Eugen Systems have been at this RTS thing for quite a while now. In addition to the Wargame series they also put out Act Of War and R.U.S.E.. So I think it’s safe to say that by now they should have all of the bugs worked out and I can assume this game is a master work of perfection yes? Well no, that’s not how it works. So lets take a look at their latest, Red Dragon.
So, when I decided to review this I went on to Steam and looked up the back catalog. In order to get a grasp on what they’d done I went and bought Wargame AirLand Battle and its expansion European Escalation. I liked what I saw. The graphics looked excellent and there was a wealth of units from the different countries in the Cold War. Even Canada. I mean wow, that’s detail. The expansion took things even farther, changing the user interface and introducing back stories to the campaigns. I didn’t put a huge amount of time into the game but basically I liked what I saw.
So here we are with the newest installment, Red Dragon. I’ll start by saying the game continues to look fantastic and the sound is quite good as well. The two big additions to the game are naval combat and the Asian Theater of Operations. Adding China for example allows the developers to explore new scenarios like a war between them and the USSR. War Scenarios take place at specific places in the world, like the border between North and South Korea, or in Hong Kong. The overworld campaign map is very similar to Rome: Total War. You have units on the map which you must move to the area where you wish to attack or defend. When you encounter an enemy you are presented with the option to let the AI take care of battle for you, avoid the battle, or lead the battle yourself.
Upon agreeing to do battle you load into the battle screen. This is the satellite view of the battlefield, and it is divided into a number of subsections. Your job in the game, if you want to succeed at all, is to take command of those subsections of the map, or at the very least deny them to the enemy. You do this by planting a command vehicle in one of the specific zones and praying that the enemy won’t find them, because once they are planted they are virtually useless. Now, I don’t mean that you have to deploy them like a Siege Tank in Starcraft. I just mean that you have to put them somewhere. If they move at all while in the sector you lose command of the sector. This is baffling, to be honest. If they are going for ultra realism, well then good for them, but I would rather they had allowed the command vehicles the option to move around the sector. Some command units are Tanks, and these tanks can only command a sector when they are at a complete stop? Even worse, some command vehicles are not actually command vehicles, instead they carry a dude with a radio (I’m guessing) that has to be deployed in order for them to issue commands. I didn’t figure that one out for a little while, and let me tell you I was thrilled to discover that nifty little fact.
Even more annoying is those command units are the most important units on the battlefield. If you have a massive army rampaging around crushing all in their path but the enemy is lucky enough to find your last command vehicle, well I’m sorry but a rampaging army can’t operate on it’s own, so you lose.
Tying into both of those annoying facts about the game is the naval combat. The only units that qualify as command units in the naval battles are often your best units, meaning you have to leave them floating somewhere if you want to maintain command of a section. If you want to win you have to be prepared to choose. I like that last option actually, being forced to choose between holding a location and gathering forces or taking a gamble that you’ll be able to find your opponent before they can acquire enough forces to overwhelm you, but it’s not presented very well.
Continuing with the unwanted realism, an army wins with it’s logistics. If you run out of bullets or gas before your enemy you’re probably going to lose. That logic applies to Wargame: China Rising as well. You must always remember to bring resupply vehicles to your battles or else you’re probably going to lose. Also hide them well, because they can be captured and turned against you.
There are times when this game is entertaining, but there are more times when the game is needlessly frustrating. Your units will level up when in combat, and that carries over into future battles, assuming they live. Yet when you go to select units to be deployed the game automatically takes the green rookies, even though they are the same price as the hardened veterans. Infantry units cannot be deployed on foot. Instead they are deployed using a vehicle of some sort. That’s not so bad, but once deployed they cannot get back into the vehicle that got them there. Why that choice was made I cannot fathom. (Edit: As was pointed out in the comments there is a way to get your infantry back into their trucks, you click the infantry and then right click on the truck. But there is nothing on either the troop command bar or the truck, where there was a very prominent Unload button and one would think a reload button would go.)
The movement commands are terrible. Naval ships will fight each other to occupy a space instead of sailing in the formation that they start. You cannot just set a course for your fleet either. It’s frustrating always having to tell your ships to get moving again when they have finished their assigned task. Ships will sit and take all the fire thrown at them rather than make evasive maneuvers. Okay, I suppose that might be asking a bit much, but the movement commands are ripped right out of Starcraft. Things need to evolve. Missiles in naval combat are virtually useless when you are firing on an enemy, yet when they are fired at you there’s a good chance you’re swimming. The same goes for jets. If there is any AA on the map at all for get it, you’re going to lose that jet before the second pass. Helicopters? They may not even get to fire off their weapon before dying. And this is on EASY.
Speaking of Easy, the game comes with four main campaigns. However unlike the last game where you could play the game at different levels of difficulty here you are only able to play the campaign a certain way. Even more bizarrely the regular skirmish mode maps can be fought at whatever difficulty you choose, making me wonder why they would go out of their way to make you fight the battles like this. I understand the desire to show you just how hard it would be to win some of these fights but honestly the game is hard enough to enjoy as it is. Don’t be a masochist.
Short Attention Span Summary:
There is more I could comment on, but the fact is this game is a step back from AirLand Battle. The addition of Naval Combat is actually a subtraction for my enjoyment of the game. Perhaps it’s my ineptitude when it comes to running an army, who knows. Give this game to a West Pointer and he’d probably love it, but I demand a little forgiveness in my games. There’s too many reasons to make me not want to play. Maybe when they release an expansion pack that tweaks things like European Escalation did.