Review: History: Legends of War

Quite often seeing a game backed by a TV Channel is a recipe for disaster – you only need to look at the travesty that was the latest Dr Who game to see that a BBC badge doesn’t mean you’re going to have any element of fun. So with Legends of War backed by the History Channel some might turn their noses up and look away, but let’s not be hasty. What we have here is a challenging and enjoyable trip through the latter stages of World War 2, mixing elements of XCOM with some well designed and tricky war-based scenarios.

Let’s get one things straight: Legends of War isn’t much of a looker. Don’t come from XCOM expecting the same level of shine – the militaristic war setting is evident everywhere, including the menus and on-screen prompts. Voice work is a bit below par too, with things sounding a little uninspiring while the campaigns are explained. But don’t let this turn your head too quickly – this is all about strategy, about nervous moments sneaking around enemies and being slightly less subtle by blowing stuff up with a tank. Deciding just how to go about each level needs careful consideration, making you put more thought into your progress than you might with many other war based games currently doing the rounds.

Taking control of up to 8 units at a time your journey takes you across Europe, with General Patton leading your mini-squad through a series of well re-enacted historical moments, that despite some playing up for entertainment purposes are carefully based on genuine infultrations and demolition missions undertaken in the war. It’s pretty clear where the History Channel’s influence sits, and anyone who is interested by the war, and certainly the American involvement, will find a lot of joy in taking charge of the operations. Your up-to-8 units range from simple riflemen through to snipers, tanks and RPG-wielding explosive experts. These get unlocked as you progress through the 21 missions, with any surviving units earning XP after the mission contributing towards their steady improvement. Get a unit killed and it’s all over, no more Mr Hot Shot. With no mid-mission saving allowed this makes for some tense moments and tough decisions – do you keep your best soldier up front to deal with the worst of the enemies himself, or hold him back a little to keep him safe?

These kinds of decisions typify the anguish you’ll have when figuring out the next move to take. Going all guns blazing might take out a couple of the bad guys but leave your best men out in the open, ready to be picked off by a sniper or spread across the countryside by a tank. This is made all the tougher by an awkward camera which sometimes makes grenade throws follow an unexpected arc, or helpfully hide a nearby enemy fighter in a spot where you can’t actually manipulate the camera to even spot them. It’s a shame that these issues exist, as one badly placed grenade can be the difference between winning or losing a mission. It’s even more of a shame then that behind these issues is actually a pretty handy strategic experience.

There are so many decisions to make throughout each mission that it takes a pretty impressive effort to get a perfect run first time round on a higher difficulty setting. Do you take less powerful but more mobile units, or go with the big guns that can hardly move during each turn? Do you push through the middle as a group assuming strength in numbers, or flank the enemy while a plucky newbie draws the enemy’s fire? Do you go all out to kill anything that moves, or sneak your way through the level trying not to raise suspicion? Finding the right balance is tough, especially on later levels, and the option to revisit each level to beat your existing score will keep many players going until they perfect the missions. It’s actually surprinsgly easy to get sucked into this and lose several hours as you tip-toe your way through to rescue a friendly face or blow something half way to the moon and back without getting killed, and that in itself does suggest that there’s something about this game that is pretty addictive.

And essentially that’s what Legends of War gives you. It’s a historically accurate, strategic war game that despite some rough presentation packs a decent amount of atmosphere and tension into the missions, and keeps you going for a fair while. The seemingly lower-than-most development budget shows through at times, and there’s little by way of resource management between missions aside from choosing which units to take into battle and spending your Patton Points to slightly upgrade various areas of your squadron, but it’s still an enjoyable game. Its biggest problem is its competition. If you just want strategy and don’t care about the topic in hand, then XCOM will probably serve you better and give you more to do between missions. But if you enjoy taking things back to the 40s and want something a bit more gritty and real, then it’s worth a go – history fans will love it, that’s almost certain. Not a certain buy for everyone, but still a valuable addition to the current gen’s catalogue.

Reviewed on PS3

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