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101st AIRBORNE REVIEW
by Maurice Fitzgerald
  With the summers biggest movie, Saving Private Ryan, spawning a renewed interest in WWII history, Empire Interactive has brought us their take on the greatest invasion in the history of armed conflict: the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

When I first looked at this game at E3 I was very impressed with the depth of gameplay Empire was planning on bringing us. This time we see things not faced, but rather taken for granted in most other games, such as lost soldiers, feeding your troops, resting them etc. These things alone set this game apart, but gameplay is not for the faint of heart for there are some issues that do need to be addressed in this one. 

This is a true turn based grognards game as every single thing is left to you to decide upon, from who to bring, what to bring, when to sleep, when to eat, to gathering food to eat etc. Pretty involved, and indeed needs a good deal of patience when playing, but it's a challenging game if this is your style of play. I enjoy this game because it has you doing more than the usual strategy title.

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While not the prettiest in the graphics department, the graphics do serve their purpose well enough. There is no pristine scenery as in Eidosí Commandos but this is also not an action RTS title like Commandos. This is a pure turn based strategy game and less time has been spent on the graphics and more time spent on building not just a game as much as a WWII experience.

Youíll start to feel as if you are truly part of this Airborne unit. You'll feel the desperation of being lost, the grief of losing one of your men and the fear of being shot at by unseen enemies as you trek across the unfriendly French countryside. 

I must admit, though, that getting from point A to point B can somtimes be long and boring trek. So much so that Iíve wished this was a real-time instead of turn based game at times for some faster gameplay. However, with that approach you just canít get as deep into statistics, and indeed a turn-based style serves this game better. But the movement speed in the initial release was very slow and degraded the enjoyment of the game. Thankfully a patch has just arrived and I'm now testing the improvement.

Now letís start from the top and see what this one offers us. The initial start screen is a backdrop of your base in England from which you can access all areas youíll need prior to embarking on your journey into France. The HQ building is where youíll receive your mission briefs, the enlisted and officer barracks are from where youíll choose your 18 man Ďstickí. Youíll pick up supplies from the Quartermaster, head over to the armory to load up on ammo and draw weapons.

Youíll then trudge all this gear over to the airfield and choose your equipment loadouts and seating arrangements. The last step is going up into the wild blue yonder to fly the unfriendly skies of war-torn France.

You also have the option of hitting the training grounds from this main screen, and there you can learn the basics of the game interface as well as play through some other missions that are not available in regular gameplay. You also can access all the weapons values shown in 22 different ratings in the manual including range, encumbrance, penetration, reliability etc.

Click to continue . . .

 

Once airborne youíll be treated to a nice little video of your troop carrier flying through varying degrees of flak and each trooper disembarking from the plane. As each trooper leaves youíll quickly be told whether he lands safely, is lost from group, separated from group, landed but was injured, landed in trees, taking fire, returning fire as well as being hit by enemy fire. You will also receive notice of the unfortunate soul whoís parachute just wasnít packed quite right and is now a permanent fixture in French soil.

Along with that you get reports of whether your equipment bags make it safely to your drop zone. If they donít youíve got a lot of pilfering and scavenging to do, as these bags will carry the extra ammo, food, and other supplies youíll need to keep your troops alive and happy. Itís not unusual to drop your men in and find one or more men has no ammo, something that can seriously change your tactical thinking on the ground.

Now that youíre on the ground the first order of business, barring any intrusion by those pesky Germans, will be to remove your chute. This can be done at the cost of movement points or Action Points as they are known in this game. You can literally cut the points almost in half needed to remove the chute if your troops are carrying a switchblade. But before removing a chute make sure your men arenít under fire or spotted. Itís far more important to return fire and live to remove the chute than to attempt to remove it and die trying.

After removing your chute the decisions start to mount up. As leader you must choose where on earth, at least in France, you are. By opening your tactical combat map at the bottom right of your screen you can eye the area and deduce where you are in relation to your proposed objective point by matching up the playscreen you are in with the overall map.

Sometimes you will land right on target and will know where you are and which way you need to head. Other times youíll have to patrol until you come across something that looks familiar to get your bearings. Itís not a very hard thing to do to find your bearings, but if you donít pay attention you could easily find yourself heading away from your objective instead of towards it.

While the prospect of roaming a hostile environment to get to your objective may not seem much fun, you should note this is what it was like for the men of the 101st ďScreaming EaglesĒ. They were dropped at night pretty much blindly and were forced to trudge their way to the objective blindly as well. This may not appeal to every gamer out there but if youíre into a more realistic recreation of what this operation entailed through the eyes of a paratrooper, this one does it rather well. 

The command interface is accessed through a simple right click and gives you all your movement modes and stances. It also gives options like moving your men off the map singly or as a group, administering first aid, readying weapons, clearing jams etc.

Movement is where I felt things could have been made a bit easier for the gamer, as it can become a bit tedious to move each man individually off the map. The group move that comes in this game doesnít seem to work as well as it should and can frustrate you while trying to get it to work. 

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