06 February 2013

Theatre of War (PC game review)

A game I have been playing a lot recently is "Theatre of War", it's a very realistic tactical WW2 game that allows you to control, tanks, infantry, AT-guns, call in mortar/artillery barrages and air support.

The learning curve is fairly steep, and it may seem like dull game at first before you realize the finesse of everything, but it grew on my and now I love it. It's really rewarding to manage your troops under the dangerous battlefield conditions and pull off victories.

There are 5 campaigns in this game, Polish , French, Allied, German and Soviet - as well as two bonus campaign (Battle for Moscow and D-day). Naturally I started with the Polish campaign, which only offers 3 missions and is the hardest of all campaigns available. Sadly those missions were rather uninspired and it wasn't until I moved on to the US, German and Soviet campaigns that things got a lot more interesting.

Each mission starts out with a historical background synopsis, then you get a mission briefing of your tactical goals and purpose of the mission. After this step you are allowed to "build" your force out of a roster - and here is where a lot of the fun is happening. For miniature wargamers it's almost like building a "point based army list" , all units depending on how good/bad/weak/strong they are given points values - and each mission has a limit of how much you can field at the start of the battle.

Will you scrap everything and just field a expensive Tiger or will you invest in AT-guns and infantry while waiting for reinforcements to arrive? Because each mission only allows for a certain amount of "starting units" and everything that you don't deploy at the start of the mission usually comes in as reserves at various points during the battle.

I really felt like playing a miniature wargame because of this aspect, as soon as you achieve an objective or lose too many troops you receive reinforcements. But that is not all, the awesomeness of this game is really how it makes you care for your troops (well vehicle crews most of the time at least). Each soldier in the game has several "stats" such as Driving/Gunnery/Command/Scout etc. When you lead your guys successfully, they receive a larger amount of experience points and medals that you can use to boost their stats. And after a while you will have veteran tank crews that are excellent shots/drivers and so on, which also makes you a lot more hesitant to risk your troops in brain dead frontal assaults if you can avoid it. It only takes one or two shots in the open to lose a guy, or a penetrating hit that damages the tank turret to have your gunner killed.

The beauty of combat in this game is that infantry can capture enemy AT guns, MG's and even tanks and vehicles and use them themselves. Your tank crews can be shifted about inside the tank should one of the crew get killed - or you may even bail them all out of a hopelessly damaged but yet not destroyed tank and have them take over another friendly tank if you think that the crew of the damaged tank would make a better job if they stayed in combat.

The damage model of vehicles is really awesome, the armor thickness is displayed in the corner of your screen when you mark a tank. So you will quickly know which parts not to expose to the enemy, it also allows you to see what ammunition types your tank/AT gun has and how well that ammunition is able to penetrate enemy armor at a specific distance. Furthermore you aren't left guessing how far to the enemy your tank is located, as the game displays the range to an enemy if you hover your mouse over them. In some cases, you will be able to risk getting shot at, since the enemy guns are too far away to actually penetrate the armor of your tank. At other times it will also force you to race like a madman with a group of tanks in the hopes of catching a well armored enemy tank in the flank.

You also learn to conserve ammunition, firing at long range with an unskilled crew is a waste of ammo, likewise if you fire at an enemy with a gun that can't penetrate the armor until the enemy gets closer. The game also appears to look very "open" in terms of covering terrain - but in fact offers a very realistic countryside model with gentle heights and recesses where you can hide or ambush enemy tanks. Often you need to bring yourself down to the eye level of your units to determine what they can see and how far they  can see, as this is not apparent from a top down perspective.

All in all I really recommend this game, it may not have killer graphics, (it's from 2007) but I think it looks good enough. The only drawback of this game is that infantry are somewhat harder to play with and almost require more micro management (switching to anti tank grenades on individual soldiers when enemy tanks approach your trench) - luckily the game has a "pause" function which allows you to change the orders of all your troops without panicking.

The other thing that I would love to have but which the game lacks is a proper "skirmish mode" where you would be able to set a certain point level, like 1000 points, and then have the computer match that and just play a battle with whatever units you like. Sadly the game only offers a historical campaign and scripted battles if you are looking for something worthwhile. There is a multiplayer mode (that can be played human vs the computer as well) but you always play with a tiny force of 3-4 tanks and a squad of infantry with preset units depending on the map. But it's still a good game. Just don't expect the casual cartoony gameplay of Company of Heroes.

8/10 (and I would really recommend this game to fans of WW2 miniature wargames)

4 comments:

  1. Have you had a look at the Combat Mission series done by the same producers of this? It has evolved a lot over the years and now looks similar to this with a bit more "simulation". Maybe worth checking out if you already haven't done so

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  2. I'm a long time fan of this game and of the Combat Missions series. CM is geared for play by email turn based but has a nice 3D engine. I have played many a great game using it against others via email. If you ever get that game look up the scenario Red Heroes which I wrote for two player competitive play.

    ToW is just such a massive improvement but with the loss of the turn based play and the better force selection methods. I actually love the Polish campaign. Its a forgotten part of the war for some people and it introduces a basic strategy necessary before getting into the really difficult scenarios.

    Love your blog.

    ==Pete
    http://victorypoints.com

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