Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Legend Studios
Release Date: March 31, 2004
Buy 'WAR TIMES': PC
A while back it was jokingly said that a new WW2-based RTS game is created every month, though this almost seems to be more truthful than a simple joke. In recent memory the RTS genre has been crowded by games such as Blitzkrieg and its expansion pack Burning Horizon, Codename: Panzers, and D-Day among others, all within the last few months. It’s definitely a tough market to break in to, where the success of your title ultimately depends on its gameplay and, to some extent, its authenticity and realism. War Times feels much less like the extremely realistic and gritty gameplay that makes up Blitzkrieg and more like what could almost be considered an “arcade” RTS game if such a thing existed. Indeed, War Times feels much like a throwback to old school RTS games where though units still have a paper-rock-scissors ladder as to what deals the most damage against what, a group of 8 infantry can still take out an armored vehicle with their machine guns. Whether it is intentional or not the game seems to be geared towards the casual RTS fan along the lines of the followers of C&C and Star/Warcraft who don’t want to worry about complex battlefield tactics such as infantry stances, ammunition levels, or formations.
War Times allows you to play as either Axis or Allied forces during, you guessed it, various battles in the European Theatre of the Big One. The Axis campaign starts off with the German invasion of Poland (The “Blitzkrieg” for the unaware reader) with the Allied campaign starting with the entry of Great Britain into the war. The missions themselves vary in their objectives such as defending your base for a time period, assassinating enemy generals, capturing specific objectives, or the all out assault and destruction of an enemy installation. War Times is an RTS game which allows for a fair degree of assumptions as to how the game handles, though some strange yet not completely unwanted alterations to the standard formula are in the mix.
For instance, the economy and base building aspect is normal enough, the two resources that make the world go ‘round is Ore and Oil. There are specific places to obtain these resources such as pre-placed mine shafts for Ore and large, rather unsettling puddles of oil for, well, Oil. Constructing buildings isn’t done by your worker units but rather can be placed anywhere within a certain radius of your base by simply selecting nothing (Which brings up a building selection where unit information would be in the right panel), clicking on a building type, and clicking where you want it. The building will automatically begin construction and requires no worker units to complete. Indeed, the sole purpose of the worker unit seems to be either a resource mule or a last-ditch defense against an infantry assault on your base.
Combat feels very loose in its controls and mechanics, compounded upon by odd bugs and delayed actions. Among the units you can send into battle are standard infantry units, flamethrower and mortar troops, transport trucks, fighter planes, tanks and armored vehicles, paratroopers that leap out of cargo planes, and sappers to place mines to destroy advancing enemy armor. When a unit is sent to attack something rather than get to its maximum range and begin firing immediately your units will reach that threshold then slowly stop moving over the course of a second or so, and then begin firing from there. Since units can turn around and don’t have cones of vision an attack on an enemy will always result in the enemy getting off the first shots since units can turn and fire immediately when standing still. As stated before the combat isn’t too much on the realistic side (No amount of rifle ammo is going to stop a tank), but it is definitely a change of pace from other WW2 RTS games where every battle’s participants and their actions must be considered carefully by the player. In its state the system is not without flaw, as a flamethrower can aim at the base of a mountain to damage a guard tower on top of it, but despite instances such as that the game’s combat is rather entertaining.
Graphically War Times is a capable and yet largely underwhelming 3D engine. The units themselves look decent and are animated with a fairly keen eye and hand, but the landscape itself is largely bland and lacks detail. You know something is amiss when it takes more than a few seconds to figure out that it’s actually supposed to be barbed wire in coils on the ground rather that some strange array of roots or grey plants. Trucks and tanks smoke before they explode, aircraft go down in flames, and infantry leave blood spatters on the landscape both when they are near death and when they reach that destination. Explosion effects look a bit canned and repetitive, especially when viewed close up, but smoke effects such as a damaged aircraft or the stream left by the shell fired from defensive cannons look pretty good. The camera is able to be rotated to your hearts content but can only pitch up and down from a sheer top-down view to a slightly smaller angle, never down to ground level.
War Times sound ensemble really doesn’t seem like it will raise any bars or eyebrows, even if it gets a degree of polish before release, but it does do its job. Machine gun fire doesn’t sound too imposing, though explosions definitely sound fairly strong. The voice work is largely limited to narration and in game clips alerting you to sudden attacks or quips from your units, and while they won’t win any awards for “Best Voice-overs” though also never get on your nerves and the German accent sounds more like German and less like Indiana Jones. The musical score shines though, from the rising theme music to the subdued tracks that play during gameplay, all of which sound fitting to the current level’s situation.
War Times does have moments where it could seemingly shape up as a good WW2 RTS, but most of the time the gameplay never crests much higher than mediocre. Realism nuts won’t like how relatively simplistic the combat and base building is, but armchair generals will appreciate how easy the game is to pick up and play without having to concentrate in large amounts of battlefield data. The play control could be a little tighter, there are a few bugs to stomp and kinks to oil, and the ability to pitch the camera a bit more would be a welcome change, but at its core War Times is a relatively entertaining game in the same vein as classics such as Command & Conquer: Red Alert, though not nearly as high quality. If you find games like Blitzkrieg to be overly complex you might want to check out War Times, whether bought new at the bargain price of $30 or from the pre-owned bin later on, as while it does involve the same fighting men and machines as the former it doesn’t have as steep a learning curve and can be entertaining despite is bugs and quirks.
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