Axis & Allies Download (2004 Strategy Game)

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While the classic Avalon Hill board game "Axis & Allies" has enjoyed a number of computer game conversions throughout the years, this 2004 version from Kohan developer TimeGate Studios is the first to translate the World War II turn-based strategy for real-time play. The game features two dozen single-player scenarios in all. There are 12 missions in which players control the Allied forces, through a linear campaign that follows the history of the war. In control of the Axis powers, players faces 12 additional scenarios, which present an alternate reality in which the Allies are ultimately defeated.

In addition to the real-time play of the main campaigns, Axis & Allies also offers a "World War" mode, which is turn-based and may be played similarly to the original board game. When forces meet on the map, battles can be resolved by the computer or in real-time play. Real-time battlegrounds are dynamically generated, based on the actual environments of the locations in which they are set on the world map.

Borrowing a few innovative concepts from the Kohan series, Axis & Allies has players controlling their troops in groups, and managing warfare from the position of a "master strategist." Instead of continually clicking to assign individual soldiers to attack individual targets, players assign orders to whole companies of soldiers, to conquer an entire enemy group or take over a town. Of course, real-world tactics become even more important in this kind of gameplay. Also as in the Kohan games, troops may be lead by powerful "General" characters, who bring bonuses to the soldiers under their command and gain new powers as they successfully progress through the campaign.

Timegate Studios, responsible for the magnificent Kohan 2: Kings of War, also put out this WWII based RTS late last year. Those of you who played through Kohan 2 will likely have no trouble diving right into this title as the gameplay design is virtually identical to that of Kohan 2. Those of you who read my review of Kohan 2 will remember that I awarded it with an eight out of ten. Although the game design is basically the same, something is lost in the translation to the WWII theme. However, because the game does start off with the already excellent design decisions that powered Kohan 2, it is at least enjoyable if not a must have title.

Axis and Allies has four gameplay modes; a skirmish mode, the requisite online multiplayer mode, the campaign mode, and the WWII mode. WWII is a mode where there is a turn based strategy portion much like in Rise of Nations. There is a map of the world and you start off by selecting one of five nations (Great Britain, USA, Russia, Germany, or Japan) and your choice of general for that nation. The goal of the turn based game is to overtake Germany and Japan when playing the Allies, and to overtake any two of Great Britain, Russia, or the USA. Just like in Rise of Nations, you have army units that you can move into adjacent territories. When moving in to an unoccupied territory, you take it over. If there are enemies in that territory, you have the choice of fighting an RTS battle or of having it quickly decided by the computer. The more territories you control, the more money you generate per turn. Money can be used to upgrade your existing army, buy new units, or to buy new technologies. While having as many game modes as possible is a nice thought, in this case, as the format seems so familiar, and as there is nothing really new or unique to it, the WWII mode isn't really that interesting; a nice mode to have, but nothing really new.

The single player campaign is a series of famous battles. When playing the Allied campaign, you will jump from nation to nation's battles'. One mission that stood out in its difficulty was Operation Overlord, or D-Day. In this famous battle, you will have to take the beach and set up your base of operations before moving inland to overtake the enemy positions. With little room to set up your operations, and the enemy presence overwhelming, the level of challenge in this level was truly enjoyable. For the most part, though the introduction to each mission is a little bit sparse and the historical significance of each battle seems somewhat diluted. Unlike a game like Soldiers: Heroes of WWII, where each mission tells a story of how something happened, with a little artistic license, or some of the true simulators of WWII where historical accuracy is paramount, Axis and Allies falls a little bit flat in this regard by being somewhere in between with not quite enough of either to be interesting. While a small blurb is given about the events leading up to the battle, for the most part, each battle feels just like any other battle.

The actual management of units and the gameplay is virtually the same as Kohan 2 with things modernized to reflect the WWII era. Like in Kohan 2 there are three basic building types; building that generate units, buildings where you perform research and allow the creation of better units, and buildings that generate a resource. In Axis and Allies, all buildings are generated by your primary building, the Corp HQ. The buildings you create generate your resources for you, and the units you recruit require a certain amount of resources as upkeep. There are a maximum number of buildings you can create though, and when reaching the cap, you must be careful to manage what you have carefully at the risk of using more than you make. If you use more resources than you are generating, your monetary income will decrease and can go into a negative creation. Money is what is needed to build any buildings, to research any technologies and to create any units. To generate more money, you will need to create more Division HQs; buildings where you create units. To ensure that you are generating as much money as you can, you will need to build more resource generating buildings.

All buildings generated by the Corp HQ are first created as trucks and can be unpacked to create a fixed location. Likewise, they can be packed back into a truck in case you need to move it to a new location. Another interesting design decision was the supply flow for troops. Troops in Axis and Allies are not created individually but as a regiment consisting of a group of individual troops or vehicles. As long as there is one troop from that regiment left alive, and the regiment is in supply, the regiment will resupply back to full strength and to a full number of units. This is important because regiments can gain experience and become tougher. To be in supply though, your units must not only be within the bordered area created by your buildings, but they must also be attached to a Division HQ. Each Division HQ has a certain number of slots and attaching regiments to them simply means clicking an attach button. The regiment will fill an empty slot for that HQ, and will be able to be automatically resupplied if they are within the borders of your area. This can be an interesting point of strategy as when attacking the enemy, if you take out one of their Division HQ's, then units that were attached to that building will no longer be able to regenerate. However, regiments can be automatically reattached to any available open slots in any Division HQ, including moving Division HQ's that are packed and in truck form. While in practice, this concept seems quite interesting and unique, in practice I never really found that it made much of a difference. Without these unique points, the game would have played virtually identically to Kohan 2 which is perhaps why they were implemented. However, if this was not implemented, this may have made the game more streamlined.

There are quite a variety of regiments, but each falls into either the category of a tank, infantry, or halftrack regiment. There is an airfield building, but you won't ever really generate plane regiments. Rather, from your airfield, you can pay for air strikes, or air recon and these are handled automatically without having to pay for the upkeep of planes, or having to worry about resupplying planes. There are also naval units, but these seem to be an afterthought. There are not naval yards, and you will only ever begin a mission with your ships already given to you. As they don't seem to be really integrated into the rest of the game's design, the naval and air portions of the game really feel as if they were added to the already established Kohan 2 game design. While not a poor integration, the feel of the air and naval design definitely leaves something to be desired. Either that or the battles should have focused on only land battles. By winning fights through a mission, or by the good management of your resources, you will gain army experience that can be used towards special operations. These are special bonuses temporarily awarded to certain regiment types, or special actions that can be performed. Like in Kohan 2, these can be used to turn the tide of a battle, but once again, I found myself rarely using these options. The unit AI didn't really have a problem with pathfinding, but the problem was more when to attack. A regiment can be standing next to each other, and one will engage the enemy and the other won't because it is a hair further away. In the same way, a building can be shelled to oblivion, but the units standing beside it won't do anything to suppress the attack. This can be especially frustrating when there is precious little room to develop your base area as in the Operation Overlord mission.

Overall, Axis and Allies is a good effort and is already based on an excellent game. (To the latter, it's already half way towards being a winner.) As such it is unfortunate that it misses the mark slightly by adding a couple of things that don't work quite as well they could have. Still, Axis and Allies does do a lot of things right and is sure to bring some good times to the RTS gamer in this the gaming dry season.


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