So, imagine our surprise when Square-Enix got in touch with us about their plans to release a World War 2 real time strategy game. A massive departure from their usual fare, this game - called Order of War - is their push to expand their market in Europe and the US, as well as an attempt to move away from their traditional RPG comfort zone.
We were invited to an exclusive peek at the game a few months ago (held in the Cabinet War Rooms in London) and it was here that we met the development team who created Order of War. Wargaming.net are a team of developers from Belarus - and are massive Osprey fans. In fact, when we met up with them in London, they proceeded to explain how they developed the game whilst being surrounded by huge piles of Osprey books to ensure that every detail was as accurate as possible.
And boy is it accurate! Just watching the early beta version of the game it was already possible to pick out the Firefly from the group of Shermans. All of the tanks and aircraft appeared perfect - right down to the historically accurate camouflage. In fact, a number of the screenshots reminded us of the cover of one of our own Duel books.
There are two sides to the game. First you play through as the American forces from D-Day right through to the fall of Berlin, taking part in all of the major battles of the war. Then you can take control of German forces as they battle against the might of the Red Army on the Eastern Front, defying the odds as you are pushed back towards Berlin.
I got the chance to have a 'hands on' experience of the game, playing through a couple of the early scenarios in their entirety, spending a good half hour battling against the Germans in Normandy. I was playing on a relatively easy setting - which gave the game a great 'arcade' style feel to it - a run and gun experience that you don't usually get from an RTS. I was assured that the difficulty settings ranged from this level of gaming, perfect for the casual gamer, right up to a very hard standard of play, where a knowledge of tactics and correct utilization of landscape and deployment of troops becomes essential to defeating the enemy. So for example, I tried to destroy a group of German tanks with wave after wave of infantry in the easy mode - and succeeded (admittedly after sending in all of my reserve infantry), but in a harder setting I needed to deploy my own armour in order to defeat a similar number of tanks....after they had wiped out most of my infantry!
Visually the game was fabulous, with no visible slow down even when deploying large groups of forces, and when getting the chance to call in an airstrike was as visually exciting as it was enjoyable in the context of the game. I would imagine that to get this game running on your PC at home will require some monster specs, but playing it on it's highest settings is going to be a must, just to experience the thrill of the ride.
To be honest, I loved this game - and my only two gripes with it did not detract from the gaming experience. First off I was extremely disappointed by the lack of any British (or for that matter other Allied) forces in the game. I was only playing an early version so I am not sure if this was changed later on, but throughout the missions I played the only troops you can control are American. Now I am sure there is nothing sinister here - Sqaure-Enix and Wargaming.net are obviously aiming the product at their biggest market - the US, but it does smack of the pervading Hollywood misnomer that the Americans won World War 2 almost singlehandedly.
The second issue I had was with the German vs Soviet aspect of the game. I appreciate that playing as the Germans gives you the chance to deploy some of the best crack troops and armour - inevitably another great selling point. But, you are unable to change the course of the war - you are able to win battles that in reality the Soviets won, but you find the scenario pushing you back to Berlin anyway despite these reverses. I understand why this has been done - to avoid the alternate history dilemma etc but I think from an historic point of view that playing from the Soviet perspective would have made a bit more sense.
Despite these niggles however, I can heartily recommend this game - especially as if you pre-order it now from Play.com you will also receive a free copy of one of Osprey's books - the paperback edition of FUBAR!
A definite bargain!