Battlefield Academy… sorry, Battle Academy, thanks to some silly legal action by EA, deserves more attention than to be remembered for that unfortunate incident. It’s a clever little tactics strategy game that might not break new ground, but it does a good job of bringing some depth to what is usually a very casual experience.
In the beginning Battle Academy plays much like any of the other tactics games you might have played before. Aside from the PC trappings of being able to maneuver the camera around, it almost looks like an Advance Tactics or Fire Emblem game when you first boot the game up and run through the tutorial. Of course, soon after that and within the first hour, the game reveals itself to be a Slitherine/ Matrix Games production.
Units don’t just take turns in a linear fashion; there’s additional rules that can disrupt the standard move-and-attack pattern, such as return fire and the ability to spring an ambush on the opponent as he marches unaware past a section of forest or under the shadow of a mountain. To combat that, it’s possible for the aggressor to lay down suppressing fire on a square. Each unit plays substantially differently, and in the more complex combat missions, that range of units opens up a wide selection of different strategies to suit the abilities of most players.
As a result, Battle Academy is a more subtle game than a usual tactics title, with forces prodding at one another and looking to exploit temporary weakness to outflank each other. It’s going to be dull for people used to speed of the typical tactics games, but longer term it’s a far more fulfilling process resulting in a far more rewarding “victory” screen.
It’s not an easy game, either. Even the most basic stages are easy to lose if you just charge in without thought. So, while there’s not a massive range of levels in the game’s various campaigns (though the expansions add significantly to the raw quantity of missions), there’s plenty to work though regardless. Further longevity can be found in the map editors and the play-by-email multiplayer.
One area that often lets Matrix/ Slitherine down is in the presentation. Though games like Combat Command have a visual style that wargamers can get right into, they lack the polish to pull in the more casual audiences. Battle Academy does a far better job in this regard. Scenarios are introduced through a simple, but effective comic book art scene, which works wonderfully in setting the mood. In-battle, the maps are functional, but nicely detailed, and units are also animated nicely. There’s nothing overly spectacular about the visual style, but it works.
And, though the BBC license is fairly superfluous, Matrix Games’ usual eye for detail means the game feels reasonably authentic. Though ultimately Battle Academy is a little light for the wargame veteran, and a little complex for the casual strategy gamer, it should be reasonably fun for both groups, even if it’s not a game either would come back to six or twelve months down the track.
Mac owners will no doubt appreciate that there’s a new strategy game with some real depth for them to play, though.