The Bitmap Brothers’ have been around for as long as I can remember, being best known for their smash hit Speedball. Futuristic ball games are not the only thing to appear from the Bitmap camp though, they have also dabbled with the strategy genre in Z and Z: Steel Soldiers. Both the Z games were decent enough and it seems the Bitmaps couldn’t resist returning to the RTS fray in their latest title WWII Frontline Command. The game has received a decent amount of press over the past few months and we were itching to get our hands on final the game to take it for a spin.World War II Frontline Command starts off during the D-Day landings and plays right through the northern European WII campaign. We’ve all seen the Private Ryan intro and EA’s Medal of Honor so you know what to expect as soon as the first mission kicks off. Your troops are landed on the heavily fortified beach being pounded by the enemy and it’s here you get the first taste of the gameplay.Unlike the majority of RTS titles, WWII Frontline Command removes all resource management from the equation, and following in the footsteps of Fireglow and CDV’s Sudden Strike, you need to complete missions with a set number of units. In the game you also only get to play as the Allies, the ability to play the Axis forces has not been included to keep the game true to the Allied campaign which may disappoint some.SleekThe first thing you notice when the first mission fires up is the streamlined non-cluttered interface. The Bitmap crew have kept practically the whole screen clear with just the radar in the bottom right, which is semi-transparent, and small icons on the bottom left highlighting the selected units. When these unit icons are clicked, a smaller pop-up icon appears above giving the ability to select an individual unit’s special abilities. The interface is really well put together and it’s nice to have a full view of the battlefield for once, no clunky fancy icons or buttons here.Without a plethora of menus and boxes you can appreciate the graphics in their full glory. The game engine is fully 3D so you’ve the ability to not only rotate and dip the view to just about every possible angle but there’s also an impressive zoom function. The zoom allows you to witness the horrors of the battlefield in they’re full glory and there’s a wide view of the play area if you zoom right out, WWFC probably has the largest zoom range of any RTS I’ve played. The view angle is handled completely with the mouse and mouse wheel so it’s easy to get right in on the action without too much fuss.Being 3D has allowed the developers to come up with some tasty visuals, and while the units may not look as polished as say C&C Generals, they are more than adequate and capture the real essence of WWII. A notable feature of the engine is the lighting effects which highlight the explosions and streaming gunfire, but being set in Northern Europe, the landscape colours are a little on the drab side. Strangely enough though, this may actually work in the game’s favour. War is a nasty business and the colours used on the levels bring an air of seriousness to the game.Now what should I play?Realising that not everyone is a hard core strategy fan, the game features two modes of play, the Recruit mode and Veteran mode. Instead of just making the AI harder or even cheat as we have seen in some strategy titles over the years, the Veteran mode is a completely different style of game. In the Veteran mode there’s 25 missions instead of 12, there’s less units and also limited ammo. Units have to be resupplied with supply trucks which is real challenge when all h** is breaking loose around you. This is where the game value comes in, the veteran missions are tough, and while you may breeze through the Recruit, be prepared to be hooked into individual Veteran missions for lengthy spells requiring some careful tactical manoeuvring of units.WarmongeringLike every RTS, the game is controlled with a combination of hotkey and mouse commands. To save on micro management groups of similar units form up into squads and the obligatory CNTR-[Insert Number] function is also a key way to group units and move them around the battlefield. While adding units to a group is easy enough, when you have units of different types in a group it’s much harder to split and control the groups as you move them into battle which was cause for frustration at times.With no resources to worry about, the game is all about strategy and positioning. Each unit in the game can be a*igned a command and when selecting the group with a left click, you can then right click and a*ign a stance to the grouped units via a pop-up console. These stances include ambush, defend, walk, run and crawl, and should you choose ambush or defend, you’ll see the units drop to a crawl and await the target. You can also tell them which direction to face by rotating the coloured circle so the highlighted area is pointing in the direction you require. Crawling is a much better defensive position and you should you order your troops through a hedge, you’ll se them drop tot the ground and crawl under which is a nice touch. These stances work pretty well and are easy to use, adding an element of strategy to the proceedings.A key feature of the game is the line of sight and in Frontline Command this plays an important role in your missions success. Enemy tanks can be tucked away in the most unlikely places making you a sitting duck if you pile right into a town without some good scouting. There’s a drawback with this though, on occasions you can see the enemy on your screen and it’s sometimes hard to position the units so the enemy is in their line of fire. There were a few occasions when my troops would fire inaccuracy, usually at the side of a building, and miss the target complete even though the cursor was indicating the enemy was in clear view.On each map there are main road routes weaving their way through and around key locations, and unlike most RTS titles, when you tell a unit to go to a location off to the side of one of these main routes, the units will follow the road and then take the diversion off road to the position you clicked. While this my seem more realistic it did cause some frustration as units became sitting ducks while they moved to the clicked location via the main roads, which are usually well guarded. Units also occasionally have a tendency to go off coarse splitting the pack, it’s never good to have a tank wandering around unsupported and you can be easily ambushed. Another weird aspect of the game is the inability for tanks to overcome obstacles which look like they should easily plow through, fences for example.To keep control of your forces there are various formation available, an overall group tight or open formation button appears in the top right of the screen and when toggled, the units will move into position in different ways depending on which option you have selected. There are also individual group unit formations which can be selected by right clicking on the unit allowing you to put them in various line and V formations. While formations are a nice idea, I personally have never found then that useful in RTS games and WWFC doesn’t change my opinion on this.To s**e things up, the game also features a morale system. Should your forces be getting pummelled by the enemy they are less effective in battle so it pays to keep them well supported. The morale of troops can be boosted by victories in battle or by the presence of a Commander, so again there’s a certain amount of control and observation required on the players part.Big groups = good?After playing around with the game for a while and failing a few missions I tried making larger groups and the mission success rate was higher, so while the game may be encouraging you to play more strategically the good old mass attack appears to do just as good a job on some of the missions, this mainly applies to the Recruit mode. The more complex Veteran missions, where there’s a lot of enemy coming at you, are where you need to think about micromanaging the forces better, when it’s all kicking off around you there’s a h** of a lot to watch, you need to be pretty sharp to stop heavy casualties.One thing that does appeal about this game is the weapon range. Tanks for example can be positioned quite a distance from a target and achieve a hit, likewise with mortar teams. The range does add a sense of scale and realism to the battles which is certainly a real plus point.The sounds of WarThe game’s audio is pretty well done. The weapon fire and battlefield ambience is pretty spot-on and there’s also the sounds of distant shell fire as ambient sound which adds to each mission’s atmosphere. The unit responses are what you’d expect and if you zoom in close enough you can hear the tanks and vehicles rumbling towards their destination. Also, between each key campaign segment there is usually some historical footage which is well narrated to help pull you into the campaigns which is also well put together.Are the Bitmaps Winning the War?Having played the game for the past week or so I have been changing my opinion day by day. There is so many good things about this game but they are other things that just keep clawing at you, usually movement issues.While the interface and graphics engine is suitably impressive, it does lack the detail of RTS titles such as Warcraft III or Generals, but it’s not too far off the mark. The game plays like the Sudden Strike series mixed with a bit of Close Combat for good measure, which is of course a compliment. The Bitmap Brothers have made a valiant effort with this game, it’s just not quite there to make our top review ranking, but it is a solid enough RTS that should appeal to any WWII strategy fan and we think this is well worth a look.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.