Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem Preview

Airborne Assault: Red Devils over Arnhem will let you rewrite the history of one of World War II's most famous battles.

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Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem
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Germans beat back British paratroops.
Germans beat back British paratroops.

The great Allied victories of World War II, like the D-Day landings in Normandy, have long excited the imagination and have been immortalized in books, movies, and games. Sometimes, great Allied failures have proven equally compelling. Case in point: Operation Market-Garden, an attempt to build on the D-Day success and hasten the Allied march into Germany itself. Market-Garden provided the subject for Cornelius Ryan's classic book A Bridge Too Far, as well as the popular film of the same name. Now the ill-fated operation is going to get the computer game treatment with Panther Games' Airborne Assault: Red Devils Over Arnhem, a game that will let you rewrite the history of that battle. Airborne Assault will blend detailed historical accuracy with accessibility, and it will also take the unexpected step of simulating operational-scale battles in real time. You'll get to choose for yourself whether you want to lead from above the fray or micromanage your units.

Market-Garden has long been considered one of the most controversial Allied failures. Instead of heeding Allied intelligence and, some would argue, military common sense, British Field Marshal Montgomery decided not to immediately clear German troops from the area around the major Dutch port of Antwerp, which was vital for supplying the eventual Allied advance into Germany. Instead, Montgomery bypassed the area and launched Market-Garden, a complex airborne operation using British and American troops that was designed to circumvent German lines and seize vital Dutch bridgeheads near the lower Rhine River. Airborne Assault will focus on the area around the famous Arnhem bridges, where the Germans mauled the British 1st Airborne Division in fierce fighting.

Americans prepare to take Arnhem's road bridge from the Germans in a hypothetical scenario.
Americans prepare to take Arnhem's road bridge from the Germans in a hypothetical scenario.

Airborne Assault will let you control brigade- to corps-sized forces with individual companies and battalions as you maneuver units. Battles might set a few battalions against each other or feature hundreds of units, totaling more than 80,000 men. Rather unexpectedly for an operational-scale game, Airborne Assault won't be turn-based, but rather will play out in true real time with three different speeds to choose from. You'll also be able to pause the game whenever you like and issue orders while paused. This should let you establish a blend of tense action and careful contemplation that suits your tastes.

Not only will you be freed from the restrictive turn-based time scales of traditional wargames, but you also won't have to deal with a restrictive map scale or hexes. The game maps will be based on actual WWII Allied Geographical Section General Staff maps, accurate down to four meters. You'll get to zoom in and out freely to a level that suits you. On the main battle map, you'll get to toggle a one-kilometer-by-one-kilometer grid overlay to help you gauge distances, though units won't arbitrarily be restricted to the grid squares. A strategic minimap on the side of the screen will help you quickly locate distant units when you're zoomed in close on the battle map.

Delegate to Annihilate

One of the more welcome features of Airborne Assault will likely be its clear and intuitive interface. A simple glance at a unit icon on the battle map will offer up vital info like the unit's name, type (using pictorial icons like a half-track for a recon company or more abstract NATO-style military symbols), and designation in the command hierarchy (like 2nd Company of the 9th Battalion). A dynamic info box on the top corner of each unit icon will let you display other types of info that you want to have quickly available, such as combat power, unit facing, or current task.

American troops automatically reorganizing before attacking.
American troops automatically reorganizing before attacking.

By clicking a unit on the main battle map, you can access more detailed information. On the side of the screen you'll see a number of panels with tabs that let you easily view a unit's stats, some of which are presented numerically, and some of which are presented with simple colored bars. These let you instantly gauge each unit's level of cohesion, morale, fatigue, suppression, and more. When a unit comes under fire, you'll see a bright red suppression bar start to lengthen, for example.

On this side panel, you should also see the historical detail of the game and the simplicity of its interface working hand in hand. One click shows a unit's equipment status, for example, from vehicles down to small-arms ammo. Panther Games promises that the order of battle for each side will be carefully researched, down to short biographies of individual commanders when possible. Little touches like that should not only add realism, but also make it easier to relate to otherwise faceless units.

One of the most interesting features of Airborne Assault should be the way the AI will help you manage your troops. With a couple of mouse clicks, you can tell a battalion headquarters unit to take the shortest route to a particular location for an attack, adjusting unit depth and frontage as it sees fit. The HQ unit's subordinate companies will follow, adopting complementary movement paths, formations, and tactics. On the other hand, if you want to manage every single unit in depth, you can, issuing complex movement commands with waypoints and choosing formations, aggressiveness levels, and more with a simple menu or hotkeys.

A full-featured scenario editor will let you create your own battles.
A full-featured scenario editor will let you create your own battles.

While Airborne Assault as a whole appears to a forward-thinking wargame, its presentation will remain traditional. Units will be portrayed with simple square 2D unit counters, reminiscent of tabletop wargames. Currently, combat effects are largely limited to little colored lines emanating from units when they fire on one another, coupled with some simple sound effects. Still, the maps look like they'll be attractive and clear, and the menus seem to be well designed.

Along with a number of scenarios, including hypothetical actions like an all-American airborne drop near Arnhem, Airborne Assault will ship with a scenario editor and full multiplayer support. These features should hopefully offer plenty of replayability to match the game's apparent depth and relative ease of use. You'll get to rewrite the history of Market-Garden with Airborne Assault this summer.

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