Battlefield Academy Review

By Nelson on August 23, 2011

Despite having a similar sounding name, Battlefield Academy has absolutely no connection with the other Battlefield series. Instead, it's actually commercially linked to a production from the BBC. Matrix Games and Siltherine have now made the game available to play for PC users. The game is a turn based strategy centralised around World War 2 with several campaigns spanning various regions of conflict between the Allies and Axis forces.

Like the majority of World War 2 games, the campaign is focused on the Allies' attempts to defend and assault the Axis forces. There is a brief tutorial which explains how players move their units and attack enemy units they can see during their turn. The amount of actions a unit can make is predetermined by a figure which resets every completed turn, and once a turn ends the enemy makes their moves against the player. The system is tried and tested, however there are some notable problems which will be made apparent later on.

There are three main campaigns and they depict the events of conflicts in the Western Desert, the Battle for Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. There are also a couple of extra modes for players to experience should they wish to. Once a player selects a campaign they are introduced to a mission select screen, which is displayed in the form of a storyboard. While the artwork isn't that interesting, the dialogue is far worse; it just makes the whole thing seem very limited. Upon selecting a mission players choose the units they wish to take on the mission based conditionally and on a supply limit. The overall impact this has on a mission is minimal but more often than not taking anti-tank weaponry or vehicles is a must.

Once the mission begins, main objective is outlined. It's usually based around holding certain points marked by a flag with either a focus on defence or offence. But the general objective remains the same. Despite this no one map really feels the same, but the features on each map make certain tactics very common. Typically winning is a case of getting your units onto a hill and raining hell down on the forces that try to assault your position. There are also a series of "achievements" in each mission featured as secondary objectives. They aren't necessary for the completion of a mission but they can prove fairly challenging, especially considering one of the game's apparent flaws.

This flaw being the way the combat operates. Everything seems far too probability based, with an element of fluke being thrown into the mix. This is really apparent with how shells from tanks and anti-tank guns are used, whereby a percentage chance to hit and penetrate armour gives an overall chance to kill. But even when this percentage chance is less than 10% it's often likely that a shot will actually kill an enemy vehicle. Not only that but the enemy seems very capable of scoring very unlikely hits on the players units too. Couple this with the fact that assaults by ground troops work on the same logic and it becomes a game of chance rather than tactics. It's understandable that the designers wanted the game to have an element of realism with regards to chance shots and the way a battle can change in favour very swiftly, but at the same time it will make players confused as to how they just lost an entire battalion of tanks, and in the same respect how one anti-tank gun managed to destroy a sizeable enemy force with no support.

Despite this, there are still some interesting tactical elements. For example, units can be suppressed by fire and unable to attack allowing for more favourable assaults. This is determined by a unit's morale and it does actually work quite well, causing units to eventually surrender or be routed completely. Though some of the objectives on missions don't really make much sense in the grand scale of things, due to the game's mechanics, it's still possible to win against insurmountable odds. At one point the Axis forces retreated with a massive force against only 2 light tanks and a couple of wounded soldiers. It'd be nice to say this was because of some superior strategy, but it's more that every single shot fired as a killing hit.

There are also specials available for players to utilise on missions but actually using these well requires a certain element of foresight. Artillery and bombers will attack a location designated by a player, but the actual attack won't commence until a turn or two later at which point the enemy has either moved or advanced on an allied position. Predicting enemy movements is quite awkward and it's not helped by the actual attack doing random damage to enemies.

Overall the combat of the game could be summed up as being clear cut in the way it's implemented with regards to cover, high ground unit compositions and requiring the correct support to break through an enemy line. But while it does these things well, it places far too much emphasis on chance. A well planned tactic can be abruptly halted by a few lucky shots or unlucky shots on the player's side. Despite this fact, players will breeze through the majority of missions and it won't really satisfy to do so. There is also no alternate difficulty, so the only challenging feature from then on is to try the other two missions which are designed specifically with survival in mind. Players are assaulted by constant forces for a number of turns and one of these missions actually allows players to play as the Axis forces.

As for the presentation value of the game it's a mediocre at best. The majority of animations are very stale and basic. The game is also rather sped up as tanks and vehicles drive to designated locations more or less instantly. The terrain however is actually rather detailed considering and the same applies to the units. Though they won't really impress, there has been effort to make each tank and vehicle identifiable to their real life counterparts. The music is mostly march based and very typical of the war era, however, it doesn't really reflect the intensity of the missions. The sound effects themselves also really distract from the overall gameplay as they become recycled far too many times. Couple this with the very cheesy British and German accents it can actually begin to really ruin the experience further.

The campaign lasts for a substantial amount of time and there is a vast editing tool for players to make their own campaigns and missions. As well as this there is a multiplayer component which offers something a bit different. Players can issue a challenge online and turns are recorded by a server. They are then relayed to another player and this actually means that players can play turns out over an extended period of time and resend their retaliations to the server without having to play in one sitting. It's an interesting alternative and almost seems a bit chess like in that respect.

Final Thoughts

Battlefield Academy isn't a bad game, but it's certainly not a good one either. It doesn't really entertain and there are a lot of elements that feel unpolished and bland. While some of the strategy is quite commendable, there is far too much focus on chance and this is really disappointing. The campaign is extensive and that's noteworthy, but players will notice a deja vu feeling. Its strengths neither lie in its story telling of each campaign or the luck based strategy and this makes it very hard to recommend.

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