Thursday, November 15, 2012

Unity of Command: Lacking Unity

There's nothing I like more than giving independent, turn-based, tactical games good reviews. Turn based games are pretty rare nowadays though high-profile games like X-Com are here to remind us this genre is not dead. World War II has inspired a lot of turn-based strategy games and I've managed to play a good many of them over the years with my favorites being from the Close Combat series. I don't have a set of ideals going into any given game other than I want it to both challenge and entertain me. Unity of Command came close but ultimately fails to hold my attention for the long term.

It is a good-looking game and it really does fall into the 'easy to pick up, hard to master category'. There is a hidden depth to this game that warrants some serious attention to the rather long PDF rule book that is included in the digital download. I use to carefully read rule-books while waiting for games to load (please insert disk #4 to continue) but not anymore. I just play other games while new ones are downloading or (gasp) go do something else entirely (like boring parent or work-related stuff).

^^ All of that is my fancy way of saying I can't be arsed reading the Unity of Command rule book- though I'm sure it's good.

I did enjoy Unity of Command until I started the campaign- of which there is only two: Axis or Allies on the Russian front. The entire game is set on the Russian front which is fine by me- it's one of the conflicts of WWII I'm really interested in. The game is full of scenarios but I'm not really a single-battle kind of guy. I like campaigns because they are more challenging and give me something to work toward (usually repelling the invading Hun).

The campaign is a series of scenarios which are all strung together. You are given so many turns to complete the scenario with extra prestige awarded for getting it done faster. Prestige is used later to reinforce units. Sounds pretty reasonable, doesn't it? I mean I know this is a game and we have to somehow simulate the pressing necessity of battle, supply, fog-of-war, command-structure, etc and games often use turns to do so. The problem is that in Unity of Command while they say it's 'best' to get it done earlier, what they mean is you have to or else you can't progress in the campaign.

Which annoys the hell out of me. If you want it done in 4 turns then bloody well say so. Don't say I have 8 turns and then punish me later. Here's what happened:

I played the first three scenarios of the Allies campaign. I completed the first three within the 'stated' amount of turns (obviously or otherwise I would have lost the scenario and the campaign would have halted) but not the 'optimal' amount of turns. Without warning, or explanation the campaign ended. Now, I suppose I would have seen this coming had I read the rules, but I refer you to the above non-rule reading bit of the post.

So I started again. This time I hammered the first, and third scenario. Full points for getting done by the 'optimal' turn. The second scenario was just a bit over the optimal but withing the stated. Guess what? Campaign over. Deep breath.........there you go....exhale......rage...subsiding, calm....returning.....

Oh who am I kidding. Calm rarely returns. This really annoyed me. Two of three scenarios perfect but still the campaign is halted. Excuse me whilst I swear. That is fucking dumb. If the campaign relies on me finishing by the optimal bloody turn then say so for pete sake. It is, for me, a game-breaker. I don't mind being punished for my poor tactical choices in a game (less resources next turn, fewer troops for the next battle, etc) but I dislike the campaign just ending and especially dislike it ending when I've won every scenario.

If you like quick battles this game may be for you, but if I wanted single, hex-based engagements with a tactical element I'd just play good-old fashioned chess. Well, okay, that's likely not very fair as this game offers good graphics, a smart AI, and is very reasonably priced (I got if for $15 on Steam but now it's $20). There is nothing wrong with Unity of Command but it doesn't offer me the long-lasting, engrossing campaign(s) I expect from a WWII strategy game. A more in-depth review can be found on Rock Paper Shotgun. Bottom line? Well worth $15 but for me, $20 would be a push.


  1. Will definitely avoid this one - that sounds just too irritating.

  2. That's definitely a good way of putting it: it's irritating and even more so because it could be a great game if it had something to pull it all together. Matrix games sells some of their tactical offerings for $70 so there is a good market out there for tactical games. There is some DLC coming so I'll see if they flesh out the campaign aspect but if not I won't buy it.