Officers – Recon (PC)
I’ve been anxiously waiting for the release of this game since I saw it first hand at the 2005 E3 game convention. Back then, the concept was new and fresh, and offered some innovations to the RTS genre which were sorely needed. Promoted as a hybrid RTS and role-playing game – your units gain experience as they survive the campaign – which excelled at realism, it had the makings of an incredible title. Now, in the post-Company of Heroes world, Officers is no longer the trailblazer it once was. At this point it is hard to tell if it can set itself apart, or be forever compared to the game which beat it to market.
If the demo is any indication, I think there is still promise, but it is leaning towards the latter. One of the biggest flaws of COH was that it was basically the same as most every RTS game on the market, except instead of collecting wood or mining ore, you set out to capture ammunition and men to add to your stockpiles. Though well received and graphically gorgeous, it didn’t take the genre in many new directions. Officers, in comparison, actually LOOKS a lot like COH from a distance. The mini map is for all intents and purposes identical; a map of the battlefield, broken into regions of control, with strongpoints displayed. Each point has a flag for either German or Allied control depending on the units which were last there, and each flag also controls stockpiles of gasoline, ammo, and food – very familiar stuff. Officers covers a greater area however, so the groups of soldiers are much larger. Instead of squad vs. squad fighting over a farm, you now have platoons of men and tanks fighting over 25 square kilometers. Based on the demo, Officers separates itself from COH in that you don’t have upgrades or build units or structures – instead you simply capture territory from the enemy with the units provided.
As demos go, this one is pretty cryptic. There are almost no help files other than a small read-me file, and no in-game prompts or pop-ups to assist you. While it follows many of the standard RTS conventions to select and group units, provide stances and formations, as well as point and click units to their destinations – it also has some off map activities such as artillery strikes, air bombardments, and a separate map room for your orders, results of battles, and radio traffic of events on the ground. Much of this must be discovered on one’s own…and the first night in Normandy will be a long one for you as you stand around not knowing what to do, where to go, or where the enemy is located.
During gameplay, the camera controls felt quirky, and I was often unable to zoom out enough to suit my needs. Oddly enough, this was also a complaint I had with COH. I’m not sure why you aren’t allowed to zoom out to infinity if that is what you want to do. Also, the absolute worst part of the game is the voice acting – it is just horrible. Imagine one man reading catch phrases from a script with no emotion whatsoever, then his phrases are looped continuously throughout the game – leaving you feeling anything but immersed in the game. As your troops are hurling themselves at the enemy, they will calmly be talking about Russo-German relations or inquiring about a missing pet rat!
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in my introduction to this game I just didn’t feel it was "tactical" enough to satisfy a wargamer. Enemy units would attack in big clumps, resulting in a melee just like the old Warcraft days. Your own units seem to lack the ability to conduct sophisticated maneuvers, or cooperate with armor units effectively, or maintain any kind of coherent front lines. While COH was successful in small unit actions because you could order your men behind a wall for cover, or to flank a position, the larger battlefield in Officers requires an additional degree of planning and tools which are seemingly lacking in the interface. You can’t just order your men behind obstacles as they move toward the enemy farm house – in this game they must cross an open field to take a whole town! The Normandy demo also lacks historical realism, with elite German bombers whizzing overhead, German Parachute Infantry dropping in on D-Day, and imaginary divisions defending the beaches of Normandy. One can hope this was simply done as a display of the engine’s capabilities, using D-Day as a familiar stomping ground for a Western audience (GFI is a Russian company).
The bottom line, despite some reservations, is that this free demo is worth a look. If you enjoyed Company of Heroes you will probably find this a comfortable diversion. If you are looking for something more akin to Combat Mission in depth of play, you may be better served by waiting for Battlefront’s Theatre of War, which is also nearing release. Officers has lost the iniative to COH, so much of what might have been groundbreaking for this demo now seems a bit commonplace. Unfortunate, but who can predict the vagaries of war?
|A "clump" of Germans attack the beachhead during a night engagement.||An infantry unit repairs a damaged tank in the Normandy night.|