Military games are a dime a dozen these days. When was the last time a major World War II-based combat simulation not being released for a home console or PC? How many times can we take on the AI-controlled Germans and still feel like we’re playing a unique game? Haven’t we deployed platoons, shot down enemy fighters, endured D-Day, blown up, and used tanks to plow our way through enemy forces enough times to make the whole experience seem unoriginal? Nevertheless, playing war hasn’t seem to have gotten old yet; games from the Call of Duty, Medal of Honor, and other war-based franchises continue to enjoy an unprecedented amount of popularity. Apparently, there’s something about executing special missions, decimating entire armies, and waging all-out war on foreign soil that gets gamers’ blood boiling hot. Considering how lucrative these games are, it was only a matter of time before Nintendo took a stab at creating their own rendition of the wars we’ve come to know and love. Thus Battalion Wars has arrived on the Gamecube, one of the few military games in its selection.
It’s the end of the 20th Century. In an era of world peace and prosperity, the countries of the world are looking forward to a future without war…At least, that’s what the ignorant civilians think. On either side of the Demilitarized Zone, the armies of the Western Frontier and Tundran Empire are staring each other down and practically begging to let loose some unfriendly fire. Considering how trigger-happy the commanding officers are, it’s only a matter of time before tensions mount and grow into a full-scale war. Of course, no sane country leader would ever want to start a war in this day and age…or would they? After a few convenient plot twists, behind-the-scenes political influence and downright bad karma, the Frontier and Tundran armies clash, starting a conflict that will eventually spread and affect other nations and the world itself. In the midst of all this chaos, you’re nothing more than a nameless commander ready to do his part for a greater cause. The future of the Battalion Wars and the world lay in your hands!
Oh, how dramatic.
It’s no Ace Combat, that’s for damn sure
Cheesy plot aside, Battalion Wars operates as a Real-Time Strategy action game, allowing you to immerse yourself in the think of battle with each mission. You’ll start off with simple tasks, such as gunning down spies, providing defense and support to bases under fire, destroying enemy installments, rescuing POWs, and plenty of the other usual wartime missions. The game gives you a decent variety of options to tackle your objectives, even allowing you to attempt the mission solo. But in case you don’t feel like getting your army fatigues riddled with enemy bullets, you’re better off finding some of your fellow Frontiersmen and making them accompany you throughout the duration of the level. From that point on, it’s just a matter of micromanaging your units and adapting your strategies based on the situations you’ll encounter.
Your attack squads will initially start off with a few rifle infantrymen, but will be soon strengthened with recon vehicles, bazooka-toting pyromaniacs, missile launchers, light and heavyweight combat tanks, mobile artillery, troop transport choppers, and even a wide variety of aerial assault planes. Recruiting each of these units usually requires that you track them down as you progress through the level and press the appropriate button to have them start following you. However, rolling into an enemy compound en masse isn’t always the best strategy to use; many of your units are designed with specific strengths and weakness that will ultimately determine their success in battle. For example, Rifle Grunts can barely do any damage to an enemy tank, but a few well-placed Bazooka Veterans can make quick work of things. However, the Bazooka Veterans’ artillery moves pretty slow, making them easy prey for faster infantry units. This concept of pros versus cons is prevalent with everything under your command. The trick is learning to analyze your units’ abilities and acting accordingly.
I don’t know what I’ve been told, military games are getting mighty old
This could have worked. Really, this game could have rocked so hard. Unfortunately, this game has some nasty flaws that ultimately ruin it right down to its very core. Remember how the units will simply follow you around the battlefield unless commanded to do otherwise? Their primary function is to help you decimate whatever baddies you run across…or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be. The AI controlling your companions (and your foes, for that matter) isn’t quite on par with what you’d expect for a gritty action war game. You’ll notice that they’ll run into enemy fire, miss plenty of easy shots, or completely ignore some of the enemies running around them. Hell, the enemy AI is stupid enough to allow a single man-controlled Bazooka Veteran to destroy an entire legion of tanks. How’s that for balanced gameplay?
The game also features an automatic lock-on targeting system akin to the one in Metroid Prime, allowing you to see exactly where your enemies are located. There’s just one problem though: the auto-lock on system will usually target something completely useless and force you to cycle through the various targets. If there’s an enemy tank rolling up in front of me, why in the hell does the lock-on system automatically target my soldiers?! Oh, and speaking of tanks, the control scheme for the vehicles is absolutely horrendous, often forcing you into spinouts, awkward drifts, and laggy turns. Also, the game is limited to a remarkably short campaign mode; a multiplayer mode, a no-brainer for a game like this, is completely and utterly MIA. Military game aficionados will find that this game goes stale long before victory is declared. Though you start the game fighting some stereotypical Russians, the real war will be between you and the game’s lacking quality.
That’s one impressive firework display right there
Battalion Wars does sport a decent presentation, though. You’ll find yourself traversing a wide variety of battlefields, ranging from snowy icecaps, harsh deserts, thick forests, tons of hills, and everything in between. You’ll be able to make out some details, like the gray rocky outcroppings on cliffs, water ripples, tiny flowers and grass, moss growing in between bricks, and other little decorative features. But while the environment comes off semi-realistic, the people are anything but. Many of the characters are caricatures of people and stereotypes we’ve become accustomed to, including a busty female sergeant, a gung ho General Patton wannabe, a certain mustachioed German overlord-esque evil dude, and a Russian ruler that somehow resembles Ivan Drago from Rocky IV. All of these characters add plenty of flavor to the heated conflict, and far too much to make any of them likeable. Brigadier Betty’s voice should be classified as a weapon of mass annoyance, what with her horribly overdone accent and cheery attitude. Even your individual soldiers will occasionally spout things like, “Here goes nothin’!” or let out some horribly squeaky death screams as they’re mowed down in not-so glorious battle. It’s just like all the other war video games you’ve played, just cheesier beyond comprehension.
Before it was called Battalion Wars, this game was slated to be named Advance Wars: Under Fire. I’m glad they changed the name. Fans of the Advance Wars series would have blindly picked this game up, and found out how badly executed this console wartime strategy turned out. It’s got some great ideas going for it, allowing you to multitask and manage your own private army of hardened soldiers. The wide variety of units at your command ought to prove for some interesting tactics. However, a few fundamental flaws render such ideas completely useless. The AI is laughable, the controls are aggravating, and everything else just seems off. If you’re looking for yet another military game to invest in, look elsewhere. This war is more of a comedy than a tragedy.