TimeGate's Axis and Allies RTS stands on its own merits as a great strategy game, even if it isn't the same old Avalon Hill game we know and love.
Gamers have three options to choose from here. First up is the game's Campaign mode. There are two campaigns here, one for the Allies (Britain, America, Russia) and one for the Axis (Germany, Japan). The missions are drawn from the War's historical battles and they're pretty faithful in concept if not necessarily in the details. The Custom Battle mode lets you set up random battles with various opponents on a variety of terrains. Finally, the strategic game, called World War II, lets players move and fight in a turn-based format across a map of the world, engaging in real time battles when your armies meet those of your enemy. Multiplayer is limited to custom battles fought on random maps or maps from the campaign.
Rather than building full towns, you'll erect headquarters for the overall Corps and for the four broad types of companies you want to build: infantry, airborne, mechanized, armor. Other buildings, like motor pools and artillery ranges grant access to cooler units and buildings as well as a number of unit-specific technologies you can research.
All buildings in Axis and Allies are designed to be mobile so you can pack them up and move them across the battlefield. In some cases, you'll want them to advance behind your army; in others you'll need to pack up your various buildings and move them back out of the enemy's reach. It makes for a very fluid game when you have mobile base. It can be a huge pain in the ass to have to move everything around like this but using the feature is more a choice than a requirement.
If you do choose to move your HQs, you should remember that each Corps HQ generates a zone of supply within which damaged friendly units are automatically reinforced. This zone can be extended by building additional ammo and oil depots. (Captured cities also provide supply.) A long chain of depots allows you to reach deep into enemy territory while still being able to enjoy the benefits of constant reinforcements. This supply chain also makes a tempting target of your enemy. Once an assaulting army is split from its supply chain, it loses a significant advantage on the attack. Since units gain experience through battle, you'll want to keep your veterans alive as long as possible.
In order to be resupplied, each of the companies in the game has to be attached to a specific headquarters of the appropriate type. An armor HQ can support four separate companies, for instance, while an infantry HQ can support five companies of nine units each. Once built, units are conveniently attached to the HQ where they were created but you can detach or reattach units as you wish. Neatest of all, each HQ has a historical badge associated with it that's also present on the unit itself. In all, it's a practical system that helps you organize and lead your armies.
Though the nine infantrymen in a company are led as a single unit, the company has its own AI to determine how the individual men attack. The same is true of armored and mechanized units. Each HQ building allows access to a button which automatically groups all attached companies together. This means that fourteen or fifteen companies (each composed of up to over a dozen vehicles or up to 40 or 50 infantry) can be led in a handful of groups. Sadly, while there are individual formation controls for each company, there's no overall formation control for groups of formations. There are times when it would be darned useful to be able to put your five infantry companies in a line.
Money, ammunition and oil are the only three resources you'll need to collect in Axis and Allies. Like Kohan, Axis and Allies has an economy focused on unit support, rather than unit purchase. Rather than stockpiling ammunition or oil, you'll have a minute-by-minute surplus or deficit that's either paid out or bought off with money. Money also comes from the ownership of towns and is the only resource you'll stockpile. You'll need buildings to produce the other resources; there are no resource nodes like you'd have in Kohan 2.
It's a good system that allows gamers a freer hand to focus on managing the battles rather than the economy. Since each building produces resources and since the collection is automatic, you won't have to worry about how you're bringing it in. This means you can spend a lot more time worrying about how much you're bringing in and how you're using it. Since you can't stockpile oil or ammunition, you'll need to experiment with your army's composition to get the most out of the resources you generate.
Each of the five nations can field one of four historical generals, each of which uses specific powers on the battlefield. Rommel can use Forced March to increase the speed of a friendly unit at the cost of its health and morale. He can also use Panzeholhe to drop a company of "fake" tanks down in the middle of a battle. Though these powers recycle, you'll need to spend money and prestige points each time you use them. Invoking the higher-priced powers, like Nimitz's Atomic Bomb or Yamamoto's Kamikaze strikes, will require massive amounts of money. The opponents you face in each battle will be led by their own generals, so you'll need to defend yourself against some of these superpowers as well.
Even without considering the powers of the commanding general, you'll find that the AI in Axis and Allies offers a considerable challenge. Though the early Allied missions are a little light on challenge, they merely offer a safe playground to learn the basics of the game before the competition starts to heat up. And though one AI is bad enough, you'll eventually find yourself up against multiple enemies cooperating against you.
To be honest, as much as I like the RTS portion of Axis and Allies, the campaign mode still feels a bit weak. While it's hard not to judge this mode by the standards of the board game of the same name, there are some clear shortcomings in this dynamic campaign mode that are all TimeGate's own.
To begin with you can only attack one enemy-held territory per turn. To be fair, you can attack any number of enemy territories that aren't held by enemy troops, but you can only have one battle per turn. For some nations, this isn't much of a problem. Imagine playing as Germany, fending off assaults on Europe, striking deep into Russia and dueling with the British in Africa all at the same time and you can see why attacking only one territory per turn could be frustrating.
There's no naval game here either. While this can be scripted out of the battles in campaign mode, reducing the naval action of World War 2 to instantly successful transport of ground troops seems both unsatisfying and peculiar. Though you begin with enough ground troops to start some trouble, money is also in relatively short supply early on so you won't have much chance to build forces. This tends to reduce the sense of scale in the game, offering a kind of simplified view of the War.
Each unit on the campaign map represents a headquarters for that unit type once the RTS battle starts. When units of two rival nations occupy the same region the game transitions to an RTS battle where you'll have to lead your forces in a fight for the region. You can opt to have the AI resolve the battle for you. A list of forces involved and the likelihood of victory can help you determine which battles the AI can handle on its own.
Though not as colorful or fantastic as Kohan 2, Axis and Allies looks good. The unit models are fairly distinguishable at a glance and the animations and movements look very natural. Some of the units tend to bunch up on one another (where, oh, where are those formation controls?) but, otherwise, the effect of seeing troops marching beside halftracks, of seeing planes carpet an area with bombs, or of trees falling before the advance of your armor, is a very positive one that maintains a high level of excitement.
By design the environments of Axis and Allies are much more ordinary than those in Kohan 2. But though the settings are more dull, the maps themselves are at least effective. Trees and mountains, rivers and cities decorate the landscapes of Africa, Asia and Europe. Smoke and weapons fire are also more subdued than they were in TimeGate's previous games, but the effects are better than average. I think my main issue with the art style is that the game looks a bit too simplified. On the whole I'd rather see the game look a little more detailed or see the developers opt for a more cartoonish look altogether.
Sound isn't a huge factor of my enjoyment of this game. To begin with, the pre-mission briefings are voiced with some really distracting accents. The music and weapon effects are passable but don't stand out too much. Their chief virtue is in not getting in the way of the gameplay.
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