Review: Strategy & Tactics World War II16 Apr 2013 0
Strategy & Tactics' former destiny as the mobile incarnation of WWII grand strategy series Hearts of Iron was the most interesting thing about the game leading up to its release. It remains the most interesting thing after.
S&T looks a heck of a lot like Hearts of Iron II at first glance -- familiar sprites, smudgy typewriter fonts -- but it's a kid dressing up like its big brother. The shoes are ten sizes too big. The mustache is drawn on with a Crayola washable marker. By imitating one of the deepest, most intricate PC games ever made, Strategy & Tactics just highlights its own shallowness.
It might be dressed up like Paradox's grand strategy games, but Strategy & Tactics WWII is a simple, straightforward wargame. You spend your turns marching stacks of troops through Second World War scenarios like Operation Weserübung and Fall Gelb. Screenshots of the game look rather lovely, with the crumpled paper texturing of the maps and the combat messages that arrive in an attache case. But in your hands, the game is weirdly static and obtuse. The UI is mysterious and over-engineered (the afore-mentioned attache case means you're always two or three clicks away from info you want, for example) juxtaposed with strange oversights like missing tooltips and lifeless sprites -- the only unit animation is the manic, synchronized waving of the flag sticking out from every unit's back.
Having to fight through the interface would be forgivable in a wargame that got the combat right, but the fighting in Strategy & Tactics is a mystery. Units bump against one another with all the ferocity of narcoleptic manatees. The combat is completely opaque, giving you no information about why or how you're winning or losing. When you're winning, it's a doddle. When you're losing, it's frustrating.
Take 10 infantry divisions and ram them into an enemy stack with 5 infantry, and you'll win. Usually. You can add tanks to your stack, but is that giving you a combined arms bonus? Why are 5 tanks more expensive than 20 infantry? The game doesn't say. I can see why streamlining out numbers and arithmetic might make a wargame more accessible, but S&T has whittled the combat down to basically nothing. There isn't even an animation to tell you that combat is happening: one second your army is in one province, the next second it's in another. It's almost as if S&T is too embarrassed by its combat to show it to you.
The battles in desktop Hearts of Iron aren't exactly epic, but that's because HoI is a game of enormous, global scope. When you're trying to secure a reliable trade supply of petrol for your tanks and coaxing Portugal into joining the Allies you don't have the time or desire to focus in on one solitary battle. But battles are the core of Strategy & Tactics' gameplay. It's a complete failure of a game.
As if that weren't enough, S&T sells you resources via in-app purchase. The game's free to try, and then five pounds to unlock the full campaign: which is absolutely fair enough. But if you want to use real money to spam 50 tank units into a map, Herocraft are more than happy to let you do so. After a certain point, the game becomes so difficult that there's no way a mere mortal will succeed without buying them. The system betrays either the developers' lack of faith in their own design or a real cynicism. Or both.
It's no crime that Strategy & Tactics: World War II decided to shave its scope down from grand strategy to casual wargame. There's a great argument for doing one thing thoroughly instead of trying to do many things passably. No, the crime is that the one thing Strategy & Tactics chose to do thoroughly is monetize.