Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Warfare: 1917

Ah, the tactical richness of World War I. Should you send your men "over the top", where they will certainly be gunned down in a hail of machine gun fire, if the mines don't get them first? Or should you leave them in their trench until a poison gas attack comes and suffocates them all? Well, with Warfare: 1917, the choice is yours! You, too, can be Douglas Haig, sending millions...well, this game is a little smaller-scale than the whole war, but at least hundreds of brave British soldiers to their doom. Fortunately, the game is a little more forgiving than reality, so you can actually win the war in an afternoon.

Warfare: 1917 is set on a side-scrolling battlefield, with trenches, barbed wires, and mines all throughout. The trenches are, naturally, the focal points of the battlefield; nearly all of your efforts will be focused on capturing or defending them. Troops arrive with a timed release mechanic -- each unit type available to you is on a timer, and more powerful units are on a longer timer. When the timer finishes, you can deploy that unit. However, deploying a unit resets the timers for all units, so you'll often be caught in a tricky choice: should I deploy a rifle unit now, or hold on and wait to get a machine-gun squad? It's a simple, but effective, mechanic. You also have various types of fire support available, which run on their own separate timers (that is, using one type of fire support doesn't reset the timer for others). The objective is, obviously, to capture the whole battlefield. Your units also have a morale bar -- as you might expect, losing units depletes your morale, while killing enemies improves it. If you run out of morale, your side will surrender. In practice, morale doesn't generally play too large a role, but there was one time when I was mounting a victorious but bloody offensive and ran out of morale, which was quite frustrating.

The controls are very simple, and perhaps a little too simple. Units advance until they reach a trench. Once they're in a trench, they will stay there until you order them out to advance again. (You can't change your mind and order them back to the trench -- they'll continue until they either get killed or reach the next trench.) A trench can only hold three squads, so if a unit reaches a trench which is already full, it'll just continue on. You can also lock a trench so that units will just continue on past it, which is useful for trenches in your back lines. One disadvantage of this system, combined with the time-release system, is that it's very hard to mass troops for an attack -- if your front trench is already filled with machine-gunners, then every squad you build after that will simply go forward to attack the enemy, and there's nothing you can do to stop them, which means that your attacks will be pretty ineffectual. (If you have a secondary trench at the back, you can mass troops there and then send them in all at once, which is much more effective.)

The game offers a campaign, in which you start out with only the most basic units and progress through nine levels; over the course of the campaign, more advanced units (snipers, officers, and finally tanks) are gradually introduced. You also gain XP in the campaign which you can use to purchase various upgrades for your units. Unfortunately, the tanks are kind of unbalanced -- once you get them, it's not really worth it to build anything else; just keep sending tanks at the enemy and ultimately you will prevail. You can also play a skirmish mode in which you can choose the parameters of the battlefield and available units.

Warfare: 1917 is by Con Artist, the designer responsible for the Last Stand games, and a few of the gun noises do sound a little familiar. The graphics are very high-quality (ooh, rain, pretty!) and the sounds do a pretty good job of making the action sound like a battlefield, although it's undoubtedly much quieter (and somewhat more repetitive) than a real World War I battlefield. Still, it's a solid gameplay experience. Annoyingly, like so many Armor Games products, the Kongregate version is crippled in that you can only play the British side; you have to visit Armor Games to get the German campaign. This isn't too much of a loss, since the British campaign gave me all the World War I action I felt like, but it's still annoying on principle.

Overall, Warfare: 1917 is a little too simple to make for a really engaging game -- there's just not quite enough strategy to really make the game interesting, especially in the later levels when tanks just roll over everything. Of course, one could claim that this is actually really realistic! I somehow doubt that was the goal, though. Still, it's well-programmed and pretty-looking, so it's worth playing a few missions at least until you get tired of it.


ToastyKen said...

I'm not usually into these types of games that much, but this one was pretty fun for some reason. I think the trenches at least made it a bit more tactical than the typical send them all walking down all the time. And yeah, the tanks are badass, though there is a bit too much luck involved in how quickly it gets taken out by fire support.

Paul said...

Ooh, yeah, I forgot to mention how frustratingly random the fire support can be. Also how annoying it is that the enemy's artillery seems to be so much more devastating than yours.

ToastyKen said...

Another thought, on the game mechanics = message of the game front: It's interesting how your troops' "morale" goes down when your troop die, and goes up when enemy troops die. The frightening thing is to think that this may actually accurately reflect reality.