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Blitzkrieg 2 Liberation Review

Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation pack shot
Developer:Nival Interactive
Publisher:Ascaron Entertainment
Genre:Historical RTS
Platform:PC
Official Site:http://www.nival.com/blitzkrieg2/
Release Date:September 28th, 2007 (UK)
Reviewer:Mike Jennings
 

Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation is hard. So hard that, if Winston Churchill himself was presented with Nival Interactive's latest, he would have wheezed and spluttered, hurled the mouse through the nearest window and stormed off, yelling that Hitler was welcome to Europe if it was that much fuss to defend. It just wouldn't be worth the hours of defeat and heartache that Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation flings at the unsuspecting amateur general.

Except Nival haven't developed this slice of highly-researched, highly-honed and highly-combustible World War Two strategy for the inexperienced player. It's the second expansion pack for the successful Nazi-basher, after Fall of the Reich, and it's aimed squarely at the hardcore fans. The sort who'll post on forums, quibbling over the nuances of various wartime Germany v Russia encounters. These are the people who hold screenshot competitions to become Blitzkrieg combat photographers. Players who debate the fickle differences between the many types of guns and troops that Liberation can boast in its arsenal.

Regular battlers will, despite my misgivings at the difficulty level, feel right at home. An updated graphics engine is utilised to render two new campaigns; the Allied forces' battle through the 'soft underbelly' of Europe, Italy, while the Axis need your guidance to escape France. It's all rendered in 3D, and Nival have created an atmospheric, yet realistic world for you to destroy that's reminiscent of 2D RTS games like Sudden Strike, Stalingrad and Rise of Nations from the turn of the millennium - but still allowing for the manoeuvrability and freedom that comes with a fully mobile camera.

Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 1 Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 2 Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 4 Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 4

The battlefields - and battle towns, farms and factories, too - manage to ooze a kind of Dad's Army mood: it's like playing through war-torn Europe as seen in Churchill: The Hollywood Years. It's a tremendously attractive game, but screenshots don't do it justice: you need to be able to see it in action to appreciate its lush visuals. You'll be able to pick out the individual leaves on autumnal trees before your tank rumbles through and crunches a trunk in its caterpillar treads, see the wrinkles in stacks of sandbags before a well-placed mortar crushes them, and watch as a wall crumbles into a heap of bricks beneath the might of your army. As well as a useful, good looking and well-executed 3D environment and camera, the world of Blitzkrieg is one of destruction. If you can see it, with few exceptions, you can destroy it, and this lends a welcome sense of gravitas and malleable madness to the proceedings. An organic battlefield encourages you to, even more than before, think tactically and incorporate more considerations into your best-laid plans because you know that you'll be affected by your surroundings. There's no point hiding behind a wall, for instance, if the first movement your truck makes is going to knock it down. It's obvious then, that the care and attention Nival have lavished upon Liberation's graphics pays-off for more than just cosmetic reasons.

If the graphics impress, then the sound is just as much responsible for crafting the heady, heroic wartime atmosphere that thunders through Liberation's heart. Voices are acted with convincing aplomb and enthusiasm, as German, American and Russian troops cry out over the field of war, yelling commands to each other and gurgling satisfactorily when succumbing to a bullet through the jugular. The music does exactly what incidental tunes should do: not distract you from the task at hand, but merely complement it.

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The presentation throughout Liberation is similarly professional. Menu screens are handled competently, and the artwork that adorns them is beautifully evocative. Try looking at the splash screen that greets you on the main menu - of infantry cowering behind a huge tank, planning their next move - without wanting to leap into action yourself. The detailed maps that help illustrate your missions are equally well-presented, sparking nostalgic thoughts of wartime planning as you read through the reams of carefully-researched, thoughtful information you're given either before you begin a mission, or that you've consulted in Liberation's in-built encyclopaedia.

So, the tactics. If the graphical prowess is the expensive, satisfying bread of the Blitzkrieg baguette, then the tactical challenges it presents must represent the filling. And a word of warning here: it's a tough, if tasty, meal. There's no learning curve here - rather a learning wall, and you're dumped, after a deceptively easy tutorial that fills you with a sense of Dambusters excitement about a forthcoming batch of jobs well done, right at the bottom of it. Liberation is, as I mentioned, designed for the hardcore tacticians, and it's with them in mind that this expansion has been created.

The first level of both campaigns are evidence of this: as an Ally, you're expected to command a truck full of infantry and a small cadre of tanks, and take control of a train station, farm, town and behemoth factory complex - all crawling with Germans who are quite willing to send reinforcements. As the Axis, you're tasked with using a mere scattering of intimidated infantry to withstand a frenzied Paratrooper assault. The key to both tasks? Patience. Unlikely it may seem, given the game's title - Blitzkrieg translates from German as 'Lightning War' - but you'll need to invest some time in your planning to defeat the hellish scenarios that Nival have conjured. It's worth taking your time, creeping troops forward under cover of trees and buildings, inching your way closer to the enemy to see exactly where they lie using your handy binoculars. They'll be no lightning attacks here.

Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 9 Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 10 Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 11 Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation screenshot 12

Gameplay continues in this vein throughout much of Liberation. The scenarios are varied and well-designed, allowing you the freedom to exploit many of your troop's various talents - it's a boon to be able to entrench your infantry or let them change battle stance to avoid detection, for instance, as well as being able to see further ahead with binoculars and dig tanks into the ground for further defensive strength. You'll become increasingly frustrated, however, with the often appalling pathfinding that Liberation's AI exhibits more often than not. You'll cringe as you order your mechanical marvels to storm a village, hopefully rendering all who inhabit it nothing more than grisly body-parts, only to watch as one tank makes his way through and, after being deserted by the others - who've seen it fit to merely stay where they are and watch - is easily taken out by a plucky private with a grenade. This, unfortunately, happens all the time. It's infuriating, especially when you're close to completing a mission and are foiled by your own men, who decide to cower behind a factory rather than eliminate a few, straggling, enemies.

If there's a benefit of spending hours or, later on, days, experimenting with various tactical approaches to Liberation's campaigns, fighting with the AI and admiring the environment you're cratering, then surely it's the immense satisfaction and relief you'll feel after dodging another enemy bullet. There's nothing better than being successfully debriefed by your commanding officer, but, equally, nothing worse than finding a final spark of enthusiasm, born out of a new tactical approach suddenly occurring, being snuffed out by the long-range artillery. Again. For the fifteenth time. Sometimes it seems as though you're forever cycling through similar strategies to find one that happens to work, and Liberation becomes something of a slog for the tactically naïve. It's a great feeling, finishing one of Nival's hard-as-nails challenges. I'm just not sure it's great enough to be worth the hours of grinding effort that precedes it.

Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation is a fine tactical title. Graphically, it's an attractive, atmospheric world, and the all round presentation - both visually and aurally - is top-notch. It's well designed, well-researched, and educational to boot. It's also incredibly difficult. I can't help thinking that it's like punching a lump of granite, over and over again, hoping for a knock-out. There's definite merit to Liberation, for sure - but, unless you're a hardened campaigner of the Blitzkrieg front-line, you'd be better off picking up the earlier games in the Blitzkrieg 2 canon first - because by the time you've conquered those particular army-toting animals you'll be mobilised for this latest add-on. You've been warned, soldier.

Summary

Blitzkrieg 2: Liberation will provide hours of tactical brain trauma for those who are willing to invest the time learning the strategies that led our boys to victory in the real war. It's a pretty, atmospheric title, resplendent with stylish 3-D graphics and impeccable presentation. However, Nival Interactive have produced the game with the hardcore Blitzkrieg strategists in mind and, as such, it's hard as nails. If you want a challenge, feel free - although you may feel more at home with Blitzkrieg 2 before attempting the Liberation add-on. If ever a game's in a position to swallow you whole and spit you back out again with ease, it's this.

The bottom line
7.5 / 10

Good stuff

  • Tactically complex
  • Graphically excellent
  • Well-presented
  • Absorbing for months

Not so good stuff

  • Hugely difficult
  • Often terrible AI
  • Meant for the hardcore


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