The Great War: Western Front

The Great War: Western Front

We've grabbed a helmet and set off, shovel in hand, to dig trenches in Petroglyph Games' latest title.

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The year is 1918 and the war is coming to an end. The Germans have dug in and American troops have begun to rescue the Allies on the Western Front. It's from this point that the training mode starts and I am thrown into a burning and war-weary Europe. Starting backwards is an exciting narrative technique. You are quickly introduced to the entire experience's range of vehicles, technology and more, as when you start a new campaign you can of course choose to begin from 1914 or 1916, but a lot is still locked. The training mode quickly allowed me to understand all the elements of this medium-difficulty strategy game.

You have a campaign mode with text-based events, upgrading cities, purchasing materials and cannons. In this mode reminiscent of one half of Total War, you make big decisions that have consequences on the battles; which trenches on the Western Front should be reinforced; which should be upgraded; which technology should be unlocked and where your resources should be transported. The campaign is basically about how you balance spending money and the availability of resources. This is also where the rules of the game become clear. Your goal is to reduce the will of your enemy to fight to zero through direct battles, smart decisions, and inflicting losses on the enemy using your resources and strategic cunning.

The Great War: Western Front
The campaign map is quite small, but each hexagon saves the impact of your battles on the environment.

Once you personally arrive in a battle, all troop types, vehicles, and anything else you sent are brought to that sandbox. You can then use your resources to build and upgrade trenches, deploy soldiers and artillery, and more. By using your limited resources you will either be forced into the role of attacker or defender. Either side can change strategy at any time, and the real star of this strategy game isn't the somewhat dated graphics or less-than-impressive cutscenes, rather it's the planning phase where you can draw out your trenches, place barbed wire, machine gun nests, and build a defensive line.

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You can also use sappers to blow up the opponent's defence line during the battle. With the help of new technology like machine guns, gas, aeroplanes, hot air balloons and other things, soldiers end up dropping like flies. The game will even save the damage you inflict on the environments, the layout of the trenches in that particular hexagon, and so forth for the next battle. This means that maps with greenery, houses and life dynamically turn into no-man's land over the course of the campaign. I love this particular mechanism and hope more developers make use of it, as in this particular case, it is also an unpleasant reminder of the terrible tragedy that was the Great War.

The Great War: Western FrontThe Great War: Western Front
The art is of mixed quality. These pieces look really good. At the same time, there are more disappointing ones, for example the shooting of the crown prince in Sarajevo from the intro sequence.

It can periodically feel like thousands of soldiers are dying during the fighting, and that's because they are. The Great War: Western Front puts perspective on this meat grinder type of conflict, and although the focus rests solely on a reduced part of the Western Front and not the entire war, it is an exhausting pastime for better or for worse. The battles go back and forth and test your will to keep sending soldiers to their deaths. It's easy to click out rolling artillery, sending waves of men across no man's land to the sound of whistles, before silence falls after enemy machine gun fire cuts them down. Just like you, the opponent will try to reinforce their positions and attack you. This is a war of metres not miles. Every square you take often means the enemy takes another, and when you regain lost ground, so does the enemy most likely.

During the early hours of the campaign, battles will often consist of stalemate skirmishes, small wins, and the occasional major one. Even if you take over one or both control points on the enemy's side, it does not mean you win the entire war. It is during the battles that the game's only diplomacy comes into play. When you see that you have held back the enemy, or you have inflicted a minor loss on the opponent, you can request a ceasefire. You can also withdraw your forces and admit defeat. It may cost you a little in the short term, but you can save thousands of men to fight another day.

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The Great War: Western FrontThe Great War: Western FrontThe Great War: Western Front
You get a lot of statistics from the battles. The technology trees are interesting because the different sides start with slightly different points. For example, the Germans start with points in heavy artillery. However, you can buy technologies freely as needed, but you cannot buy all of them during a campaign.

Knowing when to call for a cease-fire and when to throw away everything you have, including precious resources that can be used in another conflict, is the key to success. If you use up all your materials during battles and don't have money to buy more on the campaign map, you can't attack the opponent on another part of the front. I feel that the computer holds the player back in reasonable ways, as although it cheats, it worked well during my time with the campaign. It is not exactly praise as I want to believe that computer opponents can become smarter, if the will is there in the industry.

In terms of sound, the game is more than serviceable here. Rather, it is the graphics that look a little dated. I suspect the scale of all the effects and whatnot is a contributing factor, but the graphics could have benefited from a bit more detail and care to meet today's strategy game standards. The cutscenes consist of 2D art that doesn't impress. I understand that 3D sequences are not cheap, but at the same time, detailed sequences add both to a better atmosphere and to the overall experience.

The Great War: Western FrontThe Great War: Western Front
A battle that led to the enemy requesting a ceasefire. It had cost me more than it was worth to take over the second control point, and so I accepted the request.

Despite the graphics, it feels like a competent and well thought out game. We rarely get good WWI strategy titles from experienced developers, although there have been more WWI titles in other genres in recent years. Petroglyph Games are not amateurs in game development and it clearly shows. I hope Petroglyph gets the chance to recreate the Eastern Front and possibly the entire war in the future, as new nations being drawn into the conflict over the years of the campaign would greatly benefit its variety. Getting to fight in a two-front war as Germany, playing as the alliance-changing Italy, the Ottoman Empire, Tsarist Russia, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire would also be interesting.

It is a game that tries to make the Western Front interesting with new premises. I see the passion that pervades the project despite a series of flaws, and it's also noticeable that the game doesn't really have the budget it needs. The multiplayer mode lacks a campaign mode and the battles alone probably won't entertain forever. The campaign against the computer and the historical skirmishes that come with the package are, by far, the main course here.

The Great War: Western Front
There is a good encyclopaedia and a surprisingly good training mode, considering the genre.

At the moment there is very little else that competes with The Great War: Western Front and it is probably the best modern interpretation of trench warfare on the gaming market. I've had enough fun with the game's various systems to say it's a good experience, however, it comes with its flaws, which prevent it from reaching greater heights.

07 Gamereactor UK
7 / 10
Robust campaign. The maps remember damage and player impact. Plenty of troop types. Engaging game mechanics.
Cheating AI. No multiplayer campaign mode. Slightly limited scale of the campaign map. Dated graphics and art of varying quality.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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