Review: Frontline The Longest Day15 Dec 2014 0
A slog. Hard-fought, with not a single soul pencilling 'enjoyable' in their Moleskines. Fingers raw and clawed, eyes red and patience tested. This is one digital D-Day veteran's account of Frontline: The Longest Day, fresh fare served up from the Slitherine kitchen. 88MM Games' Normandy-focused turn-based strategy wargame is not a rough or broken piece of work, but given the competition in bringing World War II to the fireside for a spot of evening tabletry, does it have the juice to take Caen?
I've heard from reputable sources that Road to Moscow, The Longest Day's eastern front precursor, was a bit of a wonky one. Uncertain in its scope, and lacking the panache to stand out from the pack, 88MM's freshman outing made for a bit of a ho-hum experience. I can speak only to this second round, and it seems while The Longest Day has a more sharply defined scope as an operational-level wargame, that pedestrian delivery has returned.
As PT is a satellite of cold Grognardia, her citizens are tempered against anaemic audio-visual presentation. No shocks will be felt in discovering The Longest Day is markedly static. Animations are limited to sliding icons, their simplicity amplified by the alarmingly clipped combat rapport and elementary burble of ambulation. Gen Yers may be put off by the starkness of this performance but The Longest Day is serviceable in appearance. Scaling and zooming well, the game doesn't suffer from kludgy resizing or jumbled iconography. Unit design is crisp and delineates troop types at a glance. Terrain differentiation is easy to parse and movement overlays are unobtrusive, even catering for a tool-tip proxy with a touch over a unit bringing up a handy combat effectiveness guide.
The Longest Day is a well-rounded mechanical package. Terrain modifiers abound, troop experience and exhaustion is a notion with flanking bonuses accounted for. Accrued command points filter into reserve unit purchases, as well as serving to pay for the over-powered and very game-breaking Typhoon and Spit strikes. Troops have unit-specific actions they can perform in conjunction with the usual one-two of movement and combat, such as entrenchment or charging. Supply is another factor to consider, so deft use of the half-track should keep troops from ranging too far from the biscuit tin.
What lets the entire package down is a combination of that aforementioned air and some of the most sluggish AI I've encountered in a while. I found myself imposing a no-airstrike policy just to keep things relatively fair, as reaction to hundred-point strafes felt like canned 1812 Overtures. This is a wargame primarily of punting ordnance into German blockhouses in an incrementally eastern direction, and the crawl is not as fraught or engaging as it should be, even through the abstraction of hex-to-hex fighting.
Despite being deployed from the belly of the reliable LST Slitherine, The Longest Day just doesn't have the AI horsepower of notable stablemates like Panzer Corps and Battle Academy. Flanking plunges into German territory lose that sense of tactical bravado when met with flaccid contraction. Those fateful first days of Allied boots on beaches aren't reflected in enemy machinations. The Longest Day lives up to the name not because it's a gruelling grind against an entrenched foe, but because the game feels like an also-ran when it could have been something so much more.
Once more into the beach? None of this is to say that Frontline: The Longest Day plays like a mouthful of sand, far from it. It is a competent entry-level affair that nary puts a foot wrong. But in a world of Panzer Corps, Wars & Battles, Commander, and myriad other all-singing, all-dancing mil-sims, Frontline: The Longest Day doesn't exactly pull a Fred Astaire. This is a bog-standard wargame.
Frontline: The Longest Day was played on an iPad 3rd-gen for this review.