Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Publisher: Matrix Games / Black Bean
Developer: 2 by 3 Games
Release Date: March 25, 2005
Buy 'GARY GRIGSBY'S WORLD AT WAR': PC
Gary Grigsby's World at War lets you take part in the epic struggle of World War II as any of five world powers (China, Japan, Germany, Soviet Union, and the Western Allies). As you may know, the world powers are divided into two sides: Axis (Germany and Japan) and Allies (Soviet Union, China, Western Allies). Each one plays differently and is balanced in some way. For instance, if you play as China, you start out with the smallest amount of land and production, and your factories only produce once every three turns. There are pluses for the Chinese, however, as every time it is attacked, four militia are produced in that province to help defend it, making them rather difficult to be overtaken. The Western Allies may reach the highest levels of production, but they must also fight on every front.
If played in its entirety, World at War begins in the spring of 1940 and ends in the fall of 1946. There are also various campaigns to play through, which start slightly later, such as events transpiring in the spring of 1942, like the blitz on France, or the beginning of the Axis downslide in 1943.
The game can be a bit overwhelming at first, especially if you are a newcomer to the genre of tabletop-inspired strategy. There are two different tutorials to help alleviate this trouble, the first being on movement and attacking, the other on production and supplies. Speaking of supplies, that is the backbone of the whole army; without them, it is impossible to move your army or to strike out at your enemies. All together, there are 19 different unit types with which to take down your enemies. The ground units are comprised of infantry, paratroopers (although they can be attached to planes to parachute into lands), artillery, local militia, flak guns, and armor. Air units are the fighters, tactical bombers, heavy bombers, carrier fleets, and transport ships. An in-depth understanding of the units is successful in the undertaking of any military outing, as each one has its own part to play. For instance, heavy bombers are useful for attacking factories and railway systems, while tactical bombers are used to support armies against ground troops. Although the tutorials go into how to handle production, research, and supplies, you will still need to spend a decent amount of time with the manual. The learning curve of this game is rather steep and will require a couple of playthroughs before it can be totally mastered.
Attacks are executed in a general way, throwing all troops you have moved to that region at the defenses, and is done with a popup menu activated by a right click. Battles are won or lost based on many factors, such as unit damage and research. Only two attacks are required to destroy most units, so after a battle, both sides will have many damaged units.
Attacking a region might require you to declare war on someone, which can sometimes open up a whole new can of worms because there are certain triggers that bring nations into the war. For example, if you are playing as the Japanese and you attack lands in the Pacific, then the U.S. will declare war on the Axis, which is much akin to hitting a hornet's nest with a stick, if you are unprepared. These nations will remain frozen until these certain triggers are set off, or until a specific amount of time has passed. If you are playing as the Japanese and you don't want to provoke U.S. aggression, that is fine, but once the trigger date hits, they will declare war regardless of your actions in order to maintain historical accuracy.
World at War isn't only about shuffling around troops to prepare for offensive action, as there is also a deep production and research system. To produce units, you need three things: population, resource points, and factories. Population points are gained simply by having land, but the resource points are a little trickier because each region has a certain value. This can be frustrating at times, because you may have an abundance of factories but not enough resource points because of their location. Research points are produced like all of the other units in the production menu and are spent in the research menu. There are a few factors that go into determining how many points you need to spend to reach the next level (in whatever upgrade you are pursuing), namely the value of the skill you are raising and the number of troops you have in play.
Mastering resource acquisition and maintaining steady production are the keys to success here, but you can leave that aspect entirely up to the computer if you find it too daunting or just plain tedious. Another important point is that you cannot produce units in conquered territory, only in the home regions with which you began. This makes moving troops to the front frustrating at times, but adds to the overall feel of the game, because honestly, who in a conquered land would fight for your army? You can build supply units or research points there so they aren't completely useless, and you will also have to maintain a garrison, or they will destroy your infrastructure and troops. Leaving a few troops here and there to quell the uprisings can sometimes take the steam out of even the most feverish spearheads.
Research is important to your units; you can improve them in a variety of ways, such as damage to infantry, evasion (defense), damage to air forces, etc. I took full advantage of this to turn my Japanese infantry units into super soldiers, which, in hindsight, was a mistake due to the fact that most of my battles were with the U.S. at sea.
Supply is another vastly in-depth process. There are three options for supply: having supply in the region you are moving to or attacking from, having supply distributed to all of the regions as long as you have a stockpile, or having no supply rules at all. First of all, to get supply, you have to produce it as you would any other unit. It may be tempting to turn supply rules off, but as the manual clearly states, it throws off the game's balance; being able to focus on just producing units and having unlimited attacks give the larger powers a huge advantage.
The AI in this game is rather challenging, and they can always find the perfect place to attack you at your weakest. Playing against other players is a lot of fun itself, with the hot seat mode being perfect for those boring nights with a buddy. There is also a Play by Email function (PBEM), where the game truly shines; while playing through this mode, I was filled with nostalgia of hours-long games of Risk! or Diplomacy.
The best part of World at War for me was the beautiful meeting of historical accuracy and being able to change the course of history. All the starting moves are as they happened in history, with Germany always going for France on turn number one and Russia being politically frozen. After these few turns, anything can happen, with the exception of triggers that unfreeze nations as already mentioned.
The graphics are a bit dated, but that is what has come to be expected from war strategy titles. The board game feel of the graphics is a good fit, but the battle scenes were quickly turned off on my options. Whenever there is a battle, you go to a separate screen to watch your units battle, which basically consists of the units taking turns against each other. Aside from the occasional smoke and fire, the units look like cardboard cutouts placed on a background. One of the most novel features of the game is the cut scenes that are activated when certain world powers declare war. These scenes use vintage footage, which add wonderfully to the ambiance; you'll be treated to one fairly early on, when France is attacked by Germany.
The sound in the game is standard fare; nothing really stands out, but it does set the mood nicely with the ominous beat playing as you take your turns towards victory. The sounds during the battle scenes are also fitting and one of the only things that breathes life into the conflicts at all.
There are two problems that bring down World at War a bit for me, mainly due to lack of information. Having to keep track of which units moved where from turn to turn is arduous at best, as you have to click on all of your provinces one by one. Additionally, you are never notified in game what will unfreeze a nation so you basically have to memorize all of the conditions from the manual, which are easily forgotten and can lead to devastating affects on your chances of winning.
Overall, Gary Grigsby's World at War is a good game. The AI is not disappointing, but you need human opponents to get the most from the experience, and the learning curve, while steep, is definitely less than that of other war games on the market. The feeling of victory after having perfectly orchestrated a complete takeover of a nation is simply one of the most gratifying things in my recent gaming experiences. This game is definitely a great addition to any war gamer's collection.
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