Another War, from Polish developers Mirage Interactive, takes the RPG to 1940s Europe and fills it with Nazis, French cheese, wine, hunting knives and Walther PPKs. You will encounter a lot of the above in this game, as well as knowing references to 'Allo 'Allo, HP Lovecraft and Monty Python.
The game's official website claims that Another War's look and feel are inspired by Baldur's Gate and the Fallout series. Please bear in mind that this reviewer has played neither; but reliable sources (i.e. friends of the reviewer who have indeed played Baldur's Gate) agree that the isometric viewpoint and pre-rendered 2D maps are in the same style. This graphical similarity is where Another War goes off the main road and tries to hack a new path into RPG-land.
In a traditional Role Playing Game you might expect to choose a hero character, normally a thief, a warrior, or a cleric/wizard. This holy trinity of gaming has been transposed to the WWII setting as follows : Thief (again), Strongman and Intellectual. Each one has special strengths and weaknesses - the Thief is good with a knife, the Strongman with his fists, and the Intellectual with a pistol (does it take brains to use a pistol?).
When you start the game you have to set up your character and give him Strength, Luck, Agility, Charisma and so on. As you kill more Germans (there's a lot of that going on) your character will gain experience points which will periodically bump him up a level. Each level gained gives you more points which you can assign to skills and abilities. So far, so normal.
The story? Your hero character has to solve a mystery and save the world, of course. I didn't get far enough to see if there's a "get the girl" element, but I doubt it. The plot alludes to the occult, mad schemes and collusion between Russians and Germans (historically a sore point for Poland). It begins with your character arriving at a French village to meet an old friend, an antiques dealer. He is a hunted man with a DEEP DARK SECRET involving an old map (this map is not for mortals, you hear?). As soon as you find this out the Gestapo pounce and you are soon presented with the first puzzle in the game: how to escape from the dungeon cell. The game manual tells you exactly how to do this, and also how to team up with the drunken Johann. This first sequence contains all the elements that make up the game:
This is your bog-standard point and click interface. Hover the mouse pointer over a crate of potatoes and a caption appears: "Potatoes". Right-click on an item to make your character examine it. In most cases he'll make some wisecrack (this can get annoying), but it pays to study everything in the environment for clues. How difficult are the clues? Well, the first one had me stumped and I had to run to the manual like a squealing piglet, but as I figured out how the game was set up, the clues seemed to get fairly easy. Experienced RPG-ers might scoff, but newbies may say "ah good, I won't get discouraged".
You need to press the D key every time you want to switch between exploring and fighting. It's as if your character doesn't have the brains to figure out you want him to Open The Crate rather than Attack The Crate. Fighting involves making sure your guys have something in their hands (knife or gun, usually) and then either pointing at the German (it's always a German) or pressing the Enter key. This tells your characters to attack the nearest enemy. I found myself using the Enter key exclusively because the enemy tends to flit around like a moth and is difficult to click on. ALSO, it is very irritating to have to re-activate "Attack nearest enemy" each time your character kills someone. In a mélee against four or five German troops, it seems nonsensical that your character should just stand there, fists raised, as if to say "oh do I have to attack THEM as well?".
When you kill someone they tend to drop useful items (this may not necessarily apply in real life). So, you've punched a guard to death, he falls to the floor in a pool of blood, and guns, ammo, badages and cheese sprout from the ground. They are yours to pick up (if they fit in your bag - more grumbling on this subject later). Items can be things which give you health (food, wine, bandages) tools (used for repairing knives and guns) and weaponry (rifles, pistols, ammunition). Rénee the cafe owner will buy most things off you, especially cheese, and can sell you useful kit in return.
You can talk to most of the characters in the game. (It helps if you use your character and not actually speak to them while at the computer.) There is very little actual voice content, which makes me question the 1.4 to 2Gb install size of the game. Once you right-click on a non-player character, a dialog box appears showing their response and a list of possible things you can say. As ever with this type of game the "right" thing to say tends to be obvious. However, you can make all the wrong choices, say all the wrong things, but as soon as you start talking to that person again the slate is wiped clean. I can understand this is necessary to make sure you can continue, but it does have the feeling of being kept on the rails.
Most of the characters are written "quirky". They say funny things (which of course aren't funny the 2nd time, or the 3rd), and whether you find them funny or not will determine how much you enjoy interacting with other characters. I found that I could practically ignore most of what was said and just pick out the main clue dished out. Luckily Johann notes down everything you need to remember, so you can look at his diary after every conversation and check if anything important was mentioned.
Fiddling around with equipment
At one point during the game I realized that I'd spent most of my time in the inventory screen. Your character can keep only a few items handy on his belt; the rest are in a backpack. This means you have to pay attention to who's carrying what. If your team-mate (Johann in the first instance) runs out of immediately available bullets, he will start complaining (in the middle of a firefight) that he's run out of ammo. You then have to press I to go to the inventory, click on Johann's head, and see he has 4 or 5 magazines left but NOT TO HAND. You have to drag and drop them onto his belt from his backpack. I found this tedious, but it may be a standard feature in this type of game and not unique to Another War. Your comments please.
The inventory management is almost a sub-game: the backpack is laid out in a grid, and each item may occupy one or more squares vertically or horizontally. This means you have to put your Tetris hat on and move items around so that you can stuff that bottle of wine in and not have to drop the bullets for the Mauser. This is one reviewer's opinion, but I'd rather get on with solving the mystery than waste time shuffling cheese and guns around in my bag.
This game is not as different or as clever as it thinks it is. Aiming for a feeling of dry humor known globally as British, the game ends up hitting a nearby target - weirdness. The incidental details are amusing, but they could never save the game if it weren't playable. Also, what if you haven't seen or heard of 'Allo 'Allo? It may not matter, but in-jokes are called in-jokes because they're going to be lost on anyone who doesn't know what they're based on.
I kind of like Another War; despite its quirkiness and the eventual sinking feeling that it is after all just Another Game, it is an RPG with humor, adventure and excitement. If you enjoy packing rucksacks and feeding cheese to drunks, and shooting and punching German soldiers alot, then you might get some fun out of it. Most of all, and I cannot stress this enough, the developers deserve our praise and encouragement for leaving out the elves, orcs, and wizards. Please let this become a trend...
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