Theatre of War 2: North Africa 1943 Review
By Monica Bair |
Despite its indisputable importance, the North African Theater hasn't been featured as much as it ought to be in the world of PC wargames. Fortunately, this neglected theater seems to be enjoying a bit more attention lately, most recently in Battlefront and 1C's Theatre of War 2: Africa 1943. This intriguing sequel combines the same amazing scale and massive battles of the first game with camera controls that let you get right in the thick of the action and a combat model that eschews most of the arcade-style compromises made by other so-called wargames. Unfortunately, it also includes a number of game-killing bugs that present a considerable hurdle to anyone interested in exploring the game's strengths.
The war in North Africa is every bit as exciting as the Western or Eastern Fronts.As epic and wide-randing as the fighting in North Africa was, the game is content to focus on just a few weeks in early 1943. Three campaigns, one each for the Americans, British and Axis armies, let players take part in battles from either side. The missions take place on a massive scale, with players leading companies in full on assaults on cities, ambushes on passing columns and a number of other iconic scenarios. Sadly, gamers used to the scale of the original, or the older Combat Mission games, will find the mere quantity of missions here to be a bit of a letdown. On the plus side, there are tools to create your own battles.
Like its predecessor (and the other games in Battlefront's superlative Combat Mission series), Theatre of War 2 is built on the idea that realism and accuracy is its own kind of fun. The game uses realistic line-of-sight, ballistics and morale models and includes simulations for a number of other factors that influence combat on battlefields in the real world. Gamers who might potentially be discouraged by this can opt to play with some relaxed settings, but the audience for this game is strictly hardcore, and they'll appreciate the level of detail here, which models each individual bullet and various soldier skills. The game even goes one further than the original by including smoke grenades and building interiors.
Naturally, even the most informed reviewer is going to have to take a bit of a subjective view of this realism. In my case, it feels very authentic, but it does seem that weapons fire is sometimes a bit too accurate, particularly with regard to the fixed guns. It's nice to see the 88s wreaking havoc but they seem to be a bit too focused at times. And while sending basic infantry to operate a simple AT gun makes sense, being able to just drop any soldier into a tank and get it up and running is a compromise that works better for gameplay than for realism.
Having your troops use enemy guns might not be 100% historical, but it makes for lots of fun.Though the overall game design has improved since the original Theatre of War, the interface has not. Even discounting the learning curve of getting used to the new interface, the abundance of buttons and ambiguous icons makes finding the right command at the right moment a bit more troublesome than it needs to be. The manual definitely helps orient you, but there's more that could have been done to make things clearer on the interface itself. The only upside is that the unit summary panels are a bit cleaner this time around and much easier to read.
The readability of the interface isn't the only hurdle to clear. Selecting individual units is a chore, owing both to the frustratingly specific active area around each unit and the gigantic icons hovering over your AT, MG, sniper and officer units. The most aggravating aspect of the interface is the frustrating pause that occurs every time one of your units is killed. It's helpful, of course, to keep you from being surprised by an ambush or attack on a distant part of the battlefield, but having to unpause the game after every death is obnoxious, particularly during the big assaults. There's an option to turn this tool off but you have to exit the game and run a separate exe to do so.