Battle Isle. (computer war game) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Scott A. May
In the parlance of combat, get ready to lock and load, strategy fans--this is not a drill. Battle Isle represents the latest--and perhaps best--in an impressive new wave of abstract war games. Designed by Blue Byte (Pro Tennis Tour), this European import incorporates the futuristic hardware of Infogrames' Full Metal Planet with the traditional, almost chesslike qualities of QQP's The Perfect General. The results are outstanding.
A short, nearly incomprehensible novella outlines the game's far-fetched background. Suffice it to say that the story unfolds in the distant future on the planet Chromos. There a battle rages against a faltering humanoid army and its computer-controlled android aggressors. You must lead the humans to victory in a series of increasingly difficult scenarios.
Beyond these sci-fi trappings is simply a clever variation on standard hexagonal board games. Unlike its static ancestors, this one sparkles with brightly textured graphics, streamlined rules, brisk execution, and synchronized multiplayer action. Easily accessible and endlessly challenging, the game will appeal to both seasoned tacticians and newcomers to the genre.
The program includes 32 island maps, divided equally between one-and two-player modes. Battlefields range in area from 4 to 35 screens, depending on the difficulty of the scenario. Terrain features include roads, woods, mountains, and inlets that are surrounded by water of various depths.
This large, diverse topography allows the integration of land, sea, and air forces. A separate handbook outlines the tactical strengths and unique abilities of the 22 combat units at your disposal. Land-based troops comprise the bulk of these corps: infantry, FAVs, tanks, artillery, engineers, transports, and missile launchers. Aircraft include fighters, bombers, transports, and attack helicopters. Expert use of naval forces--from mine sweepers and hydrofoils to submarines and destroyers--often turns the tide.
To win the game, you either must eliminate all forces of the opposition or invade the enemy's headquarters with an infantry unit. The apparent ease of this second solution necessitates the development of strong defensive measures. Although there's no limit to game length, an optional handicapping measure allows players to restrict the number of actions per turn. Larger battles may also be saved in progress.
All scenarios are ready-to-play tactical puzzles, complete with preselected unit type, number, and starting deployment. Head-to-head battles appear to be well balanced, while one-player games typically favor the computer. Victory is rewarded with a password to the next, more difficult, level. Blue Byte has also just completed an add-on scenario disk.
Gameplay is divided into two phases: Movement and Action. It's here the designers depart from tradition and employ one of the most innovative techniques in modern war games. Utilizing a split screen, both armies function simultaneously, but at opposite ends of the phase cycle. As one side plans its moves, the other plots its attacks, and vice versa. This exciting structure demands bold new tactics and keeps the game moving at a vigorous pace.
Battles are basically the graphic equivalent of a dice roll--a la Risk--whittling each troop down unit by unit. The odds for success are weighed according to troop number, strength, armor, terrain, and combat experience.
In addition to headquarters, factories and depots are capable of repairing, manufacturing, and storing supplies. In upper levels of play, raw materials must be transported to these buildings to provide energy.
The game's biggest shortcoming is the limited support--spot animation and sound effects--of its dynamic graphics. This type of game also lends itself well to remote or null modem play, neither of which is offered. Otherwise, the program features hard drive installation, AmigaDOS Release 2 compatibility, and the option for floppy users to skip the lengthy introduction and boot directly from disk 2.
Battle Isle is an excellent addition to what's hopefully a new order of abstract strategy games.