If you are wondering what exactly is on offer with this package, then you’re not alone. The latest Battlefront re-release by Matrix Games is called Strategic Command Classic: WWII. The game was originally called Strategic Command: Blitzkrieg, and it received three different add-ons in its day. One of these is Weapons and Warfare, which was just the enhanced version of the base game. On top of this, the re-release also includes the Patton Drives East and the Pacific expansion packs. So, a lot of nomenclature there, but what are you really buying?
Mostly, it seems, you are buying sets of scenarios. Unlike other Strategic Command titles (past and present) which present more of a ‘grand-strategy’ experience, this title seems to break the war down to a set of focused ‘highlight’ moments. There’s still a top layer of strategic mechanics, but you’re no longer playing a long-game and trying to fight the entire war. There’s not much information available on the internet these days as to how the original release performed or what the differences between the various versions might be.
This is not very surprising as the last patches for these games were made some ten years ago. Interestingly enough, I did find a thread about a map bug that still hasn’t been fixed after all these years.
What’s on the table then?
The base game offers a scenario per year, allowing you to fight and re-fight the war in Europe. In addition, there are a lot of smaller scale battle scenarios such as Zitadelle. I remember playing similar scenarios a decade or more ago in Civilization 2, where they worked better. The engine simply doesn’t convert to this scale. Case in point: I managed to cut off the salient at Kursk but due to game mechanics the units that were encircled remained in supply since they were still connected to the city of Kursk.
Patton Drives East adds several scenarios concentrating on the possible conflict between Western Allies and the USSR. There are also scenarios for Seelöwe and for the possible liberation of Europe from complete Nazi occupation. Most of these scenarios are quite fun to play, though personally I felt like a few of them were a bit limited with the number of turns.
The Pacific Theater adds more battle scenarios and one larger scenario to slug it out on that side of the planet. Again, the battle scenarios quickly become boring, and you start feeling quite useless as you don’t get to control research or production. Strategic Command Classic: Global Conflict comes with the same engine and did a better job at representing Japan in the global war.
Strategic game mechanics
Military Productions Points are gathered from ports, cities, and different resources. These are then used to invest in replenishing units, buying new ones, investing in research or in diplomacy. The latter is mostly unused, with nations already set to swing one way or another for most scenarios. At least for me, the diplomatic moves only came timely when I had a surplus of MPPs, and when you have a surplus you’ve already won the game.
Research is important as it affects the unit qualities, as well as their cost. Don’t invest enough and your units start taking more losses and inflicting less, which means you need to pay more to replenish them. Invest too much and you don’t have enough MPPs to buy new units or replenish your losses. Finding the balance is the key to victory.
The turns differ in length, with the usual fighting seasons representing one or two weeks of action, and the quiet winter turns lasting a full month. This means that unit movement and actions need to be well thought out or you will run out of turns to achieve your objective.
The war itself is quite simple, just move and attack or attack and move. Airforce bombards from afar, as well as artillery. Tanks get to move further, and they also get to attack twice. A sophisticated game of rock, paper, and scissors. Under the hood, things are a bit more complex, though you only need to know these mechanics if you are up for competitive multiplayer games with veterans of the trade.
Naval warfare is all about the control of the seas and seems to be mostly about who can throw in the most resources to win the day. The map comes with convoy lanes that can be disrupted, which means fewer resources for your enemy. When playing as the Allies I found the navy to be more effective at wiping out Axis tanks and armies that came too close to the shore than chasing down German submarines.
I must play one more turn
Once you launch the invasion of Poland or prepare the defenses of France the game tends to keep you in its grasp. Despite its age, it has retained that all-important characteristic of “one more turn”. I must conquer Warsaw, and then it’s just a wait of a few turns until France is mine, and then prepare for Barbarossa, and so on. The fact that you must plan your production and research a dozen turns in advance adds to the immersion.
What truly still shines is the AI. It doesn’t make too many mistakes and tends to punish severely when the player blunders. In my playthroughs, the AI occasionally chose the wrong target, such as when I sacrificed the French fighters to hold Paris for an additional turn, but for the most part, it managed to stay away from errors big or small. Of course, if you look at the events you will notice that it also gets some help. For example, the invasion of Norway, which players tend to struggle with, is done via simple events when it comes to Axis AI. Likewise, the Soviet Union tends to receive some extra reinforcements to make sure it doesn’t lose the fight outright.
It will take a few playthroughs before you get to enjoy the game completely, and after a few more you will probably tire of it. The major downside of the title, (and most SC games of this era) is that you have to play near-perfect moves to keep the machine rolling. This is especially true with the Axis who certainly need to keep on schedule. For those who haven’t played the series before, Patton Drives East expansion offers the best set of scenarios, with a completely new balance of play to figure out. The game is essentially a big puzzle, and once you figure it out it’s time to move on.
A few unsquashed bugs
At the time of writing, the game still has note-worthy bugs. In my testing, the research and diplomacy screens would only allow one investment at a time. I had to close them and open them up again to invest again. Reinforcing inexperienced units showed them losing something along the lines of a couple million percentages of experience.
Matrix have been quite upfront that very little dev work has gone into these re-releases – they’re simply taking Battlefront’s existing versions and repackaging them to work with Steam and the Matrix launcher. Still, it’s not unreasonable to think that a ten-year-old game wouldn’t have any major concerns at this point, but here we are. They don’t really break the game, yet one does wonder if there are any others lurking.
Is the game worth buying? Probably. As with Strategic Command Classic: Global Conflict, this game must compete with the latest iteration of the series, which is also set in World War 2 and does an all round better job than the older titles. You also might want to consider Global Conflict over this one unless you’re looking for more battle-focused scenarios. It all really depends on the price. You can easily get enough entertainment out of this game to fill a few weekends, add in a few beers and you might have a surprisingly relaxing time. Probably best bought when on sale and always, existing owners of the Battlefront version need not buy at all.