War has long been depicted in; books, films and games. Developers and producers feed off of the misery, pain and sadness that each side went through. No matter how many times I see a game using World War II as its theme, I’m still interested to see what will happen, and which part of this heartbreaking smudge on the human race’s more recent history will be used. Game developers Pixelated Milk, alongside publishers Crunching Koalas have given us a chance to witness the uprising in Poland, in their game called WARSAW.
WARSAW depicts the story of the Polish uprising in their capital city by the same name. The German forces were retreating thanks to the efforts of the Soviet army. The exiled Polish government gave its blessing for the 900000 strong paramilitary force known as the “Home Army” to make a final stand and battle the remaining German army, while they waited for the Soviet’s to support them. The passionate group wanted to banish Hitler’s men, and liberate the homelands, but the help they expected, and so desperately needed, never came. Slowly, the “Home Army” lost man after man until they were defeated. WARSAW depicts these awful events, and the action takes place from the resistance fighter’s perspective.
A turn-based strategy game that has a distinct art style, and time restrictive action. The world is split into three distinct categories; the tabletop map, the 2D battle scene, and finally the resistance headquarters. You are required to juggle the needs of your band of fighters, against the needs of the city you are fighting for. You must control the flow of resources used for every mission and decide how you wish to proceed without ever knowing what will arise on your next excursion. All these elements mixed make this a challenging title to undertake. If you also consider the brutal nature of the theme, it really is an eye-opening tough game to experience.
The difficulty is compounded with roguelike elements of permadeath and loss of valuable resources. Your whole game can be ruined in one mission, and losing one or more personnel can’t be overcome. Sometimes avoiding flights all together is the best option available, but if they can’t be avoided and you feel you are on a hiding to nothing, then there is no shame in retreating, licking your wounds, and starting again. After all, a dent in your pride is much better than losing any of your troops. The next issue to contend with is the serious lack of inventory space. You start each mission with as much ammo as you think you’ll need, that the more you take, the less room you have for any contraband that you find scattered around in the loot crates you discover. If you can’t collect these additional items, you can’t sell them on the black market, which then reduces your ability to repair your equipment (you must do this regularly), or buy more ammo. Talking of ammo, you can never have enough, and you will run out! When you do, that fighter becomes useless for the rest of the mission, and you guessed it. This makes it even more difficult. (Are you getting the vibe that the gameplay for WARSAW is challenging?)
So you get the rough idea, it’s all about juggling several elements whilst desperately trying to survive. I forgot about trying to complete this game and believed I was successful if I simply survived for an extended period. Let’s have a proper look at the three main gaming areas; the map, battles and the hub of the whole operation, the super top secret underground headquarters.
A tabletop view of each district of Warsaw is shown with icons of the different areas of interest; items, mission objectives, enemy troops, and your own team. The view of the street gives each mission a feeling of crawling through a claustrophobic maze, twists and turns lead to barricaded dead ends where enemies hide on rooftops waiting to attack. You can use the environment to hide, but if you can’t see your foe, you can’t hide from them. Navigating the winding street costs your team Action Points (AP). AP is limited during each mission, and every task you undertake slowly chips away at it. You are free to explore at will, but if you run out of points, then it’s an instant fail, and it’s back home with your tail between your legs. This costs the resistance valuable resources and reputation for no gain. At the start of each new task you are advised of bonus objectives, these normally comprise; kill x number of people, or collect y number of items. They are relatively easy to achieve and add an interesting twist on an already time-restricted affair. You may think, “If the world is a maze, how do I navigate around the place?” As you get closer to items or objectives, one or more arrows highlight the rough direction of travel, simply follow the arrow and get your rewards. Just remember, the AP is ticking away.
Who would have thought war would be so kind as to let you take it in turns? For every member of your team, you’re given a turn to take an action, the same applies to the enemy team. Not every character in the party must be used, but when an ability is selected, or a weapon is fired, stamina is spent. This has an adverse effect on the affected person; accuracy is reduced, defence decreases, and this can seriously impact on the success of any fight. At the start of a mission, you can select whichever weapon you wish to use. You have an array to choose from; machine guns, rifles, pistols, rocket launchers and melee weapons. Each will inflict a set amount of damage, so it is up to you to choose which you feel is best for each given situation. The environment that the battles take place in can add dramatic defensive qualities to each team. You must plan wisely to ensure that your team stays safe, while preventing the enemy from using their cover. Bonuses are given if you can flank the opposition. Each team is placed on either a top or bottom row, if you attack someone from the opposite row to yourself, you will be given a bonus, so you must make sure you plan for this to increase your attacking prowess. The German army is usually better equipped and arrive in greater numbers. This gives this title a feeling of being unfair and represents the theme of oppression and fighting against overwhelming odds perfectly.
This is the hub of all activities. You can; choose missions, barter for new weapons and ammo, see how your troops are doing, level them up, and recruit new people. Before you are free to enter the headquarters, you must read through a text based event and decide on how you think it should play out. Though your decision may not have a direct impact on what your team is doing, the options can be truly harrowing and will make you sit up and think. This alongside the counter that highlights the loss of people from the “Home Army” really highlights the horrific uphill battle this small bunch of resistance fighters face. When you look at the mission board, you are given the freedom to choose whichever task matches the characters at your disposal, you also get an idea of how much fighting is going to be involved. Sometimes it’s best to take the lesser reward and go for the reduced conflict just to ensure that you can survive to fight another day.
Using a mixture of tabletop and 2D imagery with a dark and ominous style works brilliantly with this hard to swallow theme. The finish was crisp and clean, and the battle scenery was easy to navigate. I really liked the use of contrasting colours to highlight the trail you had taken. It broke up the oppressive greys and sepia tones that dominate the view. The comic book style scenes that accompanied each action also helped to keep gameplay flowing and stopped you from being bogged down by the slow-paced gameplay.
Music is sometimes overlooked in games, generic soundtracks are used to fill the void, hoping that the player base will be so engrossed in the story that they ignore the bland and lifeless sounds. This cannot be said of Pixelated Milk’s work. The mix of jazzy piano music, ground trembling sound effects and silence creates an unmissable audio. The suspense builds in the world map, as little to no sound plays as you creep about. The hideout is awash with deafening noise, and upbeat tunes, and the battles use crashing bangs, and shrill noises to represent the gunfire and explosions. It’s a great experience and sets the scene perfectly.
WARSAW combines the freedom of exploring each map with turn-based combat, and even with the AP to contend with, the control system wasn’t overly important. A tutorial campaign enables you to understand the basics and everything is labelled, so if you forget what you are doing, then it’s easy to remind yourself. What I need to highlight is the ease at which I could learn all the game mechanics, it’s very well explained, and new gamers to the genre should expect to play it with relative ease.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish it. Several stupid mistakes in each playthrough cost me my team, and my chance of completion. Though the content and events in the game are hard to comprehend, and it’s a tough title to take on, I was still inspired to come back for more. I wanted to learn from my mistakes, and survive for longer. Maybe one day I’ll get to the end, but I doubt it. With several difficulty modes to choose from, and over 30 achievements, there is plenty to make you want to return.
Though this is easy to pick up and play, it has such a high difficulty level that it takes some luck, and a lot of practise to master. The overbearing theme of sorrow, loss and betrayal act as the backbone for the plot and every element you experience. The constant demand of choosing what to miss out on, or leave behind eats away at you throughout. A melancholy game that lacks humour and fun. Yet, I loved it. It sent me to the brink of despair, only to reel me back with the fleeting moments of success. Do I recommend it? Absolutely. Can you risk it all for freedom? Lead your pocket of resistance and send the Germans packing. The Soviets and their reinforcements will be here soon….. Hopefully!
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
User Review( votes)
A tough, sombre and dark turn-based strategy game where you manage your team and resources until reinforcements arrive, whenever that will be!
- Fantastic graphics, and art style.
- Brilliant audio that builds atmosphere, and supports the theme.
- Easy to learn game mechanics and controls.
- Plenty of replay value.
- The difficulty may be too tough for some.
- The sombre theme may not be to everyone’s liking.