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Squad Assault West Front

Squad Assault Westfront should look familiar to fans of the WWII RTS series, Close Combat since the former Atomic Games Lead Designer, Eric Young has his name plastered all over the title. Is this a stamp of approval for RTS war gamers or just a typical marketing move? Let’s find out.Squad Assault is very similar to the Close Combat series of games in that you control multiple squads in various WWII battle scenarios, while dealing with the effects of combat stress on your soldiers. The scenarios are set on the beach in Normandy and the fields of the French countryside. You can choose troops from various Allied countries (American, British, Canadian, or French) or if you think you can change history, the German side.The game can be played from either a bird’s eye view or like Young’s other WWII tactical game, GI Combat, a soldier-level (over the shoulder) perspective courtesy of the fully adjustable zoom feature. I initially thought this would be a great feature since it gives you the best of both worlds but the execution of it gave me second thoughts. The first problem is the visual tracking of objects. I ran into numerous issues where I would lose sight of my own tanks while panning out my view. The only way to get the tanks back into view was to constantly adjust the camera view until they reappeared. The battles get frantic at times so it’s important to keep a close eye on all of your squads so losing sight of them is a pain.A similar type of problem cropped up with tracking enemy soldiers. First of all, enemy soldiers are rather difficult to see since they tend blend into the ground. They also have a tendency to disappear completely, which makes for a nice game of hide and seek. I don’t think this is what the developers had in mind when it came to the subject of adding camouflage to the game. According to the game manual, enemies will appear when spotted by your soldiers. So once they’re spotted, you would expect them to remain visible unless they run off and hide under cover. Instead you spot some soldiers in an open field and then lose complete sight of them after just a few seconds. The only way to find them is to zoom in the area where they were initially spotted or wait to see if they reappear. This becomes rather aggravating since spotting and tracking the position of enemy soldiers is literally half the battle in this game.The other focus of the game is the tactical management of your troops. Before you go into battle, you can purchase additional troops with allotted points. This is a nice feature since there’s a fairly wide selection of different types of troops to choose from, which gives you some flexibility in terms of battle tactics. For instance, if you want to pound an enemy before advancing, then mortar or cannon squads are a good choice. Looking to use more stealth and pinpoint attacks, then stock up on sniper squads.Once you have your troops selected, then it’s time to deploy them. Here you can position the squads before the start of a battle. The order structure features a*ault, march, caution, defend, ambush, hide, smoke (no, not a cancer stick), fire and deploy. The AI does a good job of balancing the acceptance of orders against the mental state of each soldier. If a soldier is in a panic state of mind, then you can forget about him charging an enemy-held hill. On the other hand, a soldier in a fanatic or heroic state of mind will have no problem rushing into a minefield. I’ve always liked this feature in the Close Combat games and for most part it works here without any major hiccups.While I’m on the topic of soldiers and their state of mind, the sound is excellent. Hearing soldiers scream after being hit is not too far off from what you hear when you pop in your Saving Private Ryan DVD. The same holds true for the artillery and weapon sounds. I did encounter one sound bug with intermittent tank engine noise. It was fluctuating on and off based on where I moved on the battlefield. If I moved a few yards away from the tank, the engine noise would stop. Get closer to the tank and the engine rumble is back. Hopefully this will be fixed in a subsequent patch since it’s a blemish on what is otherwise, a great sounding game.You can play standalone battles or go with full campaigns. There is an adjustable timer (15, 30, 45 min. or no time limit) so if you can time battles to your liking, which is an excellent feature. The game also features an auto-pause for those who want to spend more time setting up battle tactics. The primary objective in Squad Assault is to destroy enemy units and take as many victory locations as possible. At the end of each battle, points are added up for units destroyed and secured victory locations. Well, that’s the way it is supposed to work. For some reason, taking all of the victory locations and wiping out every enemy soldier in an open-ended (non-timer) game didn’t produce an automatic victory so the only way I could stop the battle was to surrender. Now how do you explain that to your commanding officer? Obviously, another bug.The game has a multiplay option via TCP/IP or LAN, but you need to have another person lined up to play online since there is no feature to join public servers. There is also a built-in scenario editor for those who want to create their own battles.Squad Assault Westfront shows good intentions by featuring battle fatigue in its RTS-based gameplay. The addition of a 3D perspective is a natural fit but won’t be fully appreciated until the visual bugs are addressed. If you can put up with the visual inconsistencies, then Squad Assault is an okay choice but if not, then you should dig back through your desk drawer and grab one of those Close Combat discs for your battle-realistic, WWII RTS fix.

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