Axis & Allies
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Axis & Allies

I have to say up front that I really donít devote a lot of time on my PC to playing games. The recent trend of first or third person shot Ďem up games really doesnít appeal to me. What I enjoy is a good strategy game, something that can challenge the mind a bit more than blasting away turning people into graphic goo. Atarií new Axis & Allies game is the latest entry into the RTS (Real Time Strategy) games. From its beginnings as a rather complex board game it is now a full blown, interactive computer game now. So, with an open mind for something new to me I opened the box and loaded the game. Even on a fast computer, 3GHz with a gig of memory, it took awhile to fully load the two discs. The installation automatically determined that I lacked the correct version of DirectX and went right to the task of loading it. The first thing when I started is the game took me through a fairly comprehensive tutorial of the gaming basics. It started me out with a squad of Russian soldiers that after a quick defeat of some German troops made their way to the headquarters to re-supply and teach me to develop new resources. A nice touch here is all the commands and their results are saved in a log for later review. It took a few runs to fully get the hang of how to command the troops at my command but once this learning curve was over the fun could start in earnest.

There are several mode of play available. The first is single user campaign mode. Here you can choose to be one of five nations, United States, Britain, Russian, Germany or Japan. You are taken through various campaigns that although based on historical accounts you can select to relive history to change the outcome to suite yourself. Next there is Custom mode which permits you to play a single skirmish using either existing battle maps or you can use the editor to change things around. If you are in for a longer haul you can choose World War II mode. Here you fight a global battle to the end selecting your nation and the generals that country has to offer. Each general has a personality that is fairly historically accurate. You can also play Axis & Allies in an online multiplayer mode that pits your wits against those of your unseen opponents. While those used to the more action oriented games may find all of these modes a bit slow the emphasis here is strategy rather than brute force.

As I got into the details of the game I began to realize how complex it actually is. There is a lot more than just pitting one squad or armies against each other, there are numerous fine points that have to be mastered. For one you need money to make your armies successful. The more money you can gather the better equipped your fighting forces will be. You have to decide how to allocate your limited funding. Building divisional headquarters, more tanks, supply posts, all will cost you. When you allocate a resource a truck is must be loaded, moved to the new location and unloaded before you can use anything.

Even after you have units in place it will still take provisions to keep them effective. Oil, ammunition and general upkeep are all important concerns. The rates are prorated; tanks cost more in oil than a truck. A machine gun crew whips through ammo at a much accelerated rate. You just donít select an army and tell it to attack, you have to worry about how well supplied they are. You find yourself balancing the rate that funds come in with how expense each part of your forces are. You have to build up to a real fighting force and be able to afford keeping it moving.

You also have to consider the morale of your forces. Defeats will lower it, a successful engagement will improve it but keeping your men going battle after battle will result in tired, ineffective troops. If you push your troops too far they will tend to retreat rather than fight. Combat efficiency is determined by a few separate factors. Experience will increase it, changes made in formation will require time to restore your men to full effectiveness. There are also meters that gauge the health of your troops and how much more they can take. Here, individuals are not as important as the whole regiment, just make sure one person stays alive and you can supply to full strength.

The technology used here ranges from basic guns up to an including the atomic bomb. World War II was a war of technology and this game reflects this nicely. You have at your command ground forces, air support and can even engage in naval battles. The sheer number of ways you can play each scenario will provide the avid RTS player many hours of enjoyment. There are even more advanced options for special operations that range from a propaganda war to code breaking. The tiniest detail of World War II is emulated here.

While the graphics and overall flow of the game are very good for a RTS type system many people used to the heavy duty, graphic intensive games will be some what disappointed. The focus here is on the strategy and details. Still, there where little touches like the animation of trucks unloading or tanks rolling over trees that keep a visual interest in the game. The main screen is somewhat crowded with all the progress meters and views. There is a lot to keep track of and for many it will take some getting used to until you can watch everything that you need. The controls are straight forward and you can set an option so that positioning the cursor over a control will remind you what it does.

Over all I greatly enjoyed the game. It is truly addictive, you can change options so often that you never need to replay the same scenario over, unless of course you really want to. This is a game that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family. Grandpa will like playing the battles he remembers from the war, dad can get into the details of provision while the kids can enjoy the action.

Posted 11/20/04

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