Most gamers don't expect every game they play to be perfect, but they do expect game publishers to learn from their mistakes. In West Front, it's obvious that TalonSoft learned from its mistakes following the release of the disappointing East Front in 1997.
With a well-deserved reputation for incorporating wargamers' suggestions, fixing problems, and adding improvements, TalonSoft has done a great deal to improve this gaming system since it was unveiled in East Front. Unfortunately for that game, its problems included bugs, a skimpy manual, and a broken campaign system. In contrast, West Front is very stable, provides two types of campaigns, and comes with a thick, well-written manual crammed full of detailed information.
Based on the game's title, you might expect West Front to concentrate primarily on battles in Western Europe. However, TalonSoft has gone beyond the call of duty by including terrain, units, and scenarios from North Africa, the Middle East, Italy, Sicily, the Balkans, and Norway, as well as Western Europe. The extensive orders of battle cover not only the major powers of Germany, Italy, France (Free and Vichy French), Great Britain, and the United States, but also minor nations such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Yugoslavia, and Greece.
Between the game's 50-plus historical scenarios and its powerful scenario editor, you can play and create battles from the fall of France in 1940 to El Alamein, Anzio, Normandy, Bastogne, and the Huertgen Forest in 1945, not to mention almost any hypothetical battle you can dream up. Of course, World War II combat on the Western Front wouldn't be complete without paratroop drops, gliderborne troops, landing craft, air strikes, and naval gun support. They're all in the game.
Combine these features with a random scenario generator, hypothetical campaigns, linked historical campaigns, an order of battle editor, and numerous multiplayer options (up to eight gamers per side can play over the Internet), and you have a game loaded with replay value.
The graphics are up to TalonSoft's usual high standards, with outstanding maps in 16-bit color and superbly detailed 3D unit icons that provide the look and feel of miniatures. The music and sound effects add to the game's immersion. For wargamers who cherish their board-game hex grid maps and cardboard counters, West Front can be played from a top-down, 2D-perspective as well.
West Front is a turn-based game played on hex grid maps with platoon-sized units. A hex equals 250 meters, and each turn represents six minutes of fire and movement. Points for holding objectives and destroying enemy units are totaled at battle's end to determine the level of victory. Some scenarios require that units be exited off the map at certain locations to achieve victory. Battles can represent anywhere from battalion- to corps-sized actions, although the larger the scenario, the more tedious gameplay tends to become. Giving orders to a corps one platoon at a time isn't everyone's idea of fun.
Each side conducts combat by turns. Fire and movement can occur in any order you choose. While moving, units can come under enemy opportunity fire. Air strikes and artillery barrages are also plotted during your turn but don't impact until the end of your opponent's turn. That means you must become adept at anticipating enemy moves.
Although West Front's artificial intelligence seems somewhat improved, it continues to be one of the game's weak points. Too often, enemy units will abandon key objectives without a fight. Computer-generated scenarios are another area that's been improved over West Front. Despite that, random scenarios will sometimes include bizarre victory hex placements, unit deployments (such as half-tracks transporting armored cars), and reinforcement schedules, which was also a problem with East Front.
As with East Front, some aspects of the game are handled in a simplified or abstract manner that might put off grognards. For example, supply can seem somewhat contrived, with units being in supply one turn and out of supply the next. Units are either disrupted or in good order, no matter how much fire they've been subjected to.
One of the more irritating and historically inaccurate aspects of West Front is that units will never rout, no matter how much fire they've been under, how many casualties they've taken, or how many times they've retreated or been disrupted. Units should be allowed to break and retreat off the map, but they never do, resulting in horribly unrealistic casualty rates. Sometimes attempting to advance through the battered rabble and empty transport vehicles of a defeated army becomes more difficult than fighting an entrenched enemy in good order.
Overall, West Front is a quality product with the potential to provide months of entertainment and solid gameplay. Whether the game lives up to your expectations depends largely on your willingness to overlook its more obvious flaws and accept the abstractions in the combat system. If you can, then West Front is your pass to some satisfying World War II combat action.