Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front – PC Game Preview
This preview of Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front used a pre-release version and may not reflect features present in the final release.
Lately, Slitherine, Ltd., in partnership with Matrix Games, has earned a well-deserved reputation for producing interesting and fun games that cover a wide spectrum of topics and styles. This streak continues with Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front (henceforth Eastern Front).
Eastern Front is the second game in the Battle Academy series. The first game, called just Battle Academy, spawned six add-on packs: Fortress Metz, Rommel in Normandy, Operation Husky, Operation Sealion, Blitzkrieg France, Market Garden. The original game and all the add-ons focused on World War Two in the West.
Eastern Front is a completely stand-alone game, not another add-on. Eastern Front, like the original game, is a turn-based, tactical-level wargame; units are individual vehicles, weapons teams and squads. World War Two in the East was the largest military confrontation in history, with tens of millions of troops as the Soviet Union slugged it out with Nazi Germany. The sheer size of the conflict provides great scope for wargames.
Slitherine has provided a nice tutorial scenario in the preview. Anyone not familiar with the Battle Academy game mechanics should play through the tutorial, but veteran players can easily skip it. In any case, the User Interface (UI) is easy to operate and very friendly. Mouse clicks perform all the actions. Left-clicking a unit tells the player unit status, how far it can move and what enemy units it may attack. Units may engage multiple targets in a turn or move and attack in the same turn. Units may move quickly—running or driving fast—or they may hunt, moving slowly and carefully, looking for enemy units. Attacked units can suffer partial damage. For example, a tank can lose its main gun, but still be able to move, or infantry can be suppressed and forced to retreat instead of being outright destroyed. Of course, units can be killed with one attack as well (I found this a depressingly frequent occurrence for tanks in a city when attacked by assaulting infantry squads). As units gain positive experience by damaging the enemy or avoiding damage when under fire, they get promoted. Promotions increase unit survivability and make them more dangerous when attacking.
The preview included a single campaign, Operation Bagration 1944, that can only be played from the Soviet side. However, the full game will have three more complete campaigns: one more played from the Russian side and two others played from the German point of view. At the start of the campaign the player purchases a set of units. In Bagration 1944, the units are a bit of a grab bag: partisans, regular Soviet army infantry squads and armored units. The player can only buy a combined arms force, with a balance of infantry and armored units, since there are only so many of each kind of a particular unit to be had. For example, the Soviet player can only purchase up to three T-34 tanks.
Also included in the preview is the skirmish feature, which lets the player build a “do it yourself” battle. In the skirmish mode, the player may select map size (very small to very large), map type (urban, wilderness or farmland), scenario type (defend, attack, meeting engagement, or symmetric), force size (very small to very large), and of course which side to play. The player than buys the tactical units they will use from the available list, just as in the campaign game. There is an advanced method of developing skirmishes that allows the player to set the specific map size by length and width, how open the ground is, any fortifications, and the specific points allowed to each side to purchase units. A map is randomly generated for each scenario.
A really neat feature of skirmish play is that players can only select units from historically accurate orders of battle. This means that a German mechanized corps from 1941 or an SS panzer corps from 1943 will only have units that were actually available in that organization and in that year. German Tiger tanks can’t show up in 1941 to slaughter hapless Soviet T-26s.
The skirmish feature gives Eastern Front nearly infinite replay value and, in my humble opinion, is by itself worth the price of the game.
The AI in Eastern Front is a worthy opponent. I did not always win and none of the games I played were cake-walks for me. Also, there is no significant delay as the AI goes through its moves, so the game action keeps moving right along, unlike some other turned-based games. Sadly, the preview did not have the on-line multi-player mode for me to try out, but it will be available when the full game is released.
The graphics are neat and clean; unit types and nationalities are easily distinguished, one from another. While the graphics are well drawn and polished, there is no attempt to make them realistic. There are also some very well done graphic-novel-style cut-scenes, which relate background information on the battles. The sound design is good as well. The music is not annoying (a major accomplishment over most music in PC war-games). The sound effects are good enough with the German squads speaking German and the Russians speaking Russian. The weapons’ sounds are all there; machine guns rattle, rifles crack, tanks and artillery rounds go boom, as they should.
Generally, I prefer my tactical wargames to be as realistic as possible, without losing the fun factors. But I can certainly see the appeal of an easy-to-learn, somewhat more casual wargame and Battle Academy: Eastern Front fills this more-casual game niche very nicely.
I have to add that I found the game to be very compelling. I keep returning to Eastern Front, when I had a spare 30 or 40 minutes, to set up a quick, small skirmish and have some fun. To sum up, Battle Academy 2: Eastern Front is a bit cartoonish, but overall is a very playable and solidly entertaining game.
About the Author
Patrick Baker is a former US Army Field Artillery officer, currently a Department of Defense employee. He has degrees in Education, History and Political Science. He cut his war-gaming teeth on Squad Leader and Victory Games’ Fleet Series. He bought his first PC in 1990, a Wang PC-240, specifically to play SSI’s The Battles of Napoleon (much to the annoyance of his wife). He continues to use all his education to play more games and annoy his family.