Battlefront.com has been reliable as the rising sun by consistently releasing wargaming titles that ensure that no strategy fan is forgotten. As we enter February, Battlefront.com stands poised to unleash a new entry in the Theatre of War series. What can gamers expect from Theatre of War 2: Kursk 1943? I have logged some combat hours with the title and am ready for my debriefing.
Players take command of either Russian or German forces during five days of the Battle of Kursk. This translates to 18 battles (9 per side) that will test your mental stamina and prowess. Mission briefings are lengthy paragraphs of text that explain the situation and describe how to handle the task at hand. Short orders and mission checkpoints are given verbally while they are explained in greater detail on-screen. The problem is that the spoken word is in a different language so it's useless to me; I always had to pause the action to read what I'm hoping was said out loud.
The bottom of the in-game interface provides information about your current selection, but it also describes which units are taking damage and other notable action on the field of battle. An action menu in the bottom-right corner houses buttons to direct selected units to move, defend, storm, change formation, sneak and more. Any strategy game worth its weight in rations give the commander choices so that his troops will move as directed, so it’s no surprise they are available. You’ll want a hotkey quick-reference sheet to help keep the action moving; knowing what keys to press will prevent the unnecessary distraction of looking for the corresponding button.
Kursk 1943 boasts many key features but one of the most notable is "simulated visibility." Think of it as a more realistic fog of war. Despite a player knowing a tank is incoming, the tank remains invisible if it’s not in the line of sight of a controllable unit. This means that a unit can remain hidden as long as they don’t give away their position. If they try to attack, indicators pop up showing the approximate location and your men can be sent to investigate and destroy.
Another feature at your disposal if you choose to use it is displaying impact vectors. Hit F4 and zoom in on one of your tanks to see exactly what type of damage it’s taking. The impact angle, projectile type, and caliber can all be displayed. This greatly enhances the simulation experience as the player can see what’s shooting at him and from what direction.
The engine used by Theatre of War 2: Kursk 1943 has some impressive visuals. Destroy a tank and watch the men inside climb out of the wreckage, get their footing, and continue to press the attack on foot. Order infantry to move artillery and watch them struggle to turn it to face another direction. Each unit is highly detailed and even the landscape looks pleasant enough to distract. Having all advanced graphics options enabled will make even a beefy gaming rig sweat, though, and performance really takes a hit in the heat of battle.
One interesting option from the main menu is “Encyclopedia.” A game like Kursk 1943 takes a lot of research to create and the Encyclopedia gives 1C Company a chance to display a bit of it. There will also be a mission generator to create your own battles as well as multiplayer modes for up to eight players in the final version of the game.
Theatre of War 2: Kursk 1943 is shaping up nicely but still needs some time in boot camp. The graphics are beautiful but need optimized to handle the large-scale battles. The simulated visibility, the extensive mission instructions, and the amount of units in play might be intimidating to the uninitiated. I found the game appealing but hard to approach; even after several trips through the tutorial I felt ill-prepared for the first mission. However, this just shows that Kursk 1943 is geared toward a more devoted strategy fan. Battlefront.com has on its hands a potential wargaming gem that should satisfy fans as long as the final weeks of development are put to good use.