I first heard about Eugen Systems seven years ago, when I played Act of War: Direct Action, a very classic RTS, which was then followed by the High Treason expansion pack plus the more recent R.U.S.E. And if you liked the latter, then Wargame: European Escalation definitely has that something to keep you in front of the monitor. WEE is easy to control and understand, but very hard to master: it doesn’t have a complex interface, but it does feature an annoying AI, most of the time in the good sense of the word.
The story isn’t much to talk about, since Wargame takes the Cold War and sets up a NATO versus USSR conflict (more specifically against the countries that signed the Warsaw treaty) between the years 1970 – 1980. But the conflict has gone beyond threats and an arms race, thus justifying the title with real time battles all over Europe. True, it lacks planes and naval ships, but land battles are more than enough to put a big I in the AI and your brain to serious work.
Wargame doesn’t bother with micromanagement, bases and resources. On the other hand, the unit number is limited and so are fuel and ammo, and if you lose troops in the first mission of a campaign, they stay lost. Tanks can be refueled and repaired, but those trucks also have limited resources, so the gameplay is a permanent balance between reinforcements, going forward, destroying the enemy and controlling the map. Reinforcements depend on corresponding points awarded for holding areas, but, again, there is a limit to the number of troops. And the upper one isn’t that high, thus forcing you to carefully calculate your risks and use recon units.
Though fragile, the recon units are essential for discovering enemy ambushes, placed depending on the geography. A hill or a forest cuts down visibility, and an anti-tank battery or some grenade launching infantry can hide in the bushes, waiting for the right time to spoil your otherwise flawless victory.
The roads allow for faster movement, while swamps block an efficient march, turning tanks into sitting ducks, just like in the real world. Going head first into open field is a really bad idea, even if it seems good enough to avoid traps; what your forgetting is that the enemy helicopters can’t wait to blow stuff up.
Success brings experience and level ups and the Command Stars required to buy new units. Up to 25 units can be mixed in any way and the menus are very simple. The units specs however are no easy reading, each and one of them with unique characteristics: types of armor (separate for the front, rear, side and upper part), ammo, guns, caliber, distance and maximum efficiency, fire and reload speed, movement speed, fuel tank capacity and so on.
Even more, the troops have morale and a trap or a fire barrage will send them in a panic and they run if it’s all going down in the wrong way; it takes a while for them to calm down and scared units can’t be controlled, Total War style, so this can have fatal consequences on both the number of units and your tactical plans.
From this point of view, Wargame is more of a technical manual than a game for the 2012 generation. The RTS part is minimal, no bases or fantastic superpowers, while the “resources” are the points accumulated by controlling the map areas through a command vehicle.
New units can help only if you have a deployment area set up, usually at the edge of the map. Controls aren’t too complicated with micromanagement either, which also comes with some annoying issues: you can activate/deactivate weapons and use orders to regroup, fire, change the helicopters’ altitude or load/unload troops.