14th Jan 2006 | 16:41
If Battleground Europe looks vaguely familiar, that's because it was released over four years ago under its previous moniker WWII Online. Since then, it's been reviewed once or twice within these pages and the general consensus was that it showed a great deal of promise. Four years of updates later and it's still way ahead of the competition.
BE is a 'virtual battlefield' simulation. You may notice on the back of the box that nowhere will you find the letters F, P, or S in familiar proximity with one another. It's a first-person shooter, clearly, but BE must be judged on different terms to the likes of even PlanetSide, its closest MMO rival. Yes, BE looks about as appealing as an old lettuce left swilling about at the bottom of the fridge, but the scale of the game far exceeds any FPS you'd care too mention - all their efforts combined, in fact.
Where Battlefield 2 offers impressive oil installations and smallisland archipelagos, BE maps out the whole of Western Europe (well, most of it), where the front lines shift as allies and axis forces capture airfields, supply depots, factories, ports and entire cities. Best of all, unlike in PlanetSide, where the battles quickly fade into one relentless and futile slog, here a victor will emerge. Take note Sony: without the hope of victory, what's the point of fighting?
WE'LL MEAT AGAIN
The key to BE's appeal is its relative complexity. Research has to be undertaken by the High Command (which is staffed by real players), resources have to be distributed and supplies have to get through to keep towns repaired and armouries fully stocked. As complex as it is, at no point is it unfathomable nonsense. The concept of a General outlining his strategy, and that being formalised as it passes down the ranks, is a familiar one.
Such layered strategic planning requires a degree of teamwork, and again BE is way ahead of the likes of the Battlefield games. There's no firing squad waiting for you if you do go AWOL, there's no need for one. Head off on your own and you'll more than likely end up dead, either from a bullet, or through unrelenting boredom. Instead, you have to get with the program. Recruits are the proverbial fresh meat for the grinder and you're made to feel as much. If you want to get your hands on a Bren gun, you have to earn your stripes with a rifle.
WHEN PENCILS ATTACK
Graphically, BE has improved immensely in a relatively short space of time, but it's still lagging behind even the most modest FPS. That alone will deter people, but the gameplay is also an acquired taste. More immediate and action-packed, Unreal Tournament is still the online shooting master, or if you prefer a dab of realism with your combined-arms action, you still can't beat BF2 as an all-round team FPS experience.
BE is the complete battlefield experience though. Every death is a frustration, every kill a hard-won victory and for every firefight that has you sweating with tension, there'll be another that will have you wanting to stick pencils into your eyes just to relieve the boredom of guarding a backwater choke point. War is like that, apparently, and Battleground Europe is as real as it gets.