PC Game Review: Commander - The Great War
Chris Cole jumps into the trenches with the latest release in the Commander series with Commander - The Great War. Does it end up being the War to End All Wars?
The much-anticipated latest World War One game 'Commander-The Great War,' was released by Matrix/Slitherine on the 12th of November 2012. This is a bold attempt to breathe new life into the genre, as many wargamers dismiss the period as one of stalemate and senseless slaughter that unfortunately leads to indifference in gaming circles.
Well I'm happy to let you know that CTGW certainly does not fall into that category! The game is fast-flowing and exciting, even against the AI. I can imagine the game will be a real cliffhanger when players venture into the PBEM side of the game.
The opening video is well worth a look, as that exciting air battle is great. When one of the aircraft is hit, you think 'wait a minute thatís a very poorly rendered field that it is going to crash into.....but wait a moment, itís not a field... it is a giant airship!'; a very nice opening sequence by Lordz Studios.
Anyway, without further ado, letís look at what the game has to offer;
At the start, the game offers you 5 scenarios:
- 1914 - The Great War. This is the longest scenario and covers WWI in its entirety.
- 1915 - Ypres and Artois.
- 1916 - The Battle of Verdun.
- 1917 - The Nivelle Offensive.
- 1918 - The Kaiserschlacht.
Wherever you start, the game concludes on the 31st December 1918. Obviously the 1914 scenario is the longest campaign and I suspect will be the starting point for many a PBEM. While I'm talking about PBEM, there is a very slick multiplayer lobby that makes setting up a game to play an opponent very easy, and hassle free.
In the options menu is the usual stuff like Hex Grids ON/OFF ( I come from that generation of gamers that requires a hex grid to play, or I become confused ) ; NATO Counters or little soldiers ( I'm a Counters type of guy ), Action arrows ( a nice touch ), and various other minor tweaks to customise your game.
The game opens with The Austro-Hungarian Empire attacking Serbia. The Alliance system will then draw in the major combatants. This screenshot nicely shows the Fog of War. All the shaded areas represent hexes you have no information about.
Major events will appear as popups; these impact on how other countries neutrality is affected. Important cities will add some Production Points to the conquerors overall production capability as these are major objectives in the game.
The graphics are well done and have a WWI feel about them. The typeface is reminiscent of the typewriter fonts prevalent during the period. All information is well presented, and looks good without cluttering the map or pop up screens. The only criticism I have is that the NATO counters are a little sparse.
MAP, TERRAIN and SCALE
At the start of every turn you will be presented with a turn report listing important events, any new technology developments and completed production.
As you can see, the scale of the map is large, but with 10 to 11 hexes from the Swiss border to the English Channel/North Sea, there can be no room for complacently. On this scale, if you do not think your moves through you will pay dearly for any mistakes. There is also a minimap that makes navigating round this huge map very easy to do.
There are various types of terrain depicted on the map: Grassland, Forest, Mountain, Rough, Swamp, Desert and Sea. There are also three other terrain types that the player must take into consideration, and these are capitals (denoted by a star, and major sources of supply), Ports, huge Fortress towns like Liège, and Cities. Rivers run along hex sides and offer the defender extra advantages.
The impressive fortifications at Liège are not to be taken lightly and need combined artillery and infantry assaults to break them.
If you click on the information tab of any hex it will bring up a little information screen that lists Combat Effects and Movement costs, so itís very easy to work out advantages and disadvantages for both the attacker and defender.
The map will also reflect the different levels of entrenchment ranging from trenches, barbed wire, concrete pillboxes etc.
The game is controlled by the player through five tabs: Selection, Production, Research, Diplomacy and Management. Let's have a look at them in detail:
SELECTION ( Unit Tab )
Here is a typical infantry piece from the German Army, and how it is rated for certain categories.
The first line consists of Base defence, High defence, Quality, Unit Efficiency and Range.
The second line consists of Ground attack, Air attack, Naval attack, Armour piercing and movement points.
The third line consists of Shock, Assault, Ammunition, Strategic Attack and Line of Sight.
At the bottom, the information informs you that the Production Point cost is 20 for this unit, its manpower cost is 10, the upkeep of the unit is 4 and it takes three turns to produce. Moving a unit is a simple click-and-point that we are all familiar with. Large areas of the map are 'shaded', which means that they are covered by Fog of War. This adds a dimension of doubt to every movement, so get those aircraft near the frontline to roll back the FOW, or be very careful where you move your units.
Included in selecting and moving land units is a vital 'swap' function to allow you to rotate units in and out of the front line. This aspect of movement is very important and every player will appreciate this useful function.
The production screen lists all available units that you can produce and/or have been successfully researched. In this example, an Airship/Zeppelin will cost you 40 Production Points (ouch!), 4 manpower points, 1 upkeep and will take five turns to produce. When you have selected the production tab, it also shows you what is in the production queue, and how many turns are left to go before the unit is ready for deployment. Production Points are increased by capturing enemy cities and successfully getting convoys safely home. All is displayed simply; so the player can see at a glance what is what very easily.
Under the research tab the player can research various categories to improve the units under his command.
As you can see, the units take in a lot of categories, and these categories can be vastly improved by doing the correct research at the right time.
The various technology trees (from left to right) are: Ground, Artillery, Naval, Airforce, and Vehicle.
Each element lists how many more stages are left to research for that particular item in the top right-hand corner of the individual category so you can see at a glance how much is left to research.
In this example for instance, a particularly horrible technology (Phosgene Gas) is the second tier of advancement out of three. At the bottom is a small advancement bar, which informs you of its progress towards completion.
You can also concentrate your research by spending 'Focus' points, that can accelerate one technology within a group, and these appear with a blue tint over the technology in question. These must be spent wisely, as a mistake in allocating your Focus is very expensive to rectify. As players can see even at this stage, the game at all levels is deceptively easy to use, but again I must empathise great care must be taken in every decision you take in the game. Faulty planning and preparation will cost you dearly.
Also, within the production tab you can look at any commanders that are in the queue and the requirements to activate them. The categories are Army, Navy and Airforce. If we look at the extremely fierce-looking von Mackensen, we can see the requirements that need to be fulfilled before he can be deployed. So von Mackensen requires 100 kills and Infiltration Tactics to make him available. With 301 kills we have fulfilled that requirement, but we must successfully research Infiltration Tactics to make him available. On the right is listed all the different types of units he can be attached to, and the combat effects he will bestow on all units in his command radius. Simple and straight forward, all the information presented in the game is easy to evaluate for the player to assess his options.
Diplomacy is handled somewhat abstractly. What affects your relationship with other neutrals are events within the game such as the first to use a gas technology, unrestricted submarine warfare, how well your armies are performing by capturing important objectives, and declaring war on other countries. Here we can see our relationship with the USA - which is neutral at this point in the game.
I must admit a twinge of disappointment with Diplomacy, there is no provision for the player to 'spend' diplomacy points to try and influence countries in a more direct way. Saying that, there is more than enough to do in the rest of the game - so it's only a twinge.
This screen is used mainly to increase your logistical capacities. You can increase your ammunition output for Artillery, improve your Railway capacity, or increase your Sea Transport. At the bottom is a list of casualties/kills by country. As the game goes on, mounting losses will impinge on the nationís morale. This is kept track of in the left hand portion of the screen, and from this example we can see Austro-Hungary is already down to 86% National Morale, while Germany is still at 100%. Once National Morale reaches zero, the nation in question will surrender. So again, all the decisions you take on the battlefield impact back home: success on the battlefield can increase your National Morale, while defeat or heavy casualties will have a negative impact.
Also included in the management tab are the victory conditions for your countries, so at a glance you are able to evaluate your position in the overall campaign.
I have always been interested in WWI, both from a historical perspective and wargaming. I am luckily in possession of both Matrix's 'Guns of August', and ADG's excellent boardgame 'Fatal Alliances' - so how does CTGW measure up?
The player must bear in mind important strategic concepts in this game, leading to some agonizing decisions. Unit rotation is vital. Troops need to be pulled out of the line and rested and refitted when their efficiency and strength drops in combat. Woe to the commander who does not pay attention to his units. Strategic reserves are another vital consideration, ready and waiting to march into the frontline while others are resting. Doing the correct research at the right time is one major key to success, so do not fall behind, and upgrade your troops in order of priority. Placement and positioning of your armies is another vitally important decision you will have to take into account with every unit. Even attacking with your units must be thought through, as the order in which you commit your armies can have huge consequences.
There are certainly two elements of the game that need improving. The first is an 'Undo' button. Once you have moved that is it, you cannot take a move back. Not too much of a problem with playing the AI, because you can always reload your last turn. Tiresome yes, but not the end of the world. Making a mistake like that in a PBEM game could be disastrous. Thankfully (according to The Lordz Studio's feedback), this is going to be rectified in a patch soon. The other gripe I have is that the NATO counters are functional, but that is it. Surely the Artillery/Aircraft/Ship counters could be jazzed up with a touch of chrome - just a little?
In my opinion 'Commander-The Great War' is a must-have for anyone interested in this bloody conflict. The game is simple enough for a new player to get straight into the action, but there is also a great deal of depth for the more seasoned veteran. The game interface is easy to use, and the turns rattle along at a surprisingly fast rate. As with all Matrix titles, there is plenty of support on the Forums, and the staff are quick and polite in trying to resolve any issues the player may have. It is also highly addictive and 'fun' to play, (Iím always a bit leery of using words like fun in conjunction with wargaming) but all credit to The Lordz Studios/Slitherine/Matrix. They have produced a great title, and one that is extremely enjoyable. My advice is to go and buy if you are interested; you are going to be in for a bumpy but fantastic and immensely fulfilling ride!