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Can Command & Conquer devs make a great World War I strategy game?

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Speaking to the Los Angeles Times in 2019, Mark Scheftall, professor of history at Bucknell University, highlighted a trend in stories about the Great War. The vast majority, said Sheftall, “try to tell the story of one man, when the real story of World War I is really about the mass.” If Battlefield 1, Verdun, And brave hearts person, had stories about the upcoming The Great War: Western Front is the latter: a game about the determined yet deteriorating masses of the war to end all wars.

Petroglyph Games, a developer formed from the remnants of Westwood Studios in 2003, made its mark in the strategy arena Star Wars: Empire at War, 8-bit armiesAnd Conan: The Undefeated — Games that were either highly fictionalized, or stylized to be cartoons. Even the studio’s most recent release, the excellent command and conquer remastered Collection, focuses on parallel universes. in red AlertHitler never rose to power, thus allowing Soviet Russia to expand across Europe and ignite an alternate version of World War II.

that makes all Western Front, a real-time strategy game about a very real and very bloody conflict, with a slight deviation to Petroglyph. It’s set for release on March 30, but I spent hours with the game This week, a scripted historical battle and the opening round of a long-form, open-ended campaign. To its credit, the latter allowed me to maneuver troops, tanks and aircraft in France and Belgium as I saw fit – to attack this part of the front, only to launch a surprise attack further north. For. like landmark titles in the Total War franchise, and upcoming company of heroes 3, Western Front Allows you to rewrite a broad description of the actual conflict. What’s more, the battalions on the overworld map look more like wooden toys than detailed individuals. In these cases, the petroglyph understands the weight of the source material it is dealing with here, and is taking steps to distance itself from the complexities of the “pure”. non-fiction.

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The Great War: Campaign Map on the Western Front, showing Allied and Central forces along the line between France and Germany

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Image: Petroglyph Games / Frontier Foundry

and yet, Western FrontThe loading screen alternates between advertisements for war bonds and quotes from military leaders about the cost of victory. One of its historical missions zooms in on the River Somme, whose banks became the site of a million deaths over a period of five months in 1916. As a field commander, players can launch poison gas into enemy lines, forcing troops to withdraw from their ranks. trenches and in the spray of water-cooled machine guns. Alternate history, it is not.

Of course, I’m making these uncomfortable comments in retrospect. During the demo, with my hands on the mouse and my fingers on the keyboard, time melted away.

In gamifying the “war of inches,” Petroglyph is wise to avoid getting lost in the mechanical weeds. A protest against ordering individual soldiers around LA Command & Conqueror overseeing the tactical moves of special forces in Company of Heroes, Western Front War is about the high-level decisions made. During the pre-battle phase, you spend gold and supplies to build trench networks, machine gun placements, artillery batteries, and observation balloons. You can also have trench networks as well as individual battalions of soldiers, which will be better suited for your defense Thinking Enemy will attack. (You can improve your defenses after the battle begins, but this will cost more supplies.)

The Great War: A pre-battle phase in the Western Front, in which the player can set up trench networks, machine gun nests, and artillery batteries

Image: Petroglyph Games / Frontier Foundry

Combat itself is similarly hands-off. Highlight multiple battalions and click on an enemy trench, and they will move “over the top”, into No Man’s Land, and leap into the trench. War Inside The said tranche is automatic, which is indicated by the decreasing health bars of the groups in it. Win this battle, and you’ll own the moat, as well as its lines of sight next Enemy Pit.

Deciding where to send reinforcements, and whether fighters or tanks are worth the cost, is part of the entry flow of the war. Western Front, I imagine strategy fans who enjoy “turtling” will be attracted to Petroglyph’s latest outing — it’s as much about slow expansion as it is daring charges across supposedly empty stretches of the enemy line.

Yes, I noticed a lot of pathfinding problems during my demo. (Instead of going inside a ditch to capture a neighboring section, soldiers sometimes jump back into No Man’s Land, only to be immediately kicked out.) And yes, the UI still needs some work. Is. (Lines of sight to artillery emplacements, depicted as white cones on the mini-map, sometimes refused to show.) But the team assured me that the demo version was a work-in-progress.

The Great War: A battle takes place on the Western Front as Allied troops charge across No Man's Land towards the trenches of the Union forces

Image: Petroglyph Games / Frontier Foundry

Western FrontThe designers have, earlier in their time at Petroglyph and Westwood Studios, honed their strategy expertise into a science. They understand the satisfaction of “painting a map”, and the joy of juggling resource management, troop movements, airstrikes and scouting runs. In those moments when I’m lost in that strategy flow state, I’d be hard-pressed to think of a studio suitable for depicting, on a mechanical level, the movements of “masses” in such an unimaginably brutal struggle. It falls

But then, one of my charges into No Man’s Land ends in disaster, as I downed my observation balloon during an enemy air attack, and thus, missed two newly placed machine gun nests along the trench. I had just ordered my troops to capture. Suddenly, in the space of a few seconds, four battalions of soldiers are wiped out, and poison gas floods the trenches from which they came, and I wonder, What was the point of that? I’m curious whether Petroglyph is ready to answer.

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