Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Nival Interactive
Release Date: 4/1/2003
Review By: Anthony 'OUberLord' Mitera
Though the Big One has long since been fought and won on distant battlefields, World War II lives on in a plethora of games spanning nearly every genre and level of quality. The WW2 theme itself is an extremely fertile ground for real-time strategy games to take place in which is exactly the premise behind Blitzkrieg, which has you playing as the Allies, the Soviets, or the Germans on faithful recreations of major WW2 battles using close to the actual units.
Now, that’s not to say that you have to be a World War II aficionado in order to enjoy Blitzkrieg. Nearly anyone who has even the most basic RTS experience should be able to pick up Blitzkrieg and play. However, Blitzkrieg is a real-time strategy game with more emphasis on the strategy aspect than in other games of the same genre. In many of today’s RTSs simply making a larger number of units and throwing them at the enemy will prevail. In Blitzkrieg you always start a mission with a set number of units of varying types, you never get the option to create more. Thus, the emphasis is on careful management and utilization of tactics rather than mass production.
Every mission starts off the same, you get briefed, pick what units you want to bring with you, and go. The briefings are all fairly detailed and come with marked maps to show exactly where each objective is. Blitzkrieg’s battlefields can get very big with each one holding a few cities on their own, so having a detailed rundown on what is expected of you in the mission is a great thing indeed. After the briefing you can select your units that your “heroes” will use, for lack of a better word. In the beginning of the three campaigns you have 3 artillery heroes and 4 armored heroes that you can assign units to. The artillery ranges from small anti-tank guns to huge 105mm Howitzers that allow you to bombard the enemy from miles away. The armored units are made up of such things as armored cars and tanks of varying types and sizes. Once you pick your units and have read your briefing, its time to get on with the war.
In every battle you start off with whatever units you assigned to your heroes as well as a sampling of various other units such as anti-aircraft guns, engineer trucks, personnel trucks, infantry, snipers, and air support. The engineer trucks allow you to repair damaged units as well as construct bridges over rivers, and dig trenches giving infantry a place to run for cover. Personnel trucks serve many purposes, ranging from supplying nearby units with ammo (every unit has a certain amount of ammo), to carrying around a squad of infantry, to re-supplying units who have lost men. Personnel trucks are also able to hitch up and tow around AA, AT, and artillery guns so that you can move them into firing range or out of the enemy’s artillery range.
Infantry in the game is fairly straightforward at a glance but even they have a good amount of tactics to utilize to your advantage. Infantry units are controlled on a per squad basis by default, but you can disband a squad and select individual soldiers if you feel the need. Infantry can march regularly when moving or they can charge enemy positions or lay low to give a higher degree of protection. Infantry can also go inside buildings and fire from the windows, giving a much higher degree of protection. If an enemy squad is currently occupying the building and you send your men in, a firefight inside the building will ensue with muzzle flashes visible through the windows.
Tank combat in Blitzkrieg is the most conventional form of combat. While tanks come in various shapes and sizes, when two tanks meet one another it’s all about the shelling. Tanks can lay waste to enemy infantry squads that are a good ways away, but can fall victim to losing a tread due to a well-thrown grenade if you get too close. If that happens the tank is immobilized until an engineer truck is sent to repair it, but the tank can still swivel its turret and fire at targets.
Snipers in the game are the perfect choice to scout ahead and eliminate enemy infantry. While AA and the other types of gun emplacements can be deadly against the more visible units, a sniper can sneak up and kill individual crew members on the gun emplacement, leaving you able to drive a personnel truck over and get some of your men on it, thus taking it over for your own use. Snipers have the longest range of sight and fire out of any infantry unit, and are also nearly invisible when prone. Snipers are best used in conjunction with artillery or air support, have the sniper sneak into the enemy area and see what units, pillboxes, garrisoned buildings, or gun emplacements there are, then call down the thunder with an air strike or artillery barrage.
Artillery as a whole in the game is an awesome thing to behold. Certain artillery units can fire across the entire map, which can be a great asset when direct combat would be difficult. However, the farther away from the emplacement a target is, the less accuracy the artillery will have. Artillery units can be used to destroy a single unit or small group of units that you can see, continuously barrage a single area regardless of whether or not you can see it, or to fire at enemy units near a certain point. Artillery units can also fire a variety of shells, like the smoke shell to give your units some cover. When enemy artillery fires at you expanding circles appear on the map, giving you a general idea of where the shells came from.
One of the most innovative things in Blitzkrieg is the air support system. Rather than having aircraft mindlessly buzzing overhead or something equally silly, in Blitzkrieg you call down what type of air support you want ranging from recon planes, bombers, air to air planes, air to ground planes, and paratroopers. Recon planes can be sent in to get an overhead view of a specified area, while bombers and air to ground planes can be sent in to eliminate enemy units. If enemy aircraft threaten your units or bombers are on the way, send out the air-to-air planes to make quick work of them. Finally, if you need to get a squad of men on the ground quickly to neutralize an enemy artillery gun or to harass the enemy from behind, send in the paratrooper planes. Of course, every aircraft is vulnerable to anti-aircraft guns and carelessly sending a squadron of bombers into an area with enemy artillery will amount to nothing more than a handful of dead pilots and scrap metal. The best way to utilize aircraft is to make sure that any AA gun are destroyed or disabled, whether it is by artillery, direct attack, or by stealthily picking off their crews using a sniper.
Graphically Blitzkrieg is very impressive in the amount of detail that is shown at any given time. Almost all of the units in the game are truly 3D and cast realistic shadows on the terrain. Explosions from artillery fire and bombs throw a shower of dirt in the air and leave a crater in their wake. Tanks and trucks all explode spectacularly when they lose the fight, with trucks become burnt out husks and tank turrets occasionally popping off when the rest of the tank can take no more. The maps themselves look very nice, with a vast landscape dotted with trees and hills. Towns come off as very lifelike with buildings of various types, wells, and hedgerows and stone fences. The only thing that looks a little off is the infantry which are made up of sprites rather than 3d models, but due to their small size and relatively large numbers a 3d model would probably be overkill. Still, when infantry dies, especially when prone, it can be hard to tell and a single live enemy prone among a group of dead can be very hard to spot.
Blitzkrieg’s sound is solid overall with few mishaps. The musical score is inspiring and well written and really captures the mood, whether it be a pitched battle with tanks firing at one another as fighter planes duke it out overhead or a lone sniper crawling through a seemingly peaceful town. Sound effects in the game are of the same quality, with artillery guns, tanks, and the various weapons used by the infantry all sounding realistic and authentic. The only complaint in the audio department is for some reason units that are near the edges of the screen will have no sound effects, which makes you wonder sometimes.
Overall Blitzkrieg is pretty much the best RTS released in recent memory. The lack of being able to construct your own base may turn off some, but the level of tactics and strategy that one can use at any given moment is unparalleled and really gives Blitzkrieg a fresh feel. Blitzkrieg’s projected release date is fast approaching and RTS fans should take notice, it may not appeal to everyone but what it does it does right and comes across as an immersive and impressive WW2 experience that will not disappoint.
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