This is a guest review by Ludovic Mercier
When I was offered to review Officers, a game only recently released here in the west after having existed for 3 years in Russia I have to admit I was actually curious. On one hand, the game cover really didn't seem that much inspiring to me, feeling bland at best with these photos of actors dressed in obviously fake uniforms. On the other, if there's something life taught me, it's not to judge a book by it's cover, and that is something that often applied to many games. So, as soon as I received the game, I went to test it out to see if it was a book that should have been judged by it's cover or not. To call this game a bit of a mixed bag would probably be quite an understatement in my opinion. Though technically not a bad game, Officers is still far from greatness, and even for a game 3 years in age it has done some faults for which there is very little excuses.
So let's dissect what the game does good, and what is preventing it from being a great game.
The story is one we all know since years, having seen it before in an hundred of other games. It begins with a landing at omaha beach in 1944, followed toward a long push to Germany as parts of the events leading toward the end of WW2. As far as story goes, there isn't that much that's new to people familiar with WW2 history and the era as a gaming genre. It is a story we all have heard by then, so there is very little much to be said in retelling it beyond mentioning that the campaign starts with operation Overlord, continue with Caen (operation Cobra) and more as you edge closer to Germany with each mission (each almost self-contained campaign on their own right with their length).
However, despite it being a "tale" we all know, the presentation of it is relatively lacking in it's own right as each operation is presented only through soundless text boxes with small in-game movies without any spoken narratives whatsoever. However, considering the game's voice acting in general (more on that later), this might be a blessing in disguise.
Let's begin by saying this is very much a grand scale strategy game. Maps aren't merely one or two square miles in size (as can be seen in some game's biggest maps) but easily as big as 25 square miles in size. Just writing it out like this does very little justice to the sheer scale at which this game plays. And this battlefield can easily have more than 1500 units active all over it. This is as big as it goes, and it is immense as a playing field indeed.
But that's just the general presentation. Now let's go a bit more in details, shall we?
Maps, as said, are 25-square mile large things. However, in the campaign at least (I'll talk about multiplayer in a separate section), each map is divided in a certain number of large "strategic sectors" (usually six), marked by the presence of an airbase, factory or town and so on. Capturing all of these strategic location is the goal of a map, upon which you win. At the same time, capturing one will give you access to it's resources (food, ammo, fuel) which is then used to maintain the units you call in.
And note the word: maintenance. You don't purchase units with resources. Rather, you have a limited amount of units you can ever call on, sometimes resplenished as you complete various objectives, but once you have run out of reinforcement reserves you lost the game.
Resources, in this case is a matter of maintenance as every unit spawns with a limited amount of ammo, fuel or food (depending if we're talking about infantry or vehicles), that usually decreases with use or (for food, for an example) when you are in enemy territory. For an example, if an infantry unit doesn't have food any more, it will slowly lose food. As such, purchasing units in a given strategic territory will decrease that territory's supplies, in which case you might then want to set up a supply line to move supplies from a territory far from the front to one closer to it to avoid running our of supplies. Once that is set up, supply trucks will start going from one strategic location to the other until the transfer is complete... though that means a clever player could set-up ambushes on known supply lines to disrupt enemy supply movement.
This sounds pretty nice on paper, but simply said, I have rarely fell on a supply line that was ever attacked and supplies themselves tends to be so abundant that I generally never hit anything close to a "supply crisis". Really, if you are starting to lack supplies in all of your territories, there is a question to be asked about your skill level.
Also, on top of the large strategic locations, strategic sectors will often sport a ton of mini-objectives to complete for added bonuses. This could be a windmill that is used by the enemy to house an artillery transmitter (which, upon clearing the enemy presence, gives you more uses of artillery), it can be an enemy presence in a forested area of a supply line which when cleared to give you more supplies in that sector... a bundle of minor tactical objectives which while not essential for victory can help turn the tide in your favour once completed.
This looks nice, and it kinda is. So let's go about how you tackle these objectives or rather, what you tackle them with and how you use those: your units.
Thankfully, for the pro side of things, the game features a great selection of units. You will first see all kinds of infantry (regular, anti-tank, recon, etc.) which is pretty much uniform no matter the nation, then you will see vehicles, which offers the broadest selection, covering pretty much any major (and plenty minor) vehicles used during the war such as tanks, armored cars, scout cars, AA vehicles, medic trucks, AT guns, howitzers, self-propelled artillery... you name it, it's probably there. And by experience, you will want to make use of combined warfare because infantry alone assaulting a position held by tanks might very well get killed before you can say "oops". Likewise, sending tanks in an urban area where anti-tank infantry is already behind cover is like pre-emptively telling the scrap collector he might as well haul your tanks back. Myself, I found developping a liking to massed infantry covering massive amounts of artillery behind it whilst using scout cars to reveal targets for my field artillery.
Nonetheless, this doesn't stop there as you have many other tools in your arsenal in the form of many special abilities reminiscent of World in Conflict. Being able to call upon (in limited quantities, sometimes resplenished by completing various objectives on the map) the likes of artillery barrages, bombers, fighters (who will attack any airplane in their area of effect until they run out of fuel), scout planes and paratroopers. The later I found myself making extensive use of due to the ability to drop them behind enemy lines, permitting a player to pre-emptively attack and weaken an area before the arrival of the main force. Sometimes it's even enough to take full control of it right away thus literally taking one threat out of the way of your main force.
This all sounds fine and nice... except in the implementation that is influenced in great deal by the game's control. To say it loosely... there often isn't much to do except move and position your troops and the occasional selection of a priority target or another. However, though in general the movement part is easy to do, the camera is such that sometimes it is hard to judge how much infantry you have left (for an example) with the battlefield view alone due to how far you are from the screen. In more than one occasion this lead me to misjudge the strength of one of my forces to dire results. Not helping this is that the mousewheel which is used to zoom in and out does this so sluggishly that it is is hard to smoothly zoom in and out of a battle. Other large scale games such as Sins of a Solar Empire had already shown us the importance of rapid and smooth transition when zooming in and out in a game. And though a more minor point, this is sometimes made worse by the fact the strategic map, which shows the various major and minor strategic objectives on the map, is actually a separate "map button" from the game screen, forcing you out of the battlefield view if you need to recheck your current supply lines and the locations of your objectives. Though not major, this can remain an inconvenience when you are being attacked whilst looking at this screen. Technically, you can "pause" with the space bar before moving into that screen, but I do not think this can apply in multiplayer.
Other annoyances are the controls and how the game manages units. That is, Officers is a game played on a large scale. However, it also tries to take from games such as Men of War and Company of Heroes which makes uses of directional armor on vehicles and features options of localized damages where a vehicle can be immobilized or see it's main gun destroyed even if the tank itself isn't. It is a nice idea in theory, but with the forementionned issues above (such as the zooming one) it often lead to micro-management that sometimes feels almost needless. Direction armour is one thing, but when you add in localized damage (which requires repairs by infantry) it can quickly become confusing as you start wondering what is up with your tank only to realize, too late, that their fuel was on fire. In a small scale game, where the focus is close to the ground this is nice, but in large scale games such as this one where you can find yourself fighting on two fronts at once, it can become an hassle very quickly.
Also not helping is a feeling that once you've done one of the campaign missions, most of the gameplay mechanics feel so familiar to you that doing another feels almost like needless repetition.
In short, gameplay is acceptable, but held in many areas due to minor faults which, combined together, can make for a rocky experience for a newcomer to the game who can thus be confused for a while as for how to handle the game.
Multiplayer and Campaign
I decided to devote a separate section for this aspect to the game because this is where some of the game's critical faults are found. So, let's start with the more benign of the two, the campaign, even though it's fault closely ties into the multiplayer's fault.
Starting at Omaha beach and forward, Officers' campaign's fault is not really in what it covers, but what it doesn't. Namely, in this game featuring the russian, german and allies' armies, you are limited to an american campaign. Now this is acceptable of many games, such as Dawn of War and Company of Heroes which both sported a single player mode covered by only one army as playable. Where this hurts is that Officers does not sport a skirmish mode of any sort. As such, the only faction you will ever play in single player are the Americans.
For a fault... it could be forgiven. But the game's more critical fault is in multiplayer or rather, the lack of. It is not that Officers does not sport any multiplayer mode. Rather, it is in how it was included that it does a cardinal sin of multiplayer games that came out in this decade: There's no online multiplayer, or, for a more preceise correction: There's no online lobby.
When wishing to play multiplayer you thus only have two options: LAN (Where you need to have someone else with a copy that you can meet in person to play with) or direct IP (where, again, you need to know someone else already having the copy to be able to play at all). In short, unless you already have a friend with a copy, you might as well forget about playing online. Well, technically speaking. I did run a search and found the game is compatible at least with the xfire service, but somehow it seems to be only compatible with the steam version. Having only a retail version, I thus was unable to review multiplayer as a gameplay mode.
This is how the fault of the single player campaign and lack of skirmish mode becomes even more grave because thus, unless you do have a friend who also managed to snatch a copy of the game and is interested in playing, the only faction you'll ever be able to play is only the americans. And though you can at least fight against the germans in the campaign, this mean that quite a few players might actually miss out on the russians who are not showcased anywhere in the single player mode. This feels a bit bothersome for a game that features officers of all three nations and that the only one that actually is going to be playable for most people who won't have bought the game alongside a friend isn't even the center point of it. That honour goes, ironically, to the Russian officer... a nation that is only ever seen if you have someone to play in multiplayer with.
Lack of online lobbies and matchmaking service was understandable in the nineties but not so much in 2009 or even 2006 when the game was originally released in Russia. This is, amongst Officers' faults, probably it's greatest one.
Graphics and Audio
Graphics in Officers are acceptable. They are no work of art, but they manage to represent such a large scale rather nicely. There are occasional hiccups such as when more "intensive" abilities such as artillery are called, something I had troubles understanding with 6 gig of RAM, a quadcore 2.6ghrtz processor and a 512mg graphic card, however. Nontheless, since such abilities rarely last long, it is not often nor that long that I have to endure such.
Where Officers does much less better, however, is in the audio department. Though the pounding of artillery is acceptable and usually what you'd expect of it, the music is sometimes annoying albeit not as much as the horrible voice acting.
The worst of the example has got to be the "aknowledgement" message you get when requisitionning infantry but the later's oft random chatter, such as when they complain about "needing a cigarette" often detract from game immersion, especially when you are zoomed out of the battlefield. This felt nice in Company of Heroes when you were zooming close to your troops and they were commenting about what they were actually doing, but not so much in Officers where it often feels out of place at the game's scale.
Also, though on a more minor note, is the question of the game menus. Though not neccessarily ugly, they sometimes feels as if they had been taken out from an outdated DVD in a fashion that is almost too classical, set against uninspiring background. Granted, they might not be as offputting than the game cover
Officers is an acceptable game when it comes purely to gameplay and sometimes represent well the action of managing a WW2 army in the large scale. However, it is held from being a good game by many faults, some which can be barely excused. The least of which would simply be a sometimes confusing interface made occasionally made worst by micromanagement that makes that sometimes feels like an hassle in such a large scale game.
The worst, however, has to go to the combination of a campaign showcasing only one of three nations something that when combined with a lack of skirmish mode and very limited multiplayer (limited to LAN and direct IP connections) means that you won't even get to play any other factions unless you actually bought your copy alongside a friend. Add to this an uninspiring interface, occasionally grating audio and slight temporary moment of choppiness even on a very heavy gaming rig and the picture of Officers' undoing become even more complete.
As such, even for a game originally released 3 years ago in Russia, it presents many mistakes and lackings that would make me have a hard time reccomending it but to some of the most hardcore wargamers or WW2 fanatics and with a rather rather uninspiring presentation, starting with the game's cover, it is not either a game that I expect to sell much if at all, especially in the though competition already present in the WW2 genre.