Review: Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front07 Nov 2014 0
I alight the review railway car bright-eyed and fresh-faced, finding myself on the Eastern Front. With the FNG moniker lingering in the mind, being a Battle Academy newbie is my only disclaimer as I lock and load and see what the fuss is about. After all, Commissar Faradov held the original in high esteem, and given the way things have turned out here? It's as solid as Lake Ladoga.
Those familiar with 2012's tablet war game will know what to expect when cracking the frigid icon of Slitherine's sequel, but were I to describe it to subscriber's of Reader's Digest, it would run something along the lines of bearded Advance Wars. A simple, but by no means simplistic war game for the whole family – one with a decent layer of technical goodness atop a robust, easily-parsed set of basic mechanics.
As the name suggests, we leave the verdant hedgerows of western Europe and dust of North Africa for the biting chill of the Motherland. Offering campaigns on both sides of Barbarossa and beyond, there's a good deal of single player turn-based combat to churn through. These are robust and relatively entertaining affairs, with a hint of Commando For Action & Adventure about the presentation, though playing it slightly more subtly than Achtung! Tommy! Given that Battle Academy 2 is also cross-platform compatible, user-generated campaigns are available for download. Though it isn't quite as user-friendly as it should be, the options and facilities to do so are adequate enough.
A personal favorite is the skirmish generator, a particularly fully-featured customization module to whip up a clash to a player's taste. Map size and type, a frigid winter or Stalin summer, four discrete scenario types, force size parameters, whether you're Fritz or Ivan, as well as distinct army lists and the ability to set the ruddy date. If that's not enough, there's an advanced parameter mode, where the nitty-gritty can be fiddled with the utmost fidelity. Once the official campaigns are seen to and you're waiting for granddad to pull his asynchronous finger out, the replay value in the skirmish generator is undeniable.
Of course, the asynchronous multiplayer is why most would snag something like Battle Academy 2. It's a known quantity, and thankfully has quality to match. Not only featuring the ability to play factory-standard maps with factory-standard settings, but the same level of customization from the single player skirmish mode can be rolled online. Pull an Osprey Publishing book from the shelf and recreate a particular Army Group South encounter. The option to also play an asynchronous co-op match sweetens the deal for the less-than-seasoned Zhukovs, and since there's such massive map and engagement parameter variation at your fingertips, meat is well and truly on the bone.
But all is not perfect. I found unit selection and delegation somewhat finicky when viewing the map from an isometric viewpoint. Double-tapping units triggers their movement limit overlay, but it's the subsequent input that gave me some concern. Having directed a unit to move somewhere is fine, but without keeping the camera view in check, I was forever futzing up selecting another unit. More often than I'd care to remember, the freshly relocated tank or troop would be redirected from their designated point as I stabbed a finger at a comrade. These are not chubby digits, I hasten to add. Garden variety extremities pleading to do garden variety things, and being able to send units thither and yon often felt like a chore – particularly in large-scale urban engagements. Becoming dependent on scaling and rotating the map shouldn't be a requirement in a game that demands constant unit shuffling. There is an option to tap 'next available unit' in a toggled menu, which I came to rely on heavily, but the point remains.
Perhaps this issue is mine alone, but it did make a fellow shy away from the meatgrinder missions of dislodging German forces from Russian towns. A hefty price, considering how deliciously harrowing the house-to-house fighting can get. I can only draw from my oft-muddled experience in getting troops not only to the victory points, but banging out a few moves in the way nature intended. As such, my muddle-fingered folly was ameliorated by choosing to play the game from the top-down camera view, which solved most of the delegation issues outright. I forewent prettiness for Close Combat in lieu of a mouse. Given the intended audience of Battle Academy 2, this doesn't sound like too much of a sacrifice, but taking into considering that the series plays a perfect bridge into war gaming for newbies, wanting to have their graphical niceties as well as indulging in the core conceits should not be too much to ask.
Outside of these control niggles, Battle Academy 2 makes a strong case for itself. A solid AI showcase to bolster and balance the online experience, though you're likely to never be too long without an asynchronous foe given the cross-play antics and established community. Oodles of units that, if not not deeply historic depictions of the true hardware, at least stylistically inference the real McCoy. This is no Combat Mission, but it's not Command & Conquer either.
The sequel to the vanguard of tablet wargaming gentrification has rumbled into town. Grab a flag and accept your billet.
Battle Academy 2 was played on an iPad 3rd-gen for this review.