Experience the biggest battles in WWII in First Battalion for the PC. You will choose one of three military commanders then lead the army through campaigns and missions chock full of destructible environments designed to keep you at the center of the action. Storm the streets of Stalingrad, or shoot up the beaches at Normandy as you dive into a bloody battle with historic tanks, aircraft, and vehicles. Intended to combine the best elements from first-person shooters, role-playing, and strategy games, First Battalion includes a multiplayer mode for up to 32 players.
We don't expect much from budget tank sims. Even so, there's definitely a place for simple arcade-style games that fill in the hours between sessions with more sophisticated offerings. First Battalion is one of the better titles in this category. Offering reasonably good graphics and no-nonsense approachability, it's sure to provide at least a few hour's of fun before gamers grow weary of the simplicity and repetition of the levels.
There are eighteen different missions here, spread across three campaigns. You'll have the chance to fight for the Germans, Soviets and United States forces as they fight their way through the fields of France, the crowded streets of Stalingrad, or the sandy beaches of Normandy. Each mission requires the player to pass through a variety of checkpoints, shooting the crap out of pretty much anything that they see. A few missions mix things up by forcing the player to fend off counterattacks but, for the most part, you're on the offensive for this game. A handy waypoint indicator and objective list lets you know exactly where you should be headed and what you should be doing.
There's a Battlefield 1942-style multiplayer system where players pick tank specialties and battle for control points but there simply aren't enough people playing for this feature to be much worth.
Controls are very simple. WASD steers the tank and the mouse controls the turret and fires the main gun and the machine gun. There's a bit of lag between the speed at which the turret tracks and the speed at which you can move the mouse cursor. Consequently, you can be aiming at something with the mouse but the turret hasn't quite caught up with it. While it's not a big deal if you're stationary, it can make firing on the move very, very difficult.
One of the high points of the game is that you'll get to drive a wide variety of tanks, including the iconic Tigers, Shermans and T-34s. While it's a real blast to get your hands on so many different tanks from the war, there's really nothing separating them except their appearance. You might notice that some of them move a bit more slowly, you won't notice that one is tougher or better armed than another. That's a real shame, because it would definitely add a little more variety and interest to the game.
Almost all of the cool ballistics issues you might expect to find in a more sophisticated tank game are absent here. There's only one generic type of shell and it serves for blowing up tanks, buildings, and infantry. The shells aren't affected by gravity, so you'll hit whatever you're aiming at, regardless of elevation or distance. Armor facing seems to be a non-issue, so you and the other tanks will take the same amount of damage no matter where you're hit. Two or three hits are usually sufficient to take out any of the enemy tanks in the game. Your own tank can withstand a number of shots before you'll even need to start worrying.
Happily, there are ammo and repair stations scattered throughout each level. Simply drive up to them and you'll be instantly healed and rearmed for your next encounter. You can even return to stations you've used previously if there's too much resistance in front of you. Even so, you can usually just plow ahead without worrying about getting hurt too badly; I never once lost a tank throughout the course of the game and never once worried about running out of ammo.
If you do die, you'll simply return to the last checkpoint you reached. There are sometimes dozens of checkpoints in each level, so you won't have to replay much of the game to get to the point where you died. Though the game isn't too difficult, these frequent checkpoints are very welcome, particularly since the game's save feature seems to be broken.
There are no shortage of targets in this game. Squads of infantry, lone tanks and anti-tank guns make up the largest proportion of your enemies, but you'll also face off against bunkers, enemy aircraft, railcar guns and a few other interesting surprises. Even with all the enemies you'll find, there's really no need for tactics or strategy here. Just plow ahead and pick off the enemies as they appear. Even the enemy tanks aren't capable of anything more sophisticated than simply racing up to you and firing point blank at you.
Some hidden AT guns and some surprising, scripted appearances of enemy vehicles will offer a neat challenge now and then, but there's no need to worry about complicated maneuvers or ruses. You can even spot some of the hidden enemies by the excessive tracer fire. Failing that, the reticle turns green when it's over a target so you can usually hit enemies who are even hiding in the deepest forests.
In some missions, you'll be fighting alongside a group of other allied tanks. You're given a bit of control over them and can easily order them to form up beside you or hold their position. There are more specific controls to order your tanks to flank an enemy, seek repair or move to an area for recon or attack. Unfortunately, these more specific controls are context sensitive, which can make it a little tricky to get your allies to do exactly what you want. Better vocal confirmations would definitely help out here.
I can't complain too much about the game's voice work. It definitely starts to get repetitive after a while, but the accents and delivery of each line works to support the action. A simple but effective series of sound effects add a little more excitement to each battle.
First Battalion has some of the best graphics we've seen among the recent tank games. The levels are incredibly detailed, with loads of trees, bunkers, roads, railyards, airstrips, and pretty much everything else you'd expect to see in the setting. Even better, you can demolish almost everything in the game by running over it or shooting it with shells. The destruction animations are completely scripted, but they still look nice.
The real problem is that the settings start to get really monotonous. France looks like just like Russia, which looks just like Poland, which looks just like every other setting in the game. The city fights in Stalingrad were a nice change of pace but it's the only level that stands out.
First Battalion is pretty fun for the first couple of hours but the repetition starts to get to you after a while. The similarity in levels, tanks, missions and objectives eventually becomes boring. It's especially problematic on some of the longer levels. Nevertheless, the action is straightforward and enjoyable in small doses.
People who downloaded First Battalion have also downloaded:
Freedom Fighters, Elite Forces: WWII Normandy, Line of Sight: Vietnam, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, Marine Heavy Gunner: Vietnam, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, Delta Force: Xtreme, Driv3r (a.k.a. Driver 3)
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