.
In my introduction, I told you that this game is very similar to Flames of War, a popular tabletop strategy game set in the World War II years. The standard campaigns represent one of three situations whether it be US, German, or Russian. The US campaign is the fight against Japan in the Pacific. The Russian campaign starts with Germany at Moscow’s doorstep. The German campaign puts you as a commander trying to help Germany win a two front war. Each campaign is broken up into a series of smaller battles, with major engagements listed on the map. You have to fight through several smaller battles before you can open up the major engagements. During these battles you are allocated different unit types, and are told what the reward for winning is. This reward is usually a new unit type that can be used in the other fights. This interlinked campaign system provides a large part of the elegance of singleplayer. You are able to choose your own path through the war, building up, taking chances to protect an area, and making sure that you have the technologial superiority to defeat the enemy.
After you have chosen the battle you will fight on the tactical map, you get your in-depth mission briefing and are thrown in the fight. In each battle, you are allocated a basic initial force, and then you have reinforcements you can call in. This is another part of the elegance of the system. You will be allocated anywhere from 2 to 14 reinforcements for the fight. When reinforcements are available, a display appears showing all the unit types you have at your command. If you feel that you can win the fight with your basic infantry divisions, then ignore those light tanks, and use all your reinforcements for men. Once you select the reinforcement and its deployment location, they march onto the map from a friendly side (depending on the scenario and current events, this can change often) and a timer starts counting down how long you have to the next reinforcement. You are allowed to repeat until you are out of reinforcements, you lose the map, or you win. I was able to win one early map by just hanging back and bringing in infantry troops until I was out. I then marched right over the enemy emplacements at double time. I lost a lot of men this way, but I succeeded at the objectives for the map.
The final tactical key comes after each engagement. If you do well enough on these maps, you are allocated a series of promotions. You can issue these promotions to each division of the forces under you, such as infantry, mechanized forces, bombers, fighters, etc. By promoting someone from the rank and file, you unlock special abilities for each branch to use. Your infantry earns the ability to throw grenades at the enemy on the first promotion. They then get entrench, grenade bundles, and caution at further ranks. These abilities, some passive, some active, allow your troops to advance and become more than the basic troops that the enemy has. This also allows you to customize your forces even further, letting you specialize to your strengths.
The single player mode has three full campaigns for players to work through. A single engagement took me as little as ten minutes, to up to thirty minutes. It was very easy to get into a single fight then walk away. (As a side note, I was not being very cautious during my play, and frequently almost lost.) This game has a lot of time packed into the single player mode. The game also contains the ability to be modded, which allows for player made campaigns and situations using the engine. I did not get to test or evaluate multiplayer during the course of this review.This is an amazing tactical game. The immersion is dead on, and I cringed every time one of my tanks blew up. Anyone who wants to experience the tabletop wargaming experience without purchasing all those little minuatures should take a serious look at this game. It offers so much detail for the retail price. But beware, it is not the easiest of games, and may leave the novice wargamer frustrated.