Battleground Europe, Revisited
Battleground Europe, also known as WWII Online has been around for more than six years; that’s almost unheard of in computer game land. The game’s staying power is a testament to the steady improvement and high level of support Cornered Rat Software has given to this online world since it’s launch. Recently, the game was given a major upgrade to version 1.27, introducing new features and weapons. So, ACG went back to battlefields of France and Low Countries to see how this venerable game is getting along.
For those unfamiliar with BE, it is unlike anything else in the online world. Red Orchestra comes close, but only close. The basic idea of Battleground, is that players can join a massive early war campaign, played over an nearly 1 to 1 map of Eastern France and the Low Countries. The gamer chooses to play for France, Britain or Germany by joining their army, air or naval forces. Like many RPGs, the player gains rank from session to session. Higher rank personas can operate more high-end equipment and weapons, as well as participate in the command structure by setting up missions.
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Once the player has chosen his nation and branch, he then selects a vehicle, aircraft or infantry weapon to join the battle with. The game uses a concept of brigades that have missions and objectives, and the player can choose a unit that is in heavy combat to insure they will have something to shoot at. A single player can man any AFV or aircraft solo, or if he wants, can team up with other players to fill out the entire crew.
One of the great triumphs of WWII Online, is that it is almost a full combined arms game. Almost, because with the exception of light mortars, artillery, the King of Battle, is missing in action. But everything else is there. Jump into a fighter, and hunt enemy bombers harassing the ground troops. If you spot an enemy truck on the road, strafe the heck out of it. You may even see enemy troops spill out of the vehicle before it is destroyed. On the ground, some players man anti-air guns to drop enemy planes, and if necessary the AA guns can also attack troops. Tanks mostly ignore enemy aircraft, but a lucky bomb hit will ruin their day. Wise infantry men run in fear from oncoming tanks, except for those with anti-tank rifles and satchel charges. But the tanks themselves fear anti-tank guns, including the deadly German 88. The interaction of the various arms is varied and rich, and players are encouraged to try them all.
Battleground happens in 1942, and uses historically correct weapons, and vehicles for the period. Everything looks, performs and feels like the real thing. Hit location, armor thickness, and gun penetration determine damage to a target tank; not some abstract health bar. Firearms, have realistic rates of fire, magazine capacity and ranges. To hit an enemy soldier far away, sights must be adjusted. Infantry, when hit, almost always die, and there are no candy bars or health kits that can heal them.
BE has a long and varied list of AFVs, infantry weapons and aircraft to choose from. Luckily for the French in BE, they did not lose in 1940, and they import lend-lease American equipment like the Sherman, P39 and Stuart. Ships are another story. The game has only destroyers, PT and gunboats. For the most part, the naval action is brown water, with boats serving as floating gun platforms. The list of available weapons has grown to be quite large over the years, with light Infantry mortars and the BF-109G being new with the latest patch.
To keep everyone from choosing Tiger Is, and light machine guns, over PzIIs and bolt action rifles, the game regulates available weaponry by brigade. Units in full supply, will have almost an unlimited number of rifles, but not many Flak 88s, and even fewer Tiger Is. This system regulates the overall mix of available weapons, and insures that what player encounters in the field tracks with what was actually available historically.
Another striking feature of the game is there are no map zones. A player, with many, many hours on their hands could drive, or walk from Antwerp to Dusseldorf. Along the way, they might be strafed by a passing player in an aircraft, or get snagged in a battle, but such is the life of a ground pounder. But long treks are never necessary. Because of the brigade system, players are able to choose areas that are target rich, and they never have to walk more than a few game miles to get into the action. Foot-sore ground troops, can even hitch a ride on a passing tank or truck if they want to get there faster. Still, there is definitely more walking, driving and waiting than in any other WWII combat game.
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