Review: World War 2: Road to Victory (PC)

World War 2: Road to Victory
Genre: Turn-based Strategy
Developer: IQ Software
Publisher: Matrix Publishing, LLC
Release Date: 07/24/08

After spending some time with the strategy behemoth that is World War 2: Road to Victory (henceforth referenced as RtV), I find myself walking away from the game with a mix of emotions for a remarkably large variety of reasons. With that said, I’m going to have to make a few confessions before going in:

1. I love Real Time Strategy games.
2. I have played the board game RISK perhaps twice in my life.
3. While I am by no means a one-stop-shop for historical accuracy, I have been known to keep my trivia sharp for classrooms and house parties alike.
4. For better or worse, I fear this review may reveal as much about my gaming biases as it does about how the game plays.

Yes, friends. My name is Fred Badlissi, and I am not really a fan of Turn-based Strategy games. Although, after playing RtV, I might have to let my guard down just a little.

Set in the era known to Hollywood movie buffs, historical revisionists and Army surplus stores across the US as World War 2, RtV takes place on the European, North African and Middle Eastern fronts between the years 1939 through what the game designates as the end of the war in 1946. The player has access to three full-fledged campaigns in addition to a tutorial mode, each of which allows players the freedom to control more than one country – and there are many. The campaign comes to an end after you either A) defeat all other alliances through warfare or diplomatic efforts or B) until all turns have taken place. As I understand it, this is pretty much standard turn-based fare. However, in the case of RtV, the richness and complexity of the title lay in the narrative and gameplay details that come across as you’ll play the game.

Playing to a historical narrative familiar to Westerners, you can choose to control countries from the Allied and Axis sides. In addition to these alliances – and one of many personal surprises for me – you can play as the largely Russia-only (until 1941) orientation called the Comintern, which I’ll discuss later in this review. You can also play as countries who have no allegiances or orientation. When beginning the game, you are presented with a menu that details all of the countries that are a part of the campaign, complete a wealth of country statistics that would make the CIA World Factbook jealous. You then choose whether you want them to be PC or player-controlled. From here, you’re dropped into a hexagonal map (I suggest turning on the hexagon borders for ease of play in the Options menu) of cities and geographic phenomena like grasslands, water and forests.

From this point, I wanted to send out a harvester and get some ore, or perhaps one of those robots to get some crystals or vespine gas. Not happening. RtV‘s resource collection is turn-based and action-dependent, and will take quite a few turns to allow you the opportunity to amass a large armored division or troop deployments. With each passing turn, your resources will go up or down depending on how you spend them and how your attempts at setting up shop elsewhere pan out. You can also allocate resources to upgrade your offensive capabilities and efficiency, as well as purchase the ability to expand your country’s variety of warfare. With this kind of flexibility, you can create something has historically uncomfortable as a Nazi Germany who just wants to be friends, or Saudi Arabia as a formidable air and navel power. All you need is time, and the luck of the computer’s draw.

So, with this kind of flexibility, what’s not to appreciate? With a few mouse clicks, you make choices on what you want to do. Declare war on Germany, you say? Sure! But you have to remember that your social unrest will increase to 80%- and you’ve only got a few tanks outside of a city that is thinking about swinging the Allies’ way. You hit that “End Turn” button, and you’re heart gets knocked off the edge it’s been teetering on. The defender holds! Sure, the game says that no naval battles transpired, which in and of its self is tolerable, but Paris just went Axis! Germany’s also just taken Lithuania! What are you going to do!?!?!?

And that’s really the crux of the game. While it doesn’t provide the instant gratification that I’m used to in a real-time strategy game, the turn-based formula that RtV provides a sense of old-school charm you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. For all intents and purposes, the game strikes me as what RISK might play like if it were on audio/visual steroids.

And that now begs the questions: how does RtV sound and look?

I’ll have to thank the gentleman or lady known as “mertuve” who perhaps scored the pleasant opening theme that sets the tone for an epic battle across epic hexagons. The sound design for the rest of the game is pretty standard fare, though. If you attack with planes, you’ll hear the requisite “fly-by” noise. Moving troops and armored divisions will prompt some feet marching and motor-tread movement respectively, as well as quick strikes by drumsticks to a snare drum whenever anything dramatic has just happened, like the beginning of your turn. You could really go into it with the speakers off with no real detriment to the experience, or you can annoy your neighbors by making them think you’ve found, and are fully exploiting, Fox News’ audio archive. Or, better yet, break out a Rammstein disc and let the good times roll.

Graphically, this game can probably run comfortably on any computer built since 2004. There’s no hardware acceleration to speak of at all, which means you won’t have to spend an arm and a leg in order to get it to even boot. It’s all 2D, and functional 2D at that. You have icons that depict what they’re supposed to depict. Two soldiers? Infantry. A covered pick-up truck? Transport. Tank? Yeah- armored division. And as mentioned earlier, the game takes place across a hexagonal grid. While seasoned turn-based strategists probably prefer the absence of delineated borders for each individual hexagon, they helped this novice immensely, and can be toggled in the game’s Options menu as previously mentioned. A small footnote, perhaps, but you’ll also be treated to small-yet-historically-accurate flags. For instance, maybe due to size restrictions, the Iraqi flag that is used is one that is bereft of the takbir script (the Arabic that reads “Allah akbar” or “God is the Greatest) that is on today’s flag; this was placed on the flag by Saddam Hussein as an appeasement to more religious elements of Iraqi society, and was not added until 1991.(*)

That last part is also something I want to elaborate on. If even half of today’s game developers took the time to research, detail and present the historical accuracy and authenticity that IQ Software has done for RtV as a whole, then everyone who has played a Medal of Honor game would be a Rhodes Scholar. I’m sure that there are a few more places where I’ve yet to scratch the surface, but here are two places in particular where my historical imagination was captured.

Prior to this game, I had no idea what the Comintern was. Quite frankly, I was sitting with my jaw slightly agape asking myself “Who were the Comintern? It sounds important- I mean, these are really fancy syllables in succession.” Through the magic of built-in search engines in the browser open, I came to find out that the Comintern was a congress of intellectuals throughout the world who favored the Marxist-Leninist approach to governance and spreading the Soviet revolution across the world. Granted they may have had varying degrees of influence in their home nations outside of Soviet Russia, but the fact that IQ has chosen to include them in the RtV narrative is interesting at the very least. The Comintern, or “Communist International” in this instance lasted until 1941 when Germany violated their non-aggression pact with Russia and invaded the Soviet Union. Following this, Russia declared their support for the Allies, and the Comintern was dissolved.

A second instance of cultural accuracy that caught my eye was the use of “Al-Quhirah” and, to a lesser degree, “Yerhusalem” for city names in the Middle East. While you won’t find any border – or country – delineations on the board of RtV, you will find city names. That means you won’t find “Egypt,” but you will find the region by finding it’s capital that goes by the Arabic name “Al-Quahirah” which somehow made it into Latin languages as “Cairo.” “Yerhusalem” is a little bit more obvious, however, as it is the name for modern day Jerusalem. Also, bonus points for placing each city under the control of Great Britain in the game’s narrative, as both Egypt and the Israel/Palestine/Transjordan area were both under British mandate by the Sykes-Picot Treaty.

So, after all that has been typed here about World War 2: Road to Victory, does it pass the mark? I think it does. But I don’t think it does personally for me.

Earlier, I mentioned that RtV carries a certain sense of charm. ‘Charm’ is really the right word here, as the impression I got when playing RtV is the same impression I get when sitting down to a board game, or even the nostalgia I might get watching old Christmas-season cereal commercials. While I couldn’t see myself having picked up this game without having to review it, I appreciate having been able to spend some time with it. Would it be a game that has single-handedly changed the way that I view turn-based strategy games? In all honesty, only slightly; despite the fact that I appreciate the depth and flexibility that RtV affords, it just isn’t the game for me. This is probably my uncle’s strategy game- a “thinking, extremely patient man’s” strategy game where it’s not about finding out how to immediately exploit your opponent’s weaknesses, but rather how to gradually build dominance through either pre-mediated thought or a few risky clicks of the mouse. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Section Scores:
Story: Above Average
Graphics: Average
Sound: Below Average
Control and Gameplay: Slightly Above Average
Replayability: Great
Balance: Average
Originality: Average
Addictiveness: Average
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Great

FINAL SCORE: Above Average

Short Attention Span Summary
If turn-based strategy isn’t your cup of tea, then this brew might be off-putting. But if you’re willing to give the title and it’s 72-page instruction booklet some time, World War 2: Road to Victory just might gratify. This one is for the 1040 and 1040-A crowd; those filing 1040-EZ need not apply.

(*)(Post script: Wikipedia has a different flag for the time period represented in the game, but I suspect that IQ Software’s selection was selected on the basis of familiarity in this case. But even then, it prompted me to look it up- and that’s more than most games do.)



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