Blitzkrieg II Preview
By: Bryan Sharp

It must be a daunting task to produce Blitzkrieg II. This latest RTS game from Nival Interactive attempts to present an accurate and playable account of World War II. This means that players will get to make the same strategic choices the generals in World War II had to make. From the cracked Russian snow fields to the steamy islands of the Pacific, the player must decide if it’s best to attack, defend, or counterattack to win the battle and ultimately the war.

The full version of Blitzkrieg II will include the playable campaigns of the German Wehrmacht, Soviet Armed Forces, and US Army. In the preview, only the US Army was fully playable, but it gave a good overview of the game and a sample of what can be expected from a retail version. Each campaign follows WWII history very closely. The US missions start after the attack on Pearl Harbor, against the Japanese in the Pacific and feature gritty island combat with the US on the defensive against the already established Japanese force. As the general, the player must decide whether to push against the Japanese with an aggressive strategy or defeat the enemy with more defensive tactics. Before choosing a mission, the player gets an overview of the campaign map and is able to select a specific mission to view its description. Each mission has access to its own specific reinforcement units and also awards the player with a new unit type upon completion. After selecting a mission, the player can then go into his or her commander screen and upgrade certain units to unlock extra unit abilities. This has to be done with caution since the upgrade amount is limited and must be earned through battle experience. The player must carefully choose which units to upgrade since some units are not available in certain missions. For example, if the light fighter planes are upgraded for a mission because the player wants the ability to drop bombs, it might hurt the player further on in the campaign. Light fighter planes are a more specialized unit and not usable for every mission. Upgrading the assault infantry so they can diffuse landmines may have been a better choice since they are available for a larger number of missions.

Missions themselves usually follow the three basic RTS types: defend, attack, or move to an area. At the start of the US campaign, I had to defend my base against a swarm of Japanese troops. This required me to call in reinforcements and use my judgment to place them in the best location. Reinforcements have to be used carefully since only a certain number are available for each mission, and these reinforcements also subtract from the grand total available for a campaign. The player must decide if it is better to hold on to reinforcements in case they are needed down the line or use them when needed to ensure a certain victory. Another mission required troops to repair and escort a tank to a point on the map. During the journey, snipers were firing from seclusion and several Japanese camps had to be overrun. There was even a mission that involved a night raid on a Japanese base in order to take out their defensive guns. My battles in this mission were chosen wisely since reinforcements and troop numbers were limited. Using the cover of night, my units were able to sneak past enemy troops and surgically complete the mission objectives.

Regardless of the mission objectives, completing them is a visual joy with Blitzkrieg II’s new 3D engine. The landscape is fully detailed and scattered with things like impact craters and the burnt husks of decimated tanks. The game also has a full weather and day system. This means that the bullets can fly during a hailstorm, and a mission may take an entire night and day to complete. The units themselves are detailed and the player can zoom in to get a better view of the battle or rotate the camera for a clearer angle on the carnage. One complaint about the visuals in Blitzkrieg II is that they seem to use up a lot of system resources to produce. I found myself having to turn down the detail settings and the resolution in large battles to keep the game running smoothly and the action controllable.

Many real-time strategy games focus more on flashy gameplay than on strategic elements. Certainly, inventive gameplay can be nice, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the strategy that gives the RTS genre its name. Blitzkrieg II is one title that made sure all strategy bases were covered during creation. Each unit complements another and certain ones are better suited for different things. For example, tanks can not be hurt by infantry fire, but can be damaged if the infantry gets close enough to plant an explosive on the tank. Snipers are well suited for picking off infantry units, but they are no match for the double machineguns on top of a light tank. The entire game is made up of these unit dynamics, and they contribute to the realistic and strategic wartime feel. The entire environment is also an important part of the battle. Soldiers can hide in the cover of trees and highjack passing enemy troops or plant explosives on the road and blow up enemy patrols. In one mission, a force of enemy soldiers was picking off my assault infantry from the cover of a forest. I used my two light tanks to barrel into the woods, knocking down the trees and exposing the enemy.

The control scheme follows the traditional RTS style. Units are moved with a point and click system and can be issued all the usual commands: hold position, attack, stop, etc. A few notable exceptions apply to Blitzkrieg II; one is the existence of special abilities like “throw grenade” or “plant explosive.” These abilities are listed under the unit’s traditional move controls and are easily clickable during battle. Another exception is the overwhelming amount of units in Blitzkrieg II. The game stresses large battles with many units. To make this easy to control, hordes of soldiers are grouped into units, such as the main infantry or the assault infantry. These infantry units may contain dozens of soldiers, but they can be selected as a whole and put into a control group (ctrl+1, 2, 3, etc) and therefore easily managed.

One aspect of the game that was not available in the preview was the multiplayer mode. As with most RTS games, the multiplayer action will decide whether the game succeeds or fails. If reinforcements are handled well and the same strategic elements apply, I can see the multiplayer being a huge success.

Overall, the game is looking like a solid RTS contender for later in the year. The single player missions get a little repetitive after a while, but the game shows a strong focus on strategy and unit countering. This has the potential to make Blitzkrieg II a lot of fun on the multiplayer front and should have players leading their forces across the battlefield for hours on end.