Officers: World War II PC
Anyone who’s played their fair share of real-time strategy games knows that the World War II genre is never in short supply. Full of depth and consistently popular, multiple WWII games are produced each year, at a faster rate than most players can probably stomach them. Some of them are awful and borderline offensive, while others are genuinely exceptional and bring something new to the strategic table. Officers appears to fall gracefully into the latter category. It may not revolutionise the way we approach strategy games, but does an admirable job of distinguishing itself in an extraordinarily cluttered category.
Perhaps the most striking accomplishment for Officers is the sheer openness of the levels. The vast geography stretches for kilometers (or miles, for my fellow Americans), which allows substantially more elbow room as you make your way across the battlefield. This provides a great playground for anyone who wants to try their hand at a number of different tactical approaches in any given situation. The core of the game is about capturing strategic points across the maps. These points vary in terms of difficulty and importance, but their usefulness becomes instantly apparent. Keeping up a steady advance requires a consistent supply line to be maintained, and this does not merely require you to hop from one point to the next. The enemies will realistically strike you with everything they’ve got, from every position available to them. This could mean dropping in Fallschirmjager behind your lines, and quite literally kicking you in the butt while you’re concentrating on a separate frontal assault. Staying prepared for these situations means planning ahead, and thoughtfully garrisoning your captured territories. This is true of both the single and multiplayer gameplay modes, yet in both modes, no experience is exactly the same when played twice. This is truly the hallmark of a good game, which builds upon unpredictability to extend its replay value. Multiplayer modes are also enhanced with the obligatory map editor, so be prepared to witness all manner of lunacy when you take the game online.
Officers is apparently a port from a slightly older version of the game that first appeared in Russia. As you may surmise, this means that the graphical fidelity of the game feels lacklustre. Even so, it is not altogether ugly to look upon. An outstanding array of dramatic lighting and vibrant color palettes keep the game largely clean without looking too arcade-like. The sound is also fairly strong, with all the heavy clutter of an active war zone thundering whenever it needs to, but rarely in an obnoxious or headache-inducing manner like some other games. All things considered, Officers has aged rather nicely. It doesn’t appear to be the latest thing, and it doesn’t seem to care.
As far as authenticity goes, Officers does leave a lot to be missed. The artificial intelligence guiding the characters seems to be in desperate need of some work. In no other game can I recall an ally that managed to show signs of both extreme cowardice and blind heroism all within a few seconds of each other. If this occurs in most other games, the context at least helps to rationalise the sudden behavior shift. Perhaps I’ve cleared out a threatening group of enemies, bolstering my compatriots’ sense of security. In Empire: Total War, I could send General Washington galloping through the battlefield, raising the morale of my troops. In Officers, there’s almost no telling what causes the combatants to behave as they do. The soldiers are so fickle and apparently emotionally imbalanced, they conjure images of the silly warriors running throughout Monty Python and the Holy Grail. This may provide some interesting scenarios, but it’s ultimately frustrating when you’re relying on them to help win the war.
Despite the problems with the AI, Officers manages to preserve a lot of gameplay goodness. This is actually what makes the game so tragic. Unfortunately, in addition to the aforementioned flaws, the title seems to be plagued with programming problems. I ran Officers on a reasonably powerful Vista PC, and found the game struggling to launch in some circumstances. The mid-game crashes were particularly irksome, because they would cause me to lose whatever progress I made during gameplay. This is one of the worst types of tragedies that can befall a game – to be brimming with potential and fun gameplay, only to get ruined with technical blunders. Fortunately, the upcoming US version of Officers is said to be receiving some updates. With any luck, this will enable RTS fans around the globe to enjoy the expansive battlefields of Officers as the developers had originally intended.