Developer: Cornered Rat Software
Release Date: September 1, 2005
Fans of first-person shooters have never had a shortage of choices for the PC, and recently the genre has seen some powerhouse titles that dominate in nearly every aspect. These brand names sport high-quality graphics, complicated and realistic physics, and fast-paced multiplayer action. But few of them venture outside the tried-and-true formula of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, with all of their variations, and few ever aspire to the title of massively multiplayer.
Battleground Europe, the newest addition to World War II Online by Cornered Rat Software, is one title that succeeds at massively multiplayer. In it, players face off across the battle lines of Europe, choosing to play either the Axis (Germans) or Allies (British and French). After my recent look at this addition, a few things are clear. Nothing compares to Battleground Europe in its depth of gameplay and the wide range of options for all players. The game world is truly massive and offers a level of detail unparalleled in most other games
Players won't see any of the shiny new technologies like normal mapping or ragdoll physics in Battleground Europe. Graphically, the game feels outdated, and when I first loaded it, I had an immediate flashback to Half-Life (the original, six years ago). The blocky models threw me at first, and I had a bit of trouble getting past the low resolution textures. I am, like most gamers, spoiled by big names like Source and Havoc and Unreal, but this lack of high-end graphics is intentional. Instead of powerful graphics, Cornered Rat has chosen to focus on creating deep and detailed gameplay. They've succeeded in this and have built a realistic representation of the battlefields of World War II.
And their choice to focus on the gameplay has paid off beautifully. After a little time in the game, my issues with the graphics disappeared, and I found myself more concerned with things like running for cover, lines of fire, and simple survival. After only an hour or two, I found that graphics were the last thing on my mind and did not detract from the experience at all.
The game's sound, as opposed to the graphics, is spectacular and adds a great deal to the gameplay. The sounds of battle surrounded me, making me feel as if I were in the midst of a war-torn city. Planes buzzed overhead, tanks roared to life and screamed through the streets, and the sound of far-off rifles brought me to a halt quite a few times. The game uses things like the Doppler Effect to maximum impact. Weapon sounds are realistic and can be quite loud, which leads to some very tense and hectic situations in the heat of battle (which I'm sure is the case in real gunfights). Overall, the game uses sound to enhance the experience the same way other games use graphics – create a realistic environment to further draw the player into the world.
The real strength of this title is its depth; there are a wide range of choices in what to play and even how to play. Unfortunately, however, this level of detail could also prove to be the game's biggest weakness. I usually prefer to familiarize myself somewhat with a game before playing it; I don't read everything, but I read enough to not make a fool out of myself (hopefully). Browsing through the online manual, I felt as if I were back in high school history class. There was so much information to absorb, I almost felt as if I needed to study because I was sure there was going to be a quiz. The manual reads like a textbook in many places.
Alas, the information in the manual proves absolutely necessary; even reading what I did, I still felt lost for the first few sessions I played. The learning curve is steep -- so steep that Cornered Rat schedules regular tutorial sessions (read "classes") on how to play, taught by real people. It's very hard to just "jump in" and start playing. With the limited number of participants in the current beta state, combat was often difficult to find, and the in-game lingo borders on a foreign language, it is so tough to decipher. Casual gamers may want to think hard before joining this game, although the situation should improve once the beta opens up later this month.
For those who choose to join Battleground Europe, with a little time and effort, they will find a fun and rewarding experience. The game is well polished and smooth on most fronts (no pun intended), and once battle is joined, the fun ratchets up several levels. Players are offered a wide range of options on how they want to play. The game includes several flavors of infantry, armored vehicles, fighter planes, and even allows players to pilot nautical units (sadly, I never got the opportunity to try this).
In addition to the front line roles, Battleground Europe offers players the chance to direct the flow of battle from a more tactical perspective in the form of High Command and something called Research, Development, and Production (RDPs). High Commands are player-owned command organizations that run the war effort from "behind the lines." Truly, there is something for everyone in this game.
This attention to detail has the end result of an extremely immersive game. Every aspect of Battleground Europe, from weapons to landscape to the ebb and flow of battle, are built with realistic representation as the highest priority. What results is an exceptionally captivating experience that gave me the feeling of actually participating in a battle. This leads to a completely different way to play FPS games, and is something I highly enjoyed.
One of the things that bothers me most about multiplayer shooters is the lack of real strategy. Most games devolve into a simple run-and-gun shooting match, where twitch reflex becomes more important than thinking. I play games to escape reality, but it has always bothered me that people run headlong into a room with no pause. Where is the strategy? The teamwork? What about lines of fire and effectively using cover? When a player can take entire clips of bullets without falling, and simply click to respawn moments later, their "life" becomes meaningless. It is just another round in the same repetitive game.
Not so in Battleground Europe. Similar to real life (I'm guessing), a single gunshot to the body can kill, albeit some more slowly than others. Suddenly, I found that I had to use real tactics, and teamwork became critical. The pace is much slower, but that was because a significant error could take me out of the action, and every life means something because it is so easy to "die." This approach to "real" combat not only leads to some intense firefights, but also to some of the most fun I've had online. It also gives a real sense of accomplishment: when I took out an enemy, I felt like I had really made a difference, which is something new for me, and makes me want to keep playing.
Overall, Battleground Europe is shaping up to be a great game. Not only does it have a clearly dedicated company, but it also has a friendly, supportive, and enthusiastic community, which is crucial for the success of an online game. There is a wide range of options for varying interests; any type of player should be able to find something to enjoy. The world and its inhabitants are lovingly crafted with special attention to detail. The graphics may prove to be a breaking point for many gamers, but hopefully, they will be able to look beyond the visuals and try their hand at real combat.