Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem chronicles the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, a campaign devised by the Allies in 1944 that, if successful, would have ended the war months before it actually did. A quasi-real-time strategy title, Airborne Assault offers a drill-down form of battle management: players can choose to busy themselves with operations at the highest level, issuing orders that are carried out in the manner deemed most fit by your AI commanders, or at the lowest level where individual units are assigned tasks directly. As either the Axis powers or the Allies, players are presented with 14 historical missions and five fantasy "what-if" scenarios, each composed of numerous objectives.
Presented with a scalable 2D vector map of Arnhem and the surrounding area, players are expected to oversee the numerous commanders, units, and equipment at their disposal. In addition to making sound strategic decisions, players will need to rely on the effective execution of their orders throughout the chain of command and carefully assess unit Morale, Fatigue, and other attributes. Commanders also possess traits, such as Rank, Leadership, Determination, Judgment, and Efficiency, which affect performance. Battles take place in real-time, but players can pause the action in order to best determine a course of action or ponder new developments.
The title also offers multiplayer support via LAN or the Internet. Hosts can select the scenario to be played and choose such options as the Supply and Reinforcement schedules or weather (Historical, Seasonal, Better, or Worse weather settings, for example). A scenario editor is included in the package.
Battlefront.com's first title -- Combat Mission: Beyond Overlord -- was a critically acclaimed hit. It was challenging, fun, and incredibly innovative. No doubt, a few people in the gaming world sat up, looked over at Battlefront.com and said "Who are these guys?" Well, "the guys" are back at it again. The latest release, Airborne Assault: Red Devils over Arnhem, once again turns the wargaming world inside out. The game takes a traditionally turn-based genre and morphs it into an exciting, yet no less realistic, real-time slugfest.
The time is September 1944, and the Allies hope to end the war with a daring airborne assault that captures a series of bridges culminating in the bridge over the Rhine at Arnhem. The gamer can lead either the Allies as they attempt to break into to Germany or the Germans as they attempt to stop them. Units usually represent companies (130-180 men), but also included are anti-tank, mortar, armor, and anti-aircraft platoons. The gaming is real-time, but can be paused and orders given. There's nothing new in pausing a real-time game, but what is new is the game's command system. Sure, you may control EACH unit under your command by using the plethora of Airborne Assault commands (attack, delay, defend, reorganize, bombard, etc.) to send it on its way, but there is an even more clever method.
The game's developer, Panther Games, has devised a system that lets you issue orders to group commanders, who in turn will take care of the detail work for you. Hence, rather than individually direct the five or six companies of a British parachute battalion, you need only order the battalion headquarters to attack. The HQ will set up the attack, soften the enemy with a barrage, send in the assault, and even keep a reserve. It's ridiculously cool.
The game also features a high level of detail, breaking each unit down into its component parts. A German rifle company isn't just a square with a combat factor of four, but rather a hundred men armed with KAR-98 bolt-action rifles, MG-42s and Panzerfausts. The game also displays the history of each unit and commander -- a nice detail that adds personality to the square chits.
The graphics are clean, interesting and functional. Units look similar to traditional board war game chits, and the map is clear and colorful. The visuals are no threat to Ghost Recon, nor do they need to be; this is operational level gaming, and glitzy graphics would be more of a hindrance than a help. On the other hand, the sound is a little underwhelming; a small "clink" announces important messages, and there are no sounds depicting the unit's movement across the map.
The game's user manual is top notch. In a time when companies (such as HPS Simulations) charge top-dollar for similar games that ship without a page of documentation, a 240-page user manual is a welcome sight.
Like any game, Airborne Assault is not without a few problems. The ability to order massive attacks with a couple of clicks on a headquarters is very cool, but often left me with little to do. Conversely, if I attempted to handle everything myself, the larger scenarios became unwieldy. It took a while to discover a balance. By the same token, Airborne Assault is a complex game to understand and play well. For example, sometimes it was hard to tell what my men were up to and why. The excellent user manual always answered my questions, but consider yourself warned -- if you want to cozy up with Airborne Assault, prepare to spend some quality time with the manual.
A top-notch effort, Airborne Assault is not only detailed, realistic, challenging, and fun, but innovative to boot. At this pace, the gaming world won't be asking "who are these guys?" about Battlefront.com for long.
People who downloaded Airborne Assault: Red Devils over Arnhem have also downloaded:
Airborne Assault: Highway to the Reich, American Civil War: Take Command - Second Manassas, Allied General, 101 Airborne: The Airborne Invasion of Normandy, Avalon Hill's Squad Leader, Axis & Allies, Austerlitz: Napoleon's Greatest Victory, Battleground 2: Gettysburg
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