When East Front was released before Christmas last year, wargamers hoping for a serious treatment of the epic World War II struggle between Germany and Russia were disappointed when the game failed to live up to TalonSoft's usually high standards. The chief complaints were an inadequate manual, some questionable design decisions, and features that didn't function properly.
Since then, TalonSoft has been working to repair the damage, releasing a series of patches and a supplement to the manual. Now on version 1.06 (the subject of this review), the game is closer to fulfilling its original potential. Still, East Front remains a paradox. Parts of it are exceptionally well done while other parts tend to cancel out its positive aspects.
East Front is a turn-based game played on hex grid maps with platoon-sized units. Each hex equals 250 meters, and a turn represents six minutes of combat. Points for holding objectives and destroying enemy units are totaled at battle's end to determine the level of victory.
On the plus side, East Front is the most visually impressive turn-based wargame ever produced, and the sound effects and music are noteworthy enhancements. It features more than 50 historical scenarios, a campaign mode, a random scenario generator, and a variety of multiplayer options, including Internet, network, e-mail, hot seat, and modem play. There's also a scenario builder, map editor, and order-of-battle editor.
With East Front, TalonSoft has built on experience from its Battleground series and added features that many wargamers requested. On top of that, there are significant improvements, such as a more intuitive interface and options for added realism. The confusing multiple-phase turns have been replaced with a more straightforward turn sequence. So what's not to like?
The historical scenarios are clearly the best part of the game, yet some of them are so huge, only the most patient and dedicated gamer will want to invest the time needed to plow through a corps-level battle - platoon by platoon. Strangely, the ability to command from higher organizational levels (a feature in the Battleground series) has been excluded from East Front, a game that practically cries out for it.
The campaign and random scenario generator should add replay value. Unfortunately, rather than providing variety, campaign battles quickly become repetitive. The computer-controlled unit deployment schemes you must use seldom make sense, until you consider that if you were allowed to control unit placement, the battles would be even less interesting. Yes, the artificial intelligence is that predictable.
And then there's gameplay itself. Many wargamers won't mind the abstractions used to simplify and speed up gameplay. However, grognards expecting realism and historical accuracy will be disappointed to find that some of this makes the game feel artificial and overly simplistic. For example, units that fail morale checks will retreat a few hexes but will never rout off the field. This means that every battle becomes a bloody, fight-to-the-last-man experience.
TalonSoft has a reputation for working on its games until it gets them right. Therefore, it's possible that East Front will eventually become the game most hoped it would be. But for now, the jury's still out.