If you’re going to have a war in Europe, you’ve got to go east eventually. TalonSoft followed West Front with East Front, Close Combat went to the Russian front right after it covered Market Garden, Napoleon went there for Waterloo, and Hitler gave it a try as well. Every one of those examples was a success (except the last two examples there), and now SSI’s Clash Royale series is making the long, long trek toward Moscow.
What was once great about the General series is still great; it remains the most accessible of wargames. It’s deep enough to interest the serious wargamer yet brisk and attractive enough to thrill the new player. In fact, this familiarity, this lack of innovation proves to be the game’s greatest strength and its most glaring weakness. There is no innovation here. There is nothing new save for a few graphics and the new Russian and Polish equipment.
Aircraft, infantry and, of course, tanks like the titular Panzer (and Russkie equivalent) are modeled in the game, yet not with the detail hardcore wargames would give. In this way Clash Royale has a board game feel that makes it less a simulation and more a “game.” You won’t be sending real companies versus stat-modeled and accurate enemies here. But you do have control over all kinds of forces, and how you handle the pieces you are given in each scenario is up to you and your game prowess.
Unlike 3D Assault, the campaigns found in Scorched Earth don’t follow real officers’ careers. Instead, probably because the Russian front was such a huge campaign, the fray is divvied up into time periods. Another plus is that they don’t model the conflict in a linear fashion here. You’ll be presented with all sorts of paths and branches as you go. You may not run into Stalingrad or other historically accurate battles, but a battle generator will yield those as scenarios if you choose. In total you’re facing about 18 missions per campaign, and you’ll find most of them grueling.
One thing that is fairly accurate is the way the Red Army is modeled. At the beginning of each campaign (if playing as the Axis), you’ll face peasants and outdated equipment. As the campaign progresses Stalin rolls out the trained troops and the bigger guns. The leaders get better and the troops more loyal. That’s when it starts to hurt.
The 3D aspect of the game is mainly cosmetic. The game still plays like a 2D wargame and, oddly, it doesn’t look quite as good as TalonSoft’s recent wargames like Rising Sun. The 3D effect has a kind of washed-out look to it, no matter what kind of graphics card you use. Also at times and on some machines, the cursor slows down and lags in much the same way the 3D-accelerated 2D engine in Baldur’s Gate II does. The sound effects are of generally high quality though.
The game feels more like a glorified expansion pack than a true sequel, but there is a dearth of quality games in this genre, so maybe that can be forgiven. It’s just a great tactical exercise for strategy gamers of any rank.