copyright © Jedo Dre 2011

Wargame European Escalation

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Impact: Average

If you haven't played this game and you look at a video of someone test-playing it, you might be quite impressed. As the camera zooms out from a good looking model of a single tank all the way to a satellite view of a huge map, the sense of scale is palpable. This first look gives an impression of a realistic real-time strategy game, and in many aspects it is, but it is not until you play the game yourself that you start discovering all the problems that stop this game from being a true gem.


Wargame European Escalation is a good descriptive name as it is indeed a strategic war game and the main plot is about what would happen if the tensions around the Iron Curtain in Europe escalated to war. You take control of various military units from several countries as you play either for the Pact (East) or NATO (West).

The core gameplay consists out of capturing zones. You are dropped with a few units onto a map that has several mapped out zones, some of which are controlled by the enemy. A zone can be captured and held by placing a commander's vehicle on its perimeter and the zones under your control will start yielding command points that act as currency for you to buy more units, which in turn can be used to continue the fight and capture more control zones.

In single player missions, which are grouped into 4 small campaigns, you are given one or more objectives that usually consist out of having to clear or capture particular zones of control. Accomplishing these objectives wins you command stars that can be used to unlock new types of units for the following missions. If the idea of capturing zones over and over again sounds a little boring that is because it is.

Tactical monotony

See, there are many aspects to the gameplay that make it relatively complex and strategically interesting. Your units can run out of fuel, ammo an even morale. You therefore have to maintain logistical support through a network of support vehicles and resupply bases. Also, the units are specialized and each type of unit has its weaknesses. You therefore have to make sure that your army divisions have enough variety so that they can take on different types of enemies. In addition you can use different aspects of the terrain to either conceal or cover your units from the enemies and the enemy does the same. Finally, throughout the whole campaign you have a limited number of units that can be deployed and the units that gather experience in a particular mission, will retain that experience in the following missions.

This all sounds nice, but the game still stumbles on the flaws that are inherent to the Real-Time Strategy genre of games. Despite the strategic variety, the best method for winning is still to build a few of each type of unit (as many as your points will allow you), then select them all and send them all towards an enemy position, only stopping occasionally because many units cannot fire well while moving or need to be resupplied. In fact, when the game occasionally gives you a tight time limit to capture a particular zone, this strategy is your only strategy because there is no time for tactics.

It then also does not help that most of the objectives are "Go and destroy everything in this area". The campaign does try to vary this every now and then. Occasionally there will be objectives to rescue a friendly unit or to evacuate as many of your units as possible, but these missions are rare, so there is rarely a tactical reason to use one unit more than the other or to entirely avoid using a particular unit.


The difficulty is all over the place. There are a few objectives that are simply impossible to accomplish while other missions can be completed without a single loss to your forces if you take the time. The punishing difficulty brings back memories of the games for the consoles of the early 90's that were using difficulty as means to make their game last longer. I hated it back then and I hate it now still. But if a roller coaster of a difficulty curve is your kind of thing, you'll like this.

The reward for beating the high difficulty curve, however, is yet another disappointment. After the end of each campaign, just before the missions ends, there is a quick line from the narrator as to the what happens next and that is it. While a cut scene at the end of game may be a small reward, its importance becomes evident in its absence. Even back in the old days when you finished a game and, instead of an epilogue, all you got was "The End" that was usually a mark of a bad game.

There is multiplayer of course. Many can argue that this is where the true value of a strategy game is. I argue that if I want to be reminded that I am worse than everyone else then I will just take part in one of my university exams. Multiplayer performs ok, but a single player is an equally important part in a game that spends resources into having one.


This is one of the more frustrating aspects of the game. It is very difficult to select the right units at the right time. You can only group 4 of a particular type of unit at a time (and mind you this has to be a very specific type) so when you have a bunch of units in one area and you need to quickly select the Anti-Air units, you are f@&$ed. This is especially annoying since the game makes it difficult to tell which of your units do what.


The AI is a mixed bag. It will retreat when overpowered, a number of factors will affect its performance (just like with your own units), and it sometimes makes decisions like going around an area that is under artillery fire. At other times, however, AI tanks will just sit in place and wait to be destroyed and you can sometimes get away with capturing an unoccupied control zone with a single vehicle without the enemy doing anything about it.

Since your own units also have their own AI behavior, some of the AI issues affect you as well. One very annoying thing is that your own units will retreat out of their cover when fired upon and then just stand a few meters back, in the open and even more vulnerable than before. Or you might be struggling with a recon helicopter that always auto-lands when it arrives to its destination, which halts its recon ability and you have to wait and then order it to lift of again.

The game is filled with these small annoyances, creating overall an unpolished feel, as if the developers were constantly reaching moments when they thought "Ah, this is close enough. Next". Another random example was when I was promised extra points if I captured a particular zone without using artillery and so I did not use it. Oh I deployed a bunch of them so I would be ready for the next objective, but I did not use them. As I built them, however, I already suspected the outcome and I was not proven wrong: I did not get the extra points because building artillery counted as "using" it. "How typical" I thought.


The graphics can be quite impressive, with emphasis on the word "can". There are many little details that add to the immersion. For example the tanks leave a trail when driving through a field and forests catch and spread fire. Explosions look great too. However, many of these things can only be appreciated when you zoom in close enough and you have to ask yourself: how many times will you actually do that?

Since the action is high paced and happens on multiple fronts, you just do not get that many opportunities to look at things up close. It was not until one of the last missions in the single player campaign that I discovered that this game actually has a sky, complete with a sun and clouds. It is nice to know that you can zoom in so much and it will look pretty, but that knowledge alone is not enough to avoid the sad conclusion that this high level of zoom is a waste of developers' resources. There is a reason why shooter games are usually in first person view and strategy games are in bird's eye view – because that is what you need to see. And once you zoom out to a workable level, the game starts looking rather average, though the explosions and other action effects still look quite good.

The sound effects are noticeably good as well and differ when heard from up close, though that can suffer from the same issue as the aforementioned graphics.


Now from all this negativity, you will be excused to believe that this game left an overwhelmingly negative impression, but the bottom line is that when the game does work, it works well. Seeing a rain of artillery missiles shower on an enemy position or secretively sneaking though the forests with your special forces to clear it of enemy infantry is still delightful. While there are other good games similar to it, Wargame is still distinguished enough to have its own niche.

It is also true that some of the annoyances experienced by this reviewer are stemmed from a subjective point of view and many aspects I did not like or notice, might really appeal to RTS fans.

In conclusion, Wargame has strategic depth and many fun little moments, but it did leave me angry – something a game should not do, and I caught myself several times thinking how much better a particular aspect of this game is handled in the Total War series. Nonetheless, I feel that I might want to return to it some time to sneak around the forests, because at times Wargame plays quite well.