Raging Tiger: The Second Korean War is for hardcore wargamers only. Casual wargamers, RTSers, strategy gamers in general, this game is most likely not for you. This is not an easy game, nor is this a forgiving game. This is not even an overly “fun” game, at least not by most gamers’ reckoning. Raging Tiger is the embodiment of the “niche” wargame—those who enjoy excruciatingly detailed war simulations will find solid entertainment here, while everyone else will be wallowing in acronyms and statistical military minutiae.
The premise is quite simple: It’s the year 2010, and after years of unease between North and South Korea, things have finally reached a boiling point. The ensuing war pits The Republic of Korea and US forces against the armies of Kim II. Each of the 14 included scenarios takes place along the DMZ of the Korean Peninsula on some incredibly detailed and well-researched maps. In fact, the entire game is amazingly, painstakingly researched. Pulling up the onscreen information on any given unit will produce pages of statistics. Shrapnel has a habit of producing games that feel like “spreadsheets with randomizers”, and Raging Tiger is no different. This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, but it does limit the appeal of many of their games to a more specialized fan base.
Raging Tiger uses the same engine as Shrapnel’s Armed Task Force, for those familiar with that title. A mission begins with a quick briefing of the current objectives, which is usually riddled with military acronyms. The manual was vital for me here, because although they clearly labeled each and every unit I’d be getting for a particular scenario, everything was so abbreviated that I had no idea if I was getting tanks, mortars, helicopters or engineers. After several hours of playing, I’m still not even close to knowing these units in enough detail to make me a competent player.
After briefing, players set up their units. Initial placements are suggested by the scenario briefing, and indeed the scenario plays out best if those suggestions are used. But, if the current setup is a bit too difficult, or too easy for that matter, units can be placed anywhere the player chooses. In fact, you could simply place all your units right at the end objective if you wished, but that really takes all the challenge out of things. Once all the units are in place, it’s time to start the clock.
Raging Tiger is a real-time game, although it can be paused at any time to issue or change orders. Units can be commanded at the individual, platoon, or company level, giving players an option of control styles. For those wanting the feel of being a battlefield commander, company and platoon level control allows general orders to be given to the rather competent AI, which then does its best to comply. For those micromanagers in the crowd, the individual unit control level is more appropriate. Of course, juggling both is the best route to success.
Each unit, platoon, or company has a dizzying array of command options, the nuances of which I can’t even begin to comprehend. Units can directly attack, lay cover fire, emit smoke to cover retreats or obstacle-breaching attempts, plant mines, remove mines, and much more. Timing is critical, and tricky, as each unit requires a different amount of time to react to orders at a different rate of movement. I still can’t even seem to coordinate an airstrike with my ground troops in any effective manner. In a given scenario units can come into contact with all manner of obstacles, not just enemy units. Concertina wire, mine fields, enemy entrenchments, walls, buildings and chemical weapon clouds all play a role in the battlefield, and each has very specific and detailed interactions with the units.
The look of Raging Tiger is…well…dated. The map, while detailed, is rather crude, and the units are nothing more than simplistic 2D icons. I found it difficult to easily differentiate these units from each other at a glance, which led to a bit of frustration. I also ran into the problem of my units getting hung up on various terrain, even though it looked clear at the lower magnification levels. The interface is robust, but far from intuitive. It takes quite a while to get the hang of things, and I was often forced to head back to the manual to figure out how, exactly, to perform a particular maneuver. Since this is such a complex game, the interface complexity is understandable. The audio was particularly lacking, nothing more than some sound clips of explosions or engines when something happened. While these audio cues are important, they certainly aren’t impressive. However, this isn’t a game about flashy graphics or sounds, and it doesn’t really pretend to be.
While there are only 14 missions available, there is a great deal of replayablity, due to the ability to place units just about anywhere on the map and thus change the feel of a given scenario. In addition, a multiplayer venue is available, but I was unable to spend time there. As seems to be tradition with Shrapnel games, Raging Tiger also comes with a rather nice editor, meaning that fan-made extra content will undoubtedly be available.
Admittedly, I didn’t like Raging Tiger all that much. It was frustrating, it was overwhelming, and it never managed to draw me in. I’m by no means a military enthusiast or a wargamer, so I’m probably a bit biased against this sort of title. While it lacks the ability to reach outside of genre and grab the casual gamer, Raging Tiger is a solid title which will likely appeal to the wargaming community.
While Raging Tiger will undoubtedly lack widespread appeal, hardcore wargamers will find a very complex, detailed, and challenging undertaking.