Review: World War I-La Grande Guerre 1914-1918 (PC)

World War I- La Grande Guerre 1914-1918
Genre: Turn Based Strategy
Developer: AGEOD
Publisher: Matrix Publishing, LLC.
Release Date: 11/11/2008

World War II gets a lot of attention from game developers ,publishers, and if the Call of Duty series’ sales numbers are to be considered, gamers as well. There are World War II shooters, World War II strategy games, World War II Flight Simulators and even World War II submarine simulators. The point is World War II has a lot of games dedicated to reliving D-Day over and over again, so it’s refreshing to see the oft-overlooked First World War get some attention from French based AGEOD games, who seem to be dedicated to turning every obscure war ever into a turn based game.

1. Story/Modes

The game boasts four campaigns (Of which two are grand campaigns) and ten scenarios depicting different fronts of the war, such as the fight for Palestine with Britain and the Ottoman Empire as the playable nations, or the Naval Battle of Jutland between the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet.

After the selection of your chosen scenario or campaign, you will notice the great amount of historical research gone into the game as there are literally hundreds of historical events for you to deal with and use. One example at the beginning of the game gives the Allied player has the choice to deliver 2 warships to the Ottoman Empire (Neutral at the beginning of the game) and risk them being used against you or keep them for yourself and further antagonize the Turks, who had already paid for those ships. All major players in the war such as Lawrence of Arabia, Mata Hari, Anthony Fokker and Prince Sixtus are represented in the game ensuring that you are steeped deep in World War One history and for history buffs such as myself, this is an important feature.

Unfortunately, the only part of the world that is modeled is Europe. The rest of the world is offmap and is not playable which is a shame considering there was battles in Africa and China as well as Europe and not being able to play as the Japanese or Chinese is a shame considering other games allow you to play many more nations than the ones available in the game.

Story/Modes Rating: Very Good

2. Graphics

If you’re a fan of grand strategy games and especially titles from AGEOD then you should probably skip this section as you know what to expect. AGEOD is a small independent studio with few resources so the graphics aren’t what draw people to their games.

When you first boot up the game, you notice that the graphics seem almost designed for an older title running on Windows ’98 with a 640×480 monitor that’s been re-used for a 2008 game. Generally all the menus look amateurish.

I might be being too harsh to a game belonging in a genre which de-emphasizes graphics but even AGEOD‘s other titles such as American Civil War look better and brighter than WWI. You can see what they were aiming for with the color scheme. Unlike American Civil War where bright colors were the norm in an attempt to capture the flamboyance of war in that period, the colors in WWI are muddy and brown in an attempt to capture the grit and grime of industrialized warfare. This backfires as it just makes looking at the map difficult and boring.

Graphics Rating: Bad

3. Sound

Again, like the graphics category, if you’re a follower of the grand strategy genre you generally tend to ignore the sound qualities of these games as they are almost non-existent anyway.

However, some games like Paradox Interactive’s Hearts of Iron II has a nice original orchestral soundtrack that’s generally pleasant to listen to. Now I don’t expect every indie game developer to hire a composer to make them a nice soundtrack but the sound shouldn’t get in your way.

The music in this game are all period pieces, which sounds good… until you hear it. The music grates and sounds scratchy and low quality as though they ripped them from a vinyl disc or something. The sound effects are sparse and are mostly stock sounds.

All in all, it’s best to play this game with the sounds turned off.

Sound Rating: Bad

4. Control/Gameplay

WWI is a hardcore turn based strategy game, so if the only other turn based strategy game you played was Civilization IV or something, then you’d do well to read up on the manual as the tutorials only give you a very basic amount of knowledge of the game.

You first choose one of the military alliances in the game that change depending on what scenario you have picked. You are then thrust into the map of your chosen scenario.

The first thing you notice is that the map of Europe has been flipped 90 degrees so that East is now North and West is now South. According to the developers this was done so both the eastern and western fronts appear as horizontal lines. All this does is disorient you from the very basic European geography you’ve learned since you were a kid. Who cares if the fronts are horizontal or vertical? Besides, now the Serbian and Italian fronts are vertical anyway so it really makes no sense whatsoever.

Once you’ve re-orientated yourself from this jarring perspective, you notice that your turn is divided into several different phases (Except August 1914 which only has a military phase). The most important of which is the military phase where you will be spending most of your time. The first big problem is that you can’t zoom out very far. Combine this with the flipped map and you’ll be lost trying to find where your other fronts are. This is compounded by the fact that despite the very simple graphics of the game, whenever I’m trying to scroll around the map the game starts to slow down and drop to around 15 frames per second which is mind boggling considering that I can run high budget games like Fallout 3 just fine.

The fact that games like Paradox Interactive’s Hearts of Iron II models the entire world with more than 100 playable nations at once fully zoomed out to see the whole world with less system requirements adds insult to injury.

Moving stacks of troops around is also cumbersome as you can’t just select an entire stack of troops and move them all at once; they have to be moved one by one. Splitting troops into different armies and managing where your general headquarters are in relation to its detachments is a pain.

Once you’ve entered battle, combat has its own sets of rules that require you to pay attention to them. It also requires consulting the manual to understand as the tutorial doesn’t do a very good job of teaching you. It’s generally entertaining, but the amount of strategizing you do during battle is limited to putting your units in the correct positions and attacking. This is somewhat symbolic of WWI fighting as modern flanking tactics were still in their infancy then. Another feature that replicates the WWI age well is how all your generals have an Obstinacy rating, this means if your general has a rating of three in this field you must at least fight this amount of rounds before you can retreat from combat even if you know you are losing! Many hard headed generals still believed in the power of the charge and honor over retreat back then as the world had just come out of the Victorian era of musket tactics. Speaking of tactics, the game develops them naturally as the war goes on, in the beginning of the game the war is quite fluid and if you’re skilled enough you can defeat the enemy and secure victory early on but by 1915 and later your troops will start digging in and creating ever more complex trenches. This is good because most other games would have you research “Trench Warfare” on the research screen before this plainly obvious solution, that your troops on the ground should have noticed anyway, is put into practice.

The diplomatic system is fun in that you send your ambassadors to other nations every turn to increase their standing towards you and hopefully give you agricultural aid (very important for a blockaded Germany) to eventually joining your alliance.

Finally, the political system is the also unique and fun. Basically, having the support of your parliament is crucial in passing political options such as calling up more conscripts to the war effort or replacing a popular war commander from his post. Usually, domestic politics takes a back seat (Or is ignored all together) in other grand strategy titles so it’s nice to see it take a commanding role this time around.

Gameplay Rating :Decent

5. Replayability

As previously stated, the game has four campaigns with ten scenarios each AND at least two sides, if not more, to play as. The game is completely unscripted so one game can is never the same as the last and can be played in multiplayer as well if you ever get tired of playing against the AI.

Since the game throws dozens of war plans, special event cards, historical events and random events at you, you can always do something different than last time. Will you bring America to the side of the central powers? Will you finish the war quickly by Christmas 1914 before the onset of trench warfare? Will you be able to keep the Ottoman Empire intact?

It’s these and hundreds of other, “What if?” scenarios that keep you coming back for more action.

The only downside is the limited number of playable nations in the game means you don’t have as much freedom as you would like to explore scenarios like fighting to keep German East Africa in your control or invading the Bismarck Islands as the emerging power of Japan.

Replayability Rating: Very Good

6. Balance

Normally, nations wouldn’t be balanced in a historical war-game. The developers would set up the nations as they were in the selected time period. For example, The Ottoman Empire is no match for Germany in a one-on-one situation. To balance this out, the game doesn’t give you control of individual nations but rather of whole alliances. If you take the 1914 campaign for example as the Central Powers you will have control of Germany and Austria-Hungary facing France and Russia. The United States, Britain and Turkey are still neutral and if you manage to get one of these nations to join your side, then you gain control of all their troops.

It usually isn’t that easy though. Historical events tend to give a boost to the Allies in dealing with America and a boost to the Central Powers in dealing with Turkey, pushing you ever so slightly to repeat history rather than play for an advantage.

Balance Rating: Good

7. Originality

You can literally count the number of WWI games on the fingers of one hand. Try counting WWI games made by non-Indy developers and you’re reduced to something around the vicinity of zero.

It’s great that AGEOD have decided to buck the trend of yet more Second World War games and decided to give us a game for a war that is often overlooked despite the fact that within it the seeds of the next Great War were sown.

However, this game is fundamentally similar to all other AGEOD titles in that it’s a historical turn based grand strategy game that shares many features and rules as its sister titles. You’d kind of wish the French developer would try something new once in a while.

Originality Rating: Below Average

8. Addictiveness

I’m assuming the reason one would buy this game is because theyare a hardcore history buff. If so, they will find this game doesn’t disappoint in the historical department with many historical events to for the diehard historical gamer to pick up on and discover as well as an engrossing diplomatic and political system that is entertaining and unique.

However, the real problem is the clunky military system where you will be spending around half of your game time in. It’s a shame such a large chunk of the game that nearly undoes the fun of the other parts of the game.

Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

9. Appeal Factor

This is a game in a niche genre, about a niche war, developed by a niche developer and published by a niche publisher.

Really, the only ones who actually noticed this game and would buy it are dedicated hardcore war-gamers and AGEOD fans (really, those two groups are mostly the same). WWI is not very friendly to the new comer in the genre and firmly expects you to either memorize the game manual or migrate from another similar game by this or another developer and games similar to this one are rare themselves.

Appeal Factor Rating: Very Bad

10. Miscellaneous

The painstakingly researched historical records in this game show the amount of love AGEOD have put into their game and also their love for military history.

No event during the war is left uncovered and no person is left unrepresented. Anthony Fokker for instance gives you a large boost to your airplane research, Mata Hari gives you a fog of war bonus over your enemy and you can even incite the Arabs to rebel against the Ottoman Turks and send Lawrence of Arabia to tie up large forces in the Middle East. The French even suffer greater losses than other nations in the early part of war because of their flamboyant bright blue/flame red uniforms which made them perfect targets. It’s the stuff that makes WWI fanboys giggle with glee.

On the other hand, AGEOD fall into the trap of Indy foreign developers skimping on the translation to English. The text is very strange to read for the English native speaker as the text has been translated into directly into English with no attempt to edit it to sound more natural in English.

This might not be such a big problem if some text in the game wasn’t left completely in French! It’s a rare occurrence but I’ve stumbled upon text still left un-translated from the native French which is quite unprofessional and second -rate in this age when fan translations are ever increasing in quality.

Miscellaneous Rating: Mediocre

The Scores
Modes: Very Good
Graphics: Bad
Sound: Bad
Control/Gameplay: Decent
Replayability: Very Good
Balance: Good
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Very Bad
Miscellaneous: Mediocre

Short Attention Span Summary

If you’re not a fan of AGEOD’s other games or a hardcore war gamer well versed in the tradition of these old style of games from the golden days of the 1980s, then I can’t really recommend this title to you as it’s not very friendly to beginners. If you are familiar with this developer’s other works then World War I- La Grande Guerre 1914-1918 is shaped in a similar mold and you should easily transfer your skillsets to this title. For the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait until someone releases something simpler and prettier like World War One: Total War or something.



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