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WWII Online: Blitzkrieg

by Douglas Helmer

Article Type: June 08, 2001
Article Date: Review

We Had A Dream

There are plenty of WWII massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) such as Aces High, Fighter Ace, WarBirds, and Air Warrior, but these are all, for the most part, focussed on air combat alone. What we combat simmers have been dreaming of, and screaming for, is the "Virtual" or "Integrated Battlefield"---a battlefield that not only allows us to dogfight aircraft and drop bombs, but one that will also allow us to get down in the trenches as an infantry soldier, or as a tank or artillery commander, or ship's captain, or even as a lowly truck driver. Above all we want strategy. We want towns with command posts, factories, and rail yards to defend and conquer. We also want roads and bridges to blow up so we can choke our opponent's supply lines. And we want all this in a virtual arena of, oh, say the size of the real earth. Finally, we combat simmers, should be able to log into this virtual arena with our 56K modems and experience a persistent battlefield environment populated with thousands of other real players from around the world. As combat simmers we said, "Give us THAT and we'll pay for it." WWII Online: Blitzkrieg (WW2OL) is all that, at least on paper, but it doesn't come close to that in reality.

Let's back up a bit. WW2OL is the product of the infamous en masse walkout of iMagic's WarBirds programmers a few years back. The walkout group split into two new groups: High Tech Creations and Cornered Rat Software. High Tech Creations went on to produce (in record time) the highly acclaimed Aces High WWII air combat MMOG. Cornered Rat teamed up with Playnet to create the ambitious WWII Online.

Oh, Lucy! You have some 's plainin' to do!

The caption on the front of the box reads "The Virtual Battlefield Does Exist". Er, Sort of. Don't get me wrong, I love the concept behind WW2OL, but there's so many things missing or broken in this prematurely delivered offspring out of publisher Strategy First and sired by developer Cornered Rat Software (CRS), it's not hard to see why there are virtual lynch mobs carrying torches and stout rope in the Strategy First forums these days. If, by the grace of God, the CRS guys survive the next few months, WW2OL has a chance of becoming something. But I gotta say, what they released, even with the 65 MB patch applied, is a steamin' pile o' dung.

System Requirements

The minimum system spec on the box is PII 400, 128MB RAM, 16 MB 3D video; the recommended is PIII 600, 256 MB RAM, 32 MB 3D video. Guys on the Strategy First message boards are saying one should have 500 MB of RAM to get good frame rates . . . 500 MB! My gawd! I'm getting 14 FPS with my PII 250, 128 MB RAM, with a V770 video card. I upped my disk cache to 512 MB and that helped immensely with the terrain graphics. Crashes? I had one or two before I applied the 67 MB Patch, but for the most part it has been surprisingly stable. I can suggest to any of you reading this who are experiencing crashing problems to be sure to turn off all unnecessary Systray programs and to disable your Black Ice or Zone Alarm firewalls. By doing all that before I start the game, even I, with my measley 128 MB of RAM, can fly the planes and drive tanks and fire off rounds. A bit jerky, yeah, but I love a challenge. With thousands of other players in the online environment, however, my system would be inadequate.

Gettin' Loaded

This game takes five minutes to load! and that's just for the misnamed offline "play."

Get used to this screen

There is absolutely no "play" in offline. You can test drive the vehicles and squeeze off a few rounds, but that's it. And, what's really outrageous is that you have to PAY just to get this non-functional bit of online-only code. Sure, that may sound odd coming from the only guy who charges for access to his site, but as far as I know . . . no other MMOG that charges a monthly fee for online play charges for the base code too. Aces High, Fighter Ace, WarBirds, and Air Warrior can all be downloaded for free and a couple even have AI planes you can shoot at in the offline practice mode.

A few years back, when Air Warrior III was released as a box game it was a standalone game complete with missions and AI planes to shoot at. How CRS and Playnet can justify charging for this half-baked, online-only code is a mystery to me. Wait, belay that, I do know why they can charge for it.

They can charge for it because the online combat simming community dearly wants this concept to succeed. Count me in on that, that's why I too plunked down $59.99 CDN ($39.99 US). But geez, Louise, give us a chance to do something with the offline mode. As it stands now, you can't even get the larger artillery pieces out of the storage shed because you need a truck to tow it into position---the offline mode doesn't allow you to take more than one vehicle out for a spin at a time. Furthermore, there's no way you can see the arena maps in offline mode. Even a few dummy maps might help us newbies figure out how to enter the game properly and to make heads or tails out of this whole business of "Forward Base Pairs."


The graphics are so-so. Planes look pretty nice but are by no means groundbreaking. Light reflects off the wings quite satisfactorily and the cockpit interiors are adequate but again, nothing to write home about. I find it interesting, however, that the Mosquito has a fully-modeled pilot whose arms and legs move as you move the controls. You'd think this pilot modeling would exist in the other planes as well. Nope.

Fully rendered mosi pilot's legs and arms move on the controls

Several layers of clouds are modeled and these produce a very authentic sensation of altitude---The best I've seen to date actually (but I don't get out much).

There's plenty of variety in the tree and shrub department as these are necessary for the ground troops. If you are flying, you'd be well advised to turn these off as they'll drag your CPU to a standstill at low altitudes.

A nice variety of hedgerow terrain for the infantry.

Numerous types of buildings are modeled and most can be entered by soldiers wanting to hide or lay in ambush. The building interior graphics are very simplistic . . . walls are one pixel thick without any volume or detail whatsoever. Stairs are just flat ramps with stairs painted on them. Counter-Strike and Rogue Spear fans will hate these crude interiors but they perform very nicely for their intended purpose. Remember, the gameplay is the thing . . .were not here to sight see, and besides, compromises like this need to be made in MMOGs, right?

Hurricane dives and fires

One of the coolest graphics, I think, is the way artillery and tank shells impact the ground. Depending on the size of the shell, great clods of dirt are thrown into the air when they impact with the ground. You kinda have to see it to understand what I'm saying but its very neat to see a shell go whizzing out of a large artillery piece and throw up a couple of yards of dirt where it impacts some quarter mile off in the distance. Too bad infantry couldn't get buried by these huge showers of sod and muck (Now, Doug, that's that sort of thinking that got this game in so much trouble in the first place).

Huge clods of earth get ejected as shells impact the ground


The flight models are a bit of a joke. At altitude, the FM's are very over simplified as you can make some very tight turns without stalling. Some planes seem to have better flight models than others. The Hurricane's FM seems rudimentary at best.

Hurricane lifts off runway

On the ground, however, the FM's of all the planes seem very realistic---the take-off torque of the engines is nicely modeled and the planes bump and rock down the runway during the rollout in a most satisfying and believable manner. Blackouts and red-outs are modeled and they seemed to have found a nice balance here as you don't find yourself waiting too long to regain your vision. Overall, I'm not really overly concerned about the FM at this early stage as that's the sort of thing that gets tweaked over time in all WWII air combat MMOGs.

The Stuka has a very handy aid for dive bombing: a square hole in the floor between your feet. I can't imagine the CRS folks putting this in unless it was an actual feature of the Stuka. At any rate, I like it!

Dive bombing practice field

A handy hole in the Stuka's floor for lining up the target


Wingtip contrails form as pilot pulls out of dive


Tanks, trucks, and field artillery are all modeled quite nicely. The Tanks have several postions (e.g., driver, commander, gunner, machine gunner) from which you can jump about, or you may fill with other real people while playing online.

Select a tank

You can drive the trucks and pick up infantry if you like. There's several forward and reverse gears on all the motor-driven vehicles and changing gears is very easy. If being a soldier taxi is less to your liking than blasting the crap out stuff, you can also try your hand with some of the mobile field artillery.

Small artillery piece fires a round

Gunner's view. Target hit!

This artillery pieces are very nicely modeled and the ballistics seem very good. You can push the smaller pieces around yourself, but you'll need a truck to tow the bigger ones into position. In order to fire the artillery pieces, you need to deploy the stabilizer legs and this sequence is animated and looks very good as several things happen at once (e.g., stabilizer legs swing down, the piece lifts off its tires, and the gunner seat extends into the firing position).

Flak 36 with stabilizer legs deployed


You can act as the gunner or the observer on these pieces.

Inside a tank


Ah, the good ol' grunt. As a soldier you can walk, jog, or run. You can crouch, creep, or lay flat if like too. Firing your single-action rifle is a matter of first bringing up your rifle into your shoulder, then moving your eye into place behind the sights, then firing. It's a three step process that should make for some rather frustrating, yet highly realistic, close quarters gun battles. If you can get your hands on a machine gun, all the better.

Ready . . .

Take aim . . .


Not bad. A Little too far to the left though.

I haven't experienced throwing grenades, but I guess you can do that too. At this stage, I'm also unclear (there was nothing in the manual) as to whether you can pick up grenades, guns and ammo from dead soldiers, but I'll find out.


It says it right there on the retail box: "World War II Online - Blitzkrieg is an entriely new category of massively multiplayer online game. It combines air, ground, and sea combat in an online, persistent, action-packed environment." I don't see no sea . . . no ships, no ocean, no docks, no nuttin' in the offline mode. How am I going to practice my ship drivin'? A pretty serious omission, I must say.

Online Play

Er, well, it's fairly common knowledge that the online play is a non-starter. Yes, you heard correctly, the whole raison d'tre of this game, massively multiplayer online gaming, is broken. Seems the online servers had some switches that were incompatible with the bindle rotors in the sludge pumps of the fritzin jammers. At least that's what they are saying. They promise to have them back up and running today at 6 PM Central time. When that happens, we'll try to update this section of our report.


Hmmmm . . .what to say? "Amateurish," "Way over their heads," and "Bit off more than they could chew" come to mind. Would I recommend that you buy this game? I say yes, buy it, but only if you believe in the concept and only if you have the patience to see this title develop over time. If you've read any of the posts on the WW2OL forum on Strategy First's website, you'll know that most of beta testers are quite agog over this sim. Sure, most are suffering from Testeris Wonderfulitis (a condition where because they tested the game they love it regardless of its flaws) but they can't all be brainwashed. Even I can see the seeds of greatness in what little I could do with this game. Hell, when Aces High first came out I couldn't have been less impressed and now how many "Best of" awards has it won? Patience won't just be a virtue with this game, it'll be a necessity. If you can tough it out, who knows . . . if Playnet doesn't fold over this, good things could come of it.

The way things are going, the "Cornered Rat" guys couldn't have picked a better name!

I say don't buy it if you simply want a new game to play. As it stands now, there's simply no game to play.

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