Before the avalanche of holiday season titles begins in earnest, we thought we’d update with a few reviews of some of the stuff we’ve missed over the last few months, beginning with BBC Battlefield Academy:
[tweetmeme]Advance Wars remains one of my personal favourites of the GBA and DS eras, so it’s nice to see a similar light-hearted turn-based formula given a comprehensive workout here on the PC courtesy of BBC Battlefield Academy. The strategising is aproachable, the presentation might be over-cute for some, and it might not have the production values or the depth of its more serious rivals; but a relatively low price and entertaining, balanced gameplay should be more than enough for those of you curious enough to give it the time to impress.
The basics then, will be familiar to anybody with passing knowledge of the previously-mentioned series. Maps are broken down into a square grid on which your charges wage war against increasingly tough and complex enemy forces and objectives. Individual unit movement is governed by a set range of Action Points (AP) which are replenished every turn, with a maximum distance radius clearly outlined along with any relevant cover and terrain bonuses. For the most part, playing Battlefield Academy is simply a case of selecting your chosen ordinance, clicking into the square on which you want it to move, then activating one of your primary attack options when it’s in position.
It doesn’t stay that simple of course, and the vast array of weaponry at your disposal soon amounts to a wealth of tactical decisions. Long-range artillery complements all manner of skirmishing tanks and heavily-armoured brutes, and a limited supply of air support and other barrages are available to utilise whenever you see fit. Following a quick tutorial, things start off simple in each of the three campaigns, but quickly progress to multi-front battles and tempting supplementary objectives that serve as opportunities to boost experience levels. Individual units rank up as long as they remain alive, so the challenges take on a tense risk-reward flavour as the danger levels progress.
Before each round, you’ll select your load-out for the upcoming mission from an arsenal that increases at key points in the mission structure. Cartoon storyboards are employed for the mission briefings, and large, colourful visuals leave you with no doubt as to exactly what you need to achieve. Objectives usually consist of holding a particular landmark, assaulting an enemy encampment or simply overrunning the key points on any given set of terrain; but selecting the correct mixture of units is imperative to success, and particularly so in some of the more complicated scenarios. Overloading your forces with heavy tanks is a bad idea, in case you were wondering; as is attempting a heroic rear-guard action with only artillery form company.
For the most part Academy is a breezy, easy joy to play. The AI is a tad unpredictable, rendering the delayed effects of calling an air strike occasionally moot, but battles ebb and flow in the traditions of the genre, and in their best moments contain all the joy of planning and executing an assault that Advance Wars nearly perfected all those years ago. The overplayed World War II setting works against the cutesy visuals and presentation somewhat, but the effect is nevertheless one of entertaining enthusiasm for the product that developer Slitherine has crafted. Multiplayer removes the random unpredictability for the most part (unless you’re playing me), and although we didn’t get the chance to test out play-by-email support, if it works as planned then it’ll be another fine distraction to your working day.
For all its good intentions though, something isn’t quite right with the overall experience here, and it’s difficult to put your finger on any single issue that detriments more than others. It might be the combat engine that favours random dice rolls and morale-based buffs a little too heavily to make for a consistently rewarding experience, rendering the stat-heavy units prone to embarrassing defeat a little too often for comfort. Alternatively, it might be the visuals that reach hard for cartoon style and a universal appeal, but leave a somewhat cheap lasting impression in light of some clunky animation. Maybe it’s the setting and overfamiliarity with the weaponry, or perhaps it’s the lacklustre mission dialogue and lack of any reason to invest in the campaign modes.
None of those are enough to warrant a disaster from any perspective, but there is a nagging suspicion that with a little more budget and direction, Battlefield Academy could have been polished into a fine casual title that could justly hope to find a permanent residence on the many laptops cluttering up sofas around the country. As it stands though, it’s a good TBS title, decent value and worth checking out; but don’t expect a classic. Maybe that’ll come with a sequel.
This text was was originally published over with our good friends at StrategyInformer, and is reproduced here with permission.