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Officers [PC]

Just in time for the anniversary of the D-Day landings, here’s a WW2 Real Time Strategy game that gives players the chance to re-fight (amongst others) Operation Overlord. Such an innovative combination of setting and style guarantees it will stand out from the crowd. In fact apart from games like Company of Heroes, Men of War, Close Combat, Blitzkrieg, Hearts of Iron, Axis & Allies, Stalingrad, Codename: Panzers, Baby’s First WW2 RTS, Hitler: The Resource Gathering Years and five hundred other titles, Officers can claim to be unique.

It’s the cheapest of cheap shots to highlight just how many games there are about dragging a highlight box over a small unit of tanks and then right clicking on an anti-aircraft gun, but it also gestures towards the more serious difficulties of attracting an audience in such a saturated genre. Even players who can’t get enough of WW2 RTS action will only consume so many of these games. Most, surely, will only bother with one or two. By now they may even be burnt out on the whole concept. Which means Officers is starting from the bottom of rather a steep hill. It not only needs to climb that hill effortlessly, it needs to make a remarkable speech at the summit and then breakdance its way back down again.

This it does not do.

There’s plenty it does just fine, however. Pre-release marketing noises drew attention to the scale of the battles offered, and these are certainly massive in scope. Loading times of several minutes (on a box that exceeds the recommended requirements) gave poor first impressions, but seemed more acceptable when it became clear that each mission required several hours of play to complete. By the time you’re through, it’s not uncommon to see statistics along the lines of 1,000+ enemy vehicles destroyed. Miles of roads and tracks connect villages, factories and fuel dumps of varying strategic importance. Ambushes are a constant threat and (as you play the Allied forces attempting to sweep Axis forces from Europe) the opposing soldiers are usually deeply entrenched – or have nothing to lose.

Each map features a number of important strategic points (towns, airfields and soforth) that must be captured to claim victory. Minor objectives are also widespread and offer smaller bonuses for taking them. Missions typically begin with Allied forces in control of just one (or even none) of the major points, with orders to press onwards and seize the rest. To an extent it’s up to players how they wish to pursue these goals, but a number of friendly troops are often controlled by the AI in order to set up a sort of rolling narrative throughout the mission. For example you may be ordered to escort an AI convoy of supplies or aid in covering a distant advance.

As is the current vogue in RTS games, the gathering and retention of resources has been streamlined, as has the production of forces. Food, Fuel and Ammunition all play a role, but in truth it’s something of a background one. Essentially, if your armies have control of a few key strategic points (large and small) they will be fine for resources. If they’re severely lacking in anything, the chances are you’re doing so poorly that you may as well restart and reconsider your approach. Building new vehicles and deploying more men is a simple case of requesting reinforcements at any of the major strategic areas. The amount available to a player at any given time will, again, depend on how many of those pesky points of tactical importance are under Allied control. Progress is therefore a case of crawling forwards, taking key areas of the map without losing too many troops, and then reinforcing when an important objective falls to your men.

Thankfully your advances are not confined to the ground. Artillery bombardments, bombing runs and paratrooper squadrons are also at your command, in limited numbers. Of course with any airbourne attacks, it pays to ensure the skies are clear of enemy fighters and the ground clear of anti-aircraft guns. Allied fighters can be deployed as cover for heavier, slower planes, or as a response to Axis bombers.
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These only play a supporting role however, so the bulk of the work is done by tanks and infantry; and effective use of these units can involve significant amounts of babysitting and micro-management. Infantry (and engineers in particular) are able to repair tanks, so it’s useful to keep a unit or two close when going on the offensive. Units improve in ability as they see more combat, so this is another incentive to keep as many as possible fully operational. Actually doing this, though, is rather tiresome and repetitive, involving a great deal of pausing and unpausing of the action. Rather than, say, having an overall command that tells your engineers to automatically repair any nearby vehicles in trouble, it’s necessary to click on each individual unit and give them repair orders.

Although impressive in scale and quite solid tactically, Officers suffers from somewhat poor presentation. The graphics are functional, but afflicted by a certain ‘shimmer’ that causes considerable distraction when rotating and zooming the camera. Voice acting is even worse, ranging from dispassionate expressions of ‘They’re shooting at us,’ delivered with all the fear of a man purchasing a newspaper to hilariously over the top accents – such as the (possibly) Irish gentleman who exclaims ‘OI REEEAD YOU LOOUUWWD AND CLEEUURR’ whenever you request backup. There’s a little music too, but as the main theme sounds ominously like it’s being played slowly on a single-octave Casio keyboard it’s perhaps best just to switch it off.

It’s unfortunate for Officers that it comes out at a time where the deluge of WW2 games in various genres are a running joke, and at a point where nearly all games players (surely … SURELY) have played a favourite Real Time Strategy title half to death. Then again, the developers did actively choose to set it in WW2 and knew they would be up against people potentially jaded by traditional RTS mechanics. Nothing about the game is particularly objectionable, but the design decisions have condemned it to a state where nothing really has the chance to stand out either. As a result, there’s very little to suggest that anybody, baring WW2 RTS completists, should pick this up over their current RTS of choice.

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