Battalion Wars (GameCube) review
"Late in the GameCube's life, Nintendo started funding all sorts of different types of games from random companies. Some turned out pretty good, some were terrible. Predictably however, they all bombed sales-wise. The good news though is that means they became dirt cheap real quick, and thus allowing those of us who are fairly cautious about these sorts of things a chance to try them out with minimal risk. Battalion Wars, needless to say, is one such game. And though it shows plenty of the r..."
Late in the GameCube's life, Nintendo started funding all sorts of different types of games from random companies. Some turned out pretty good, some were terrible. Predictably however, they all bombed sales-wise. The good news though is that means they became dirt cheap real quick, and thus allowing those of us who are fairly cautious about these sorts of things a chance to try them out with minimal risk. Battalion Wars, needless to say, is one such game. And though it shows plenty of the rough edges one might expect from an ambitious new game with an unproven developer, the central promise is still strong enough to make this game at least worth a try.
The game thrusts you into the middle of some hackneyed plot involving the American ripoffs, the Russian ripoffs, the Eastern European ripoffs, and the Japanese ripoffs. Plot twists happen. A storyline progresses. Your commanding officers chat on the phone to your enemies like a bunch of teenage girls. More to the point though, these silly stories thrust you into the heat of battle. You control one of the units on your side, whether it be the lowly rifle grunt, a guy with a flamethrower, or even a tank or bomber. Combat takes place as a pretty standard third person shooter, with the ability to lock on to an enemy, strafe, and change between a close-up and far away view. But you don't have to go it alone, as you're also in command of your battalion. You can command individual units, all units of one type, or all units, and tell them to follow you, attack a target, or defend their position. You can also switch out the unit you personally control at any time. Naturally, each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses, such as flamethrowers being strong against infantry while bazookas should be used against armor. You must use your troops to accomplish your mission objectives, whether it be to defend outposts, capture bases, free prisoners, or simply slaughter all who stand in your way. Hooah!
As such, the game acts as a blend between a third person shooter and a real time strategy game. And really, how much the game leans in one direction vs the other depends almost entirely on you. It is possible to take it slow - ignoring your troops and going solo - for much of the game. At the same time, it's also possible to bring everyone into battle while you stand around giving commands and watching the action. You can spread your troops out around the field, switching between various squads and trying to accomplish multiple objectives at once. Or you can just amass your army at a single point, then bringing out only the useful troops when you near any specific skirmish. The choice is entirely up to you. On the other hand, you are rated at the end of each level on your relative power (# of kills), technique (# of allies killed), and speed, and these rankings are needed to unlock the bonus missions. Go it alone and you might have less casualties, but your speed will drop. Bring in everyone and you'll get through faster, but possibly with more losses. So in the end, you're going to have to balance your behavior if you want to truly conquer each mission, rather than simply squeaking by.
It's not an easy task though, at least not at first. Yes, the game does do a pretty good job of easing you into the strategy aspect, slowly building up the type of units you can use and slowly making the mission objectives more complicated. But by the sixth mission or so, you better know what you're doing. Get involved in a skirmish and panic, and you'll find your battalion reduced to nothing. Even if you clearly outnumber and outgun your enemy. And it's so easy to panic too. It takes time to give orders, and with so much going on it's hard to always see the flow of the battle. How can you insure that everyone's attacking the right units? How can you quickly give orders to each different group while still fighting yourself and still keeping an eye on the enemy's strength? It seems hopeless at first.
But it's not hopeless, and you'll find your skills rapidly developing to cope with these situations. You'll learn, rather quickly, that leaving your troops in sentry mode during battle is your best option while commanding only a select few. You'll learn to anticipate problems before they happen, thus negating that panicky feeling. And most importantly, you'll learn how to divide up your troops so that you always have the advantage in every skirmish. So replay those levels that you barely squeaked by a few days ago. Don't be surprised to see yourself suddenly getting a top rank, and those impossible battles now only minor setbacks.
It's what makes this game so wonderful, really. Because you can replay battles at any time, you can always go back to your favorite ones. And with the rank system, you can always aim for just a little bit higher than last time. And most importantly, because of the combination of the shooter and strategy aspect, you'll likely end up playing the level much differently than last time. There's quite a bit of room here to experiment, especially on some of the later levels. You can try out various tactics, and control different types of units on different playthroughs. One of them's bound to work, and you can pride yourself on your strategery. The tension of trying to outwit the enemy, deciding when you've nibbled around the edges enough and can go in for the kill, using a different set of troops to accomplish your objective than last time. This is what it's all about; these are the types of experiences that are heightened by this action/strategy hybrid. You get all the tension of being on the battlefield with all the thinking of being the commander.
Despite my praise for the game though, I must point out that it's not without some admittedly rough edges. For starters, enemy AI (and allied AI as well) is rather poor. In a 1 on 1 fight, you will likely win, even if you're a wussy rifle grunt up against a heavy tank. Strafe, fire, and win; he'll never hit you. Outnumbered 10:1, but with a favorable weapon (say, a flamethrower against a bunch of infantry) and you'll walk away victorious. No, I'm not asking to be crushed like an ant if I so much as look at an enemy. But this sort of thing weakens the strategy and tactical aspects of the game, as you have no need to bring in your troops when it's faster and easier to go solo. And for that matter, bringing in the troops could give you a false sense of security, as you'd naturally suspect they'd be smart enough to defend themselves when they're actually firing at the most harmless enemies present. You can work around it, yes, but dealing with dumb soldiers on both sides of the battle gets a bit monotonous at times.
The controls also leave something to be desired. Oh, the action aspect is serviceable in most cases, although accurately controlling either a recon or any of the aircraft will take quite a bit of work to get used to. But it's ordering your troops that feels rather awkward. You can only control either one unit, all types of one unit, or all units, nothing in between. And with only the C-stick and one button to use for these commands, you'll find that you can't exactly make snap decisions and have them carried out a moment later. I can't fault them too much for that; I certainly can't see a better option with the controller they had. But it hurts the game nonetheless. What hurts more, however, is the limited options when it comes to command. Throughout the game I was wishing there were two extra commands that simply weren't available: telling units to converge to a specific spot and having the ability to order all units in a defined radius. This would allow you to command multiple squads at once, thus enabling you to perform multiple objectives at once (y'know, like a real RTS game). You wouldn't believe how often this would have been useful, but alas was impossible. I guess I survived with what was available, and I suppose they might have thought this would slow down the game somewhat. But I can't help but feel it would have made the overall experience deeper, more intuitive, and more exciting.
And the game's a bit on the short side. There's only 20 missions (which I finished in less than 9 hours, and that includes a fairly copious amount of replaying old levels). In other words, it really won't take you much time at all. It seems like as soon as you start getting the exciting units, like fighters or roving fortresses, the game's over. You barely get to use artillery, and there's scant few missions where you have to defend a base rather than attack an enemy. You have allies, but they only show up in a few missions and even then they usually don't have a huge impact. And they almost never mix up any of these scenarios to their fullest potential, as the few times you have interesting scenarios or units they are inevitably the sole focus of the mission. That's not to say what's here is bad, but there's a dire need to see more scenarios. As it stands, it feels like the game only scratches the surface of its potential, and you can't help but wish the developers had just a bit more imagination when it comes to the variety of missions.
So perhaps the game may not be great, but the fundamental concept behind it is still solid. Most importantly, the problems can all be fixed in the future. With more time to develop the game, the sequel should be able to have better AI, better controls (the Wii remote should significantly help here), and deeper missions. Which means this game simply serves as a pleasant introduction into what we hope should become an awesome franchise. That's not to say the game is poor on its own; these three problems aren't a deal breaker, especially at this price. If you can suffer through a few minor problems and see the strength of the concept, you'll likely enjoy the ten hours or so you spend with the game. It's a fairly unique concept that manages to be at least reasonably satisfying in both of the genres it pursues, so why not take a chance?
Community review by mariner (April 17, 2007)
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