Hands-up all those people who still play games of skill like chess and ponder every move for more than a few seconds instead of just seeing a ‘great move’ and finding yourself in check-mate rather quickly. Those of you with your hands up should read on, the rest of you should get back to what you were doing. Allied a*ault : Highway to the Reich can only be described as an ultra realistic war simulator.
You take the role of a high ranking officer who’s job is to win as many victories as possible. The gameplay isn’t like the majority of real-time strategy games such as Command & Conquer, where you have to micro-manage everything to make sure all goes to plan. Instead it’s more like real-life; you issue orders to the available units and expect them to jump to it.
The first thing most people will notice is the large size of the manuals. Although no printed material was included with the review copy, we had access to electronic copies. The tutorial weighs in at 86 A5 pages and the manual at over 100 A5 pages so it was time to get studying.
The game features a number of scenarios taken from battles in the second world war which can be played at your leisure as either the Allies or the Axis. Each scenario has a number of objectives and a defined time period, for example day 1 06:00 to day 2 17:00 which means you have a little under one and a half days to achieve the necessary objectives. The objectives can be just about any kind of task imaginable from defending a location, capturing a bridge, tunnel, town, stopping the enemy reinforcements, blowing up a bridge, stopping the enemy blowing up a bridge, making a cup of tea etc. (OK one of those may not be true.) Each objective has a defined time period when it’s active and a number of victory points. An example of an objective could be securing the drop-zone for reinforcements; it’s likely to be active between the time the reinforcements are set arrive and may be worth 10 victory points which gives you a very rigid time period where you can earn points from that objective.
The objective at the end of the scenario is to have more victory points than the enemy, have loads more and it’s a decisive win, a few more and it’s a marginal victory and so on down to a depressing crushing defeat. The points are awarded based on the type of objective and how long you manage to achieve it. Going back to the drop zone example you’ll get full points if you have no enemy units inside the area of the objective during the time it’s active, have an enemy unit or two in it and you’ll get the majority share of the points but the enemy will get some too. Make a complete mess and have the enemy wondering around the drop zone as they please and you’ll lose a large chunk of the available points.
As you’d probably imagine, the units are organised as they were in the second world war, each unit has it’s superior, with you being the at the top. While this structure doesn’t change, it is possible to temporarily a*ign one unit to another. This gives you the ability to a*ign an artillery unit to a tank division, the tank division commander will call in support from the artillery unit should they feel the need to.
Players can give orders to individual units or to any level in the hierarchical structure which will then produce orders for the units under its’ command. Once you’ve issued your order the commanding officers will do their best to organise the units they control to carry out your plans, which will filter down until it reaches the lowest level units. While you could manage each unit by hand it’s far better to let the AI in the game take control otherwise you’ll need to watch over every unit and decide what it should be doing. For example, if a unit is ambushed on the way up a highway the commanding officer may decide not to fight and take cover in a nearby forest etc. If you’re attention is diverted somewhere else you may not get around to producing orders quickly enough. As with real-life there is a time delay from the units receiving your orders and actually acting on them (which is user configurable from none to ‘painfully realistic’) which means you have to be able to think ahead and preempt what is likely to happen. The time delay depends on the number of units under a commander, the capabilities of that person – if they’re overloaded looking after too many units they’ll be slow to react and respond and vice versa.
When you play the game you’ll notice a large number of differences between this and other RTS games. Firstly the whole map is always visible but the enemy isn’t. Basically it’s like real-life, if unit A sees enemy B and reports it back, over time the sighting becomes less and less useful because the enemy unit could have moved while no-one was observing it. Also sightings have a reliability factor which means some intelligence reports may be brand new but if the unit was confused at the time it may have reported the wrong location, type or status of the enemy.
To aid the player time can be paused or run at ‘normal’ speed or faster, pausing time gives you breathing space to ponder what is happening and how you can use it to you advantage.
No matter what kind of order you’re giving (except maybe surrender) there is a multitude of options you can use. For example, you can specify whether you want the a units to get from A to B as fast as possible, as safely as possible and in what formation they should move in. When an attack is ordered you can change the depth the units deploy at, their formation etc. etc. down to how fast they attack, when they rest and how aggressive they should be, there’s a lot to consider.
The effectiveness of a unit relies heavily on the current state of the manpower and machines. March your men fast through rough terrain to get to a battle and they’ll be tired and in-effective compared to taking them slower along easy terrain such as a road. Starve your men and they’re likely to retreat or go AWOL. It’s probably simpler to say that almost every factor that could influence the ability of a unit to perform the orders has been taken into consideration when the programmers were writing this game.
The enemy AI is rather good too. While you’re happily moving forth up a road it may choose to attack you from two directions at once or even sneak up behind you. In short it’s not easy to fool the computer into thinking you’re making an attack while you’re really sneaking a unit around behind them.
As you’d probably expect, the game isn’t going to win any awards for it’s graphics which are best described as basic but functional. The maps are clear and easy to read, except when some of the names are placed over dark areas such as forests. The squares that represent the units are clearly drawn and you can get an easy overview of the status of the unit. As with the graphics the sounds are functional but nothing special. As units exchange fire you hear the sounds of the weapons, order in an air strike and you hear the planes as they dive down to bomb the target.
All in all this is the kind of game that you’ll spend many hours working on the strategy then watching it play out. Those of you with attention spans longer than a few seconds and who love play games such as Games Workshop, chess and other games of carefully planned strategic skill will love this, it’s deep, involving and well worth a look. Last one to Berlin is a rotten egg.