Even with the recent proliferation of real-time strategy games over the last decade or so, it has been notoriously difficult to find a competent World War 2 RTS. Undoubtedly the most influential conflict in human history, WW2 seems well suited to the RTS genre. Plenty of factions, different units, and numerous theatres of war. It's odd then that 'War Times' is the first title to really take advantage of the WW2 setting. Turns out it was a good decision.
'War Times' puts you in command of Axis or Allied troops, further divided into Nazis and Soviets, and the British and Americans (Well, the Soviets start out on the Axis). After that it's a series of increasingly challenging and enjoyable battles pretty loosely sticking with history. You can try your hand at Operation Barbarossa, driving deep into Soviet territory in the winter. Other conflicts, such as the aerial battle of Britain, are represented as well.
Each side feels very unique. The Nazis sports excellent moderate tanks, hard-striking fast-moving panzers, backed up by soldiers decked out in trenchcoats and sporting machine guns. The Soviets have weaker tanks in the lower tech-trees, but are eventually able to deploy more formidable hardware. 'War Times' also includes some aeriel units for every side. It's great fun to pit your Spitfires against a wing of Messerschmits, or scramble to intercept a group of Stukas. It's also an unusual sight to watch a Nazi zeppelin emblazoned with the swastika serenely float over your territory.
The gameplay tries to reflect the mechanics of the actual war, at least as far as functionality will allow. Major battles won't be fought with a single troop of soldiers, but often times you'll need as many as fifty or sixty individually trained infantry units to support a major offensive. True to form, infantry is very weak against tanks, and they do an excellent job of dying. 'War Times' makes it imperative to know the strengths and weaknesses of your armored divisions. With so many types of tanks deployed, it's important to pursue the correct matchups to avoid a slaughter.
The game uses terrain to its advantage, for the most part. Maps are littered with narrow passes and lots of foliage for sneaking around in. Features such as these make the deployment of paratrooper units essential - as these are great for dropping behind enemy lines and taking out defensive placements. Sometimes however, the terrain can be a hindrance. The pathfinding AI isn't all that strong, and the column/row formations have to be properly selected to squeeze through a narrow pass. Expect to see units taking long detours through enemy territory every now and then. This is especially a concern when slow moving units are on a bridge, and quicker ones deign not to stop, but go running around the map looking for a way across. Frustrating, to say the least.
There's an element of strategy to the game, but it's nothing groundbreaking. In general, it boils down to harvesting your oil and resources, building up your troops, and wiping out the enemy. There's some decisions to be made regarding weak points and tank matchups, but in general it comes down to a pounding match. The AI's assaults aren't that aggressive, and often come across as haphazard. Many times they delight in throwing fifty or sixty infantry units against strong defensive emplacements, while their artillery sits just out of range. On the defensive they're more capable, having the ability to set up ambushes at key locations. There's never much pressure against your base, allowing you leisurely build up your forces until you're ready to move out.
It's a pity it doesn't contain more elements of strategy, which are an integral part in most WW2 games. The ability to train/carry through elite units would have been greatly appreciated. In addition, it would have been nice to choose the direction of your next attack, instead of just jumping around Europe in a loose chronological progression.
Given the sheer number of units on the map and the lacklustre AI, it can be difficult to control your units adequately. In a large battle, it's not uncommon to see one division being torn apart while their comrades stand idly by. There's a lot of unit micromanagement involved, and it can be discouraging to have to keep active track of eighty odd soldiers and tanks.
The graphics throughout the game seem to be a few years behind the curve. Granted, european combat in WW2 looked pretty similar throughout, and theatres are basically limited to forestland, snowfields, and plains. The units themselves are drab and a little low on features. This is to be expected as the game mantains a decent framerate even when two hundred units are duking it out. The buildings are especially uninspired, and a little more differentiation would have been appreciated. Nevertheless, the game does a sufficient job, and watching major battles unfold supported by artillery fire and air units ends up looking very satisfying.
Another excellent point feature of the game is the audio, especially for German/Russian troops. There's some great unit quotes which sound like they've been lifted right out of a movie. The weapon fire sounds wholly convincing, although sometimes the volume levels of speech, sound effects, and music aren't properly balanced. Speaking of music, it's excellent as well. The game provides a perfect aural background for a WW2 piece. Very well done.
There's some great multiplayer to be had in 'War Times'. The large amount of units and epic battles make this a great choice for WW2 enthusiasts. It's fun to deploy a wave of T-34s on a snowy landscape, and watch Nazi soldiers scatter in panic. The AI offers a bit more of a challenge than in the campaign mode, and with support for up to 8 players, things can get hectic very quickly. It's quite possible to have all out engagements with hundreds of units across clear cut battle lines will full air and sea support, and it's really impressive to see it all take place.
All in all, 'War Times' is only an adequate RTS. The ability to play through WW2 scenarios complete with four factions and attendant units is what makes the game spectacularly fun.