Blitzkrieg: Burning Horizon Review
By Mitsuo Takemoto |
I think it was Medal of Honor: Allied Assault that sparked the current feeding frenzy on the World War II phenomenon, which carried over theough BF1942 (a game so ubiquitous I don't even need to spell it out), through Call of Duty, with Brothers in Arms, and another MoH game in the works. Although these are all shooters, the feeding frenzy bled over into other genres, particularly reinvigorating WWII-themed RTS development in Europe. Burning Horizon, the stand-alone expansion pack to Blitzkrieg, is a solid and generally satisfying result, although it is not without some issues.
Burning Horizon features the early European Theater from the German perspective, with 18 single-player missions starring Rommel's Armored 7th taking you through such highlights as the Maginot Line, D-Day, El Alamein, and Ardennes. Each mission starts with a detailed briefing offering both historical background and strategic advice, and here you can also dig through the game's towering database of units. You'll not only get to look at and compare stats like front armor, rear armor, and penetration, but many if not most of the units come with authoritative descriptions describing what role it played, how and why it improved on an older model or was replaced by a later one, and how it compared to the opposition's version. The Germans generally had artillery with high accuracy but relatively low damage, and the Americans had some beefier tanks, for example. However, there are some oddities like map objects being included in the list. For example, you see "Destroyed Tank" in the list, with no description or stats. Still, it's a very impressive piece of work, overall.
Although you can't cherry-pick a list of vehicles, infantry, and artillery for a mission (probably to maintain some historical continuity) you can earn upgrades if you perform well--e.g., keeping your men alive, making efficient and effective use of air support, and getting the objectives done in a timely manner. After one mission, an advanced Panzer became available and I was able to replace all combat vehicles with it (as most units carry over from mission to mission). You aren't able to build structures and pump out units Command & Conquer-style, so it's important to take care of your men. You can reinforcements, typically in the form of paratroopers, but they have to drop in a safe location and sometimes aren't available for that mission.
I should also add that, for those new to the Blitzkrieg games, there is an exhaustive and well-crafted multi-stage tutorial. Actually, it covers not only how to play Blitzkrieg, but how to coordinate and mobilize in a military encounter. The subtleties of effective infantry tactics are laid out--fortify in a building or go prone to limit casualties, stay away from open ground, use snipers to eliminate gun emplacements, and make sure someone has heavy equipment when a tank comes rolling in. With Burning Horizon's huge amount and type of units--armored trucks, tanks, AA guns, Howitzers, supply trucks, engineers, dogfighters, recon and bomber planes--there's a lot of strategy to cover, but thankfully you're helped out by not only the tutorials but by a boatload of keyboard shortcuts. In theory, the sheer number of them would be intimidating, but every time you hover your mouse over a command on the unintrusive interface, you get a quick description and reminder of what the shortcut is, so it sinks in gradually. Press S to face a gun in a certain direction, X to choose suppressive fire, right-click to choose the location--not so tough.
In general, unit control is quite fluid. Double-click on any unit to select all units of that type shift-click to select individual units, hit CTRL+1, CTRL+2, et cetera, to form groups which will be hot-keyed thereafter to the number key. Unfortunately, the hot-key tags are microscopic, even at 1024x768, and the infantry aren't easy to distinguish, either, so you really have to squint to see who belongs where, once you've manually assigned them. With a large force, it can take some time to organize everything the way you like it, but BH is forgiving enough to allow you to queue commands while the game is paused. You can also create waypoints and a chain of commands for a single group using the Shift key. If any of that sounds confusing, the tutorial should sort it out, and there's the hefty 80+ page manual that should fill any remaining holes, with some 20 pages alone dedicated to "Managing Troops and Tactics."