In the realm of strategy games, especially in terms of realism in what strategy is supposed to be, there has always been more respect for turn-based games than real-time. But in today’s gaming industry, due to the attention span of many gamers (myself included), real-time tends to be more popular. If realism and real strategy is what you want then Airborne Assault: Highway To The Reich is one of the games most heavily inclined towards realism and strategy.
It is a little unfair to judge the graphics of a game such as this; they’re simply not the player’s main focus. So Highway To The Reich can’t really score highly in this department; graphically all you need is a map of where the campaigns take place and something to represent your divisions and the enemy. You have to rely on symbols to represent the different attributes the divisions have as well as the actions you can perform with each of them. The symbols may be confusing at first but, after playing a while, you will become familiarized. The graphics do their job in providing a clear idea of what is happening on the battlefield – in that respect the game’s presentation puts the war strategy mood into gear.
Even for the most serious strategist, a turn-based game without any sound can be dull. So, there is a need for sound effects and music in this game and, justly, the reality level subsequently heightens. Again, the main focus of the game is war strategy and realism. Sound effects in the game are simplistic, just enough for the player to believe they’re taking part in a war game.
Though it’s difficult to master, the layout for controlling the game is perfect for the genre. You won’t learn how to play correctly in one sitting, not even the tutorial levels (there are two of them). If you think you can waltz right through a mission or battle, like in Age of Empires, by just simply sending everybody fighting – then you will surely lose, and very fast. You have to get a firm hold of each of the actions you can perform with your divisions, as well as their particular advantages and disadvantages. You have to know what each division can do, and how to do it, so you can formulate a strategy.
But the beauty of the game lies in its realism; you can customize the way you play. The realism goes as far as choosing the type of weather – including the historical weather of a particular battle. It can give you an idea of just how hard it was to win battles during a war; it instills a little more respect for the people involved in them. Of course, the AI is realistic too, don’t think you can just muscle your way through every mission; the CPU will react as enemies would. This is where you regret not paying more attention during history class. If you’re worried about the enemy being well prepared – don’t sweat it – because your troops are, too. Of course, you lead them, but they do seem to have minds of their own and act according to your commands. With something as easy as moving a squad from point A to point B, you have to choose if you want them to move fast to take the shortest route, or the fastest, or the safest; and they will go on from there, you just set the conditions. And that’s just for moving. The same goes for attacking, defending, and every other action available. A bad move can affect your strategy big time, and there’s not too much room for correcting mistakes unless you are an excellent strategist. You have to make each division and each move count. Like I said before, you are not going to Age of Empires your way through these missions (no disrespect to AoE, it’s just a different approach). The terrain has weight on the strategy too, obviously, so you have to pay attention to where your people are standing. Just remember that everything in the game is historically accurate, it’s not made up. That way, if you know your history, you may have an advantage right there; also you have to be a very good observer and analyst if you want to succeed in the game.
All this realism can scare some gamers, though: “Great, a game so real that it’s impossible to play and enjoy!”. But they’d be wrong. There are tools in the game that make it easier to play; it’s just up to you to do it well. The feature that best helps is the pause. You can pause the game at any time to prepare your strategy and then let the action begin again, with three levels of speed – it’s a hybrid of real-time and turn-based. The realism has to stop somewhere, though?so that you can actually play the game, just remember that in a real war there are no pauses.
Highway To The Reich is a game that will prove very difficult for the casual strategy gamer, and a real challenge to the hardcore gamer. Either playing against the CPU or a human enemy, the best battle plan will win through in the end. In a time of very forgiving games it is good to play one that poses a real challenge to your gray cells.