David Mcmurdo On March - 7 - 2010

My love for hardcore PC strategy and role-playing games does condemn me to obscurity somewhat but when I see the kind of retarded comments left for my colleagues whenever they write a piece regarding the latest console hit it doesn’t bother me as much. In fact I find the implied elitism of my position very appealing, like I’m one of a rare breed who can deal with the kind of hardcore games that are produced by smaller developers with those fanatically loyal fan bases. So when James bemoaned the fact that he just couldn’t get to grips with Theatre of War 2: Africa 1943 I chuckled to myself and told him to send it up my way like the mentor figure I am to him. But having now actually played the game all I can say is… someone load up Halo Wars.

Before I begin let me just say that Theatre of War 2: Africa 1943 will definitely find fans so if you’re one of them before you smash into my home with a tank please consider that I review games for everybody and not just the hardcore despite how it may seem looking at my work on Wedotech thus far. Theatre of War 2 is nothing if not a title aiming at a niche market, namely people who demand absolute historical accuracy and realism from their war games. I’m certainly not opposed to historical accuracy or realism but the problem with Theatre of War 2 is that it’s just so completely inaccessible to anyone not familiar with the series or whose favourite films aren’t Das Boot and Downfall.

Hellish warzones await if you can endure the learning "bootcamp".

There is a tutorial but it may as well not exist because it doesn’t so much tell you how to play the game as give you very simple objectives that anyone who has played an RTS in their life will be able to achieve. It fails to instruct you in the unique ways of Theatre of War 2, it just tells you to do something without telling you how. Use smoke grenades to conceal my advance? Fine but how do I do that exactly? You might as well just start a campaign immediately and have the lovely, glossy, full-colour manual to hand. Not that newcomers’ troubles will then be over, far from it because whether you elect to play as the United States, Great Britain or Germany you’re still in for a rough learning experience.

I decided to begin playing as the Axis forces and my first mission was to take control of a small settlement which seemed simple enough but the moment I moved my troops forward from their starting position they started getting picked off and I didn’t have a clue what I was meant to do about it. Eventually I reached some Allied trenches having lost a lot of brave men and ordered my remaining soldiers to “storm” them having no idea if this was the best action to take. Everything I did was just plain guesswork and take my word for it, playing blindly like this is not fun and certainly not what should be expected of a player. Maybe 1C Company are only interested in appealing to their niche market and don’t really care about the generally average scores that sites and publications have been pinning on Theatre of War 2 but it’s such a waste. If the game wasn’t so unfriendly and unforgiving on newcomers then I can imagine it reaching a far wider audience.

My ill-fated infantry storm the Allied trenches.

There’s no two ways about it, if you intend to play Theatre of War 2 then you have to buckle down and read the manual. No not the beautiful one provided in the game case but the pdf file that installed with the game. Having done this you will uncover a highly intricate game that has been lavished with incredible detail but the trouble is, some of us have lives and can’t spend the required amount of time studying a game before we play it. Believe me I understand perfectly well when fans of a series complain about it being dumbed down to appeal to a larger audience, I’ve been in this position many times myself. I’m not asking for Theatre of War 2 to be toned down so that stupid people can just pick it up and enjoy it, just that it provide a decent in game tutorial and that’s definitely not an unreasonable request. I know I’m labouring this point but that’s only because it’s undoubtedly the biggest hurdle anyone will have trying to enjoy the game.

There are a wide range of unit types at your disposal and each individual soldier has a name making it all the more tragic when they take a bullet. Every infantryman also has their own inventory and can scavenge the warzone for weaponry and ammunition which makes Theatre of War 2 a somewhat more dynamic experience than your average RTS. Your sniper finished picking off enemy soldiers? Then have him pick up that bazooka and take out the approaching truck. A variety of tanks and other vehicles can be brought to the field or even commandeered from enemy ownership and it goes without saying that each of these has their own strengths and weaknesses. Add artillery into the mix and you pretty much have an armchair general’s dream. Clicking on a unit will bring up their statistics and clearly show any damage or injuries they have incurred. Whenever one of your soldiers dies or machines is destroyed or disabled the game will pause and jump to its location which can be highly annoying when you’re trying to concentrate on another area of the battlefield.

"Don't weep for Marty lads, we'll soon be joining him."

The graphics are quite good and while the sound of gunshots and explosions is satisfying the voice acting is just terrible. Honestly I’ve heard dying men deliver lines with more enthusiasm than your superiors do in this game. A lot of reviewers have complained about the lack of music but actually I like that, it fits in with the whole “ultra realistic and deadly serious” vibe. I really cannot imagine what kind of music could be used in Theatre of War 2 without making it seem Saving Private Ryan cheesy or just completely inappropriate. No this is the kind of game you sit down with a glass of port and cigar to play, pausing every so often to issue orders to your forces and to consider your next tactic. If the Command & Conquer series are skinheads raving and vomiting over each other then the Theatre of War games are gentlemen wearing monocles and top hats, driving by with their noses upturned at the ghastly scene.

Theatre of War 2: Africa 1943 offers gamers the chance to participate in yet another World War 2 RTS but this time in an oft overlooked arena and that fact alone will make it an essential purchase for enthusiasts. Unfortunately this is a game that you really have to invest a considerable amount of time getting used to if you’re not already familiar with the series and it’s definitely not something I’d recommend to the average strategy buff hankering for the next challenge. The price of admission is far too high as the game ultimately delivers a very limited experience and while it does offer a multiplayer option there is no custom game feature whatsoever. Theatre of War 2 also makes use of Starforce protection which means that you must register the serial number online to play and can only do so a limited number of times which is actually the best reason you shouldn’t buy it. The people who want to play this game are already well aware of it and have probably already made their purchase, but everyone else can safely pass on this one.

Final Score – 2/5: Theatre of War 2: Africa 1943 is like a big dog you want to stroke but which keeps biting you when you try and is really a bit of a mutt anyway.

Categories: Feature, PC Reviews
  • https://?u=admin James Ireland

    Tutorial sucked.

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