By Kieron Gillen on September 29th, 2008 at 10:40 am.
University Comrade Hobbes and I used to have long debates about WW1 videogames, around their viability. Which with retrospect is an odd thing to do, as I’d already played History Lines 1914-1918 to death. He forwards me Warfare 1917, from ConArtists the maker of previous RPS-fave The Last Stand. And it’s actually pretty good. I’d certainly recommend it more than walking slowly across no-man’s land. And some analysis on it and WW1 games beneath the cut…
As most webgames, it’s working off a simple axis. You can tell each unit either to advance… and that’s it. At which point they’ll advance until they get to a trench, and then stop. The strategy is based on the actual timers. Every one of your unit types takes an increasing amount of time to recharge – so you can send out your soldiers rapidly, but a tank (or land-ship, as they’re faithfully called) takes forever. The key element is that actually selecting any unit re-sets all the timers. So weighing up whether it’s more important you have anything immediately or whether you can wait for something hefty is key. Oh – and there’s all sorts of artillery on their own individual timers and an experience system for improving your troops across the campaign.
It’s not high art, but it’s compulsive, with the variety of maps demanding a little thought about what you actually need – you can conquer either by claiming territory or bleeding them dry Verdun-style. I played all the way through, and found it grimly atmospheric. Also, like History Lines, I found myself wondering whether the mechanics were trying to say something. In that old Blue Byte game, units gained experience by being involved in combats. However, by being involved in combats, a unit normally was chewed up and the gain in skill barely covered the loss in manpower. It was pretty much a zero-gain situation. The exception was Artillery, who – being able to strike multiple squares away, meant they could fight with no losses… so rapidly became five-star killing machines who could annihilate anything who wandered anywhere close. The point’s kinda obvious.
Warfare 1917 mechanic which got me thinking is even more so. There’s a leader unit who apparently gives a fighting bonus to anyone nearby. They appear to do pretty much nothing. They’re just a waste of time.