BATTLE ISLE 2 from Bluebyte

Reviewed by R.J.Abbott

(ED. - This game will be released in North America by Accolade under the name Battle Isle 2200. For all intents and purposes, Battle Isle 2 and Battle Isle 2200 are the same game.)
                  Computer   Graphics   Memory   Disk Space 
Minimum           386        VGA        4MB      12MB (6MB for CDROM)

Max/Rec Control: Keyboard and Mouse recommended 
Sound: Most Common Soundcards 
Notes: 2.3MB free EMS memory required.

For CDROM MSCDEX driver needed (or 100% compatible) 
Smartdrive supported and recommended.

Reviewed Version: Floppy 1.0 on 386sx-25 4MB RAM
Reviewer recommends: 486 or better for speeder working.

Battle Isle 2 is the extension of the successful BATTLE ISLE series from Bluebyte. The manual with the game includes the comment that the designers have tried to incorporate all the ideas and suggestions that players of the series had made, and the game is certainly a huge improvement of an already good system.

The basic premise has not changed, in that the game is still a hex-based and turn based wargame. The setting is sometime in the future and the units are all robotic but totally logical extensions of current military systems. Combined arms is the buzz word, in that as the game develops air power and sea power enter into the equation and the successful player must be able to link up all their forces.

The interface has been much improved over the previous games in the series. Instead of fishing for the correct icon for movement or other function, all the possible actions for a unit appear in a section at the bottom of the screen and the appropriate one selected. This method of selection works for every screen and action even down to a simple yes or no choice. There are keyboard shortcuts for the most common actions, but the mouse interface is so simple when I have played they have hardly been used.

The actual game play has changed, in that the turns alternate totally, instead of the older system of one player giving movement orders and the other concurrently giving combat actions. A player now gives all the orders for movement and firing for their turn before play changes across. This has some advantages notably allowing multiple players (3+), and preventing the old tactic of having one weak unit holding up the entire enemy advance for one turn. Now it is possible to send in the heavy tanks to clear the block and the let the light units zoom through into the rear areas giving a very fluid feel to the combat.

Other new features in the game that need to be mastered for ultimate victory are the supply rules, both fuel and ammunition, and the 'sighting' rules which is actually radar. All units have a radar range of sight, and most have some sort of jamming capability and the interplay between the two gives rise to three levels of sighting. The first is currently scanned where everything can be seen, the second is those areas seen previously scanned but not currently where the terrain is known and the third which has never been scanned and little more than major features such as coastlines are known. Weather, also a new feature, affects movement, combat and sighting.

Most units move then fire, or fire only, but larger units can either move or fire and thus are more suited for defence, and certain light units can move before firing and then again afterwards, which provides an increased level of tactical flexibility. The total movement in this case is limited by the units movement allowance, so a long range dash into range can leave your light units cruelly exposed.

Graphically the map is reasonable but with a few special touches such as the sea lapping up against the shore and the sprinklers in the fields actually turning. There are a few graphic problems, the one that I tend to notice most is the occasional sticking of the mouse icon around the screen edges when moving the screen about the battle field. The battle animations are a full 3D representation with the units as fairly chunky polygon representations, but they are all recognisable as being the units in question. The animated battles do take a few seconds to play through and, in a game where battles are a major part of the game, these seconds tend to add up so much that in the later scenarios, where the maps are bigger and more units are present, it is a good idea to switch these animations off. The query function for each unit presents a rotating ray-traced animation in the CDROM version, and a static graphical shot in the floppy version, along with all the appropriate information. The game is based around the campaign, a series of following on scenarios meant to be played against the computer opponent, success leading to a password which can be used to go onto the next game. Experience gained by units in battle can is stored and can be allocated to other units later in the campaign within the restrictions of air, land or sea units having their own experience points.

In addition to the campaign mode there is the possibility of playing the game in a single map mode, using the passwords gained from the campaign, and with the ability to alter any alliances present in the scenarios. There are scenarios that have up to five 'sides' divided into alliances, and the ability to change these allows the practice of what if? playing. Each of these sides can be played by a human player or the computer and so there is the chance of multiplayer games. Included in the readme file are the passwords for four games that are specifically balanced for multiple players. Unfortunately the lack of either modem support or network compatibility means that the multiplayer games involve changing places rather a lot. There are hints in the manual and readme that network compatibility maybe included in a future upgrade or scenario pack.

Playing the game is an absorbing experience with much thought required to progress through the campaign. The computer opponent is certainly a challenge and is much the best of any wargame that I have experienced, but still falls short of being as good as a human. One particular example of this is the ability to continually sucker it into capturing an empty unimportant building, where you have a unit ready to move in and recapture. The result of this is that the unit moved in is captured as well and is instantly reprogrammed to your side. Being caught once like this is understandable if the unit for recapturing is not easily visible, but the computer opponent falls for this trick again and again, continually sending his scouts into the same buildings to be captured the following turn. To win each scenario there is a trick or tactic that tends to work every time. In some scenarios there are hidden buildings full of units waiting to be captured which is the way to win, in others it is sending of a sneak invasion force by air or sea to capture the objective form the rear. There are four set difficulty levels, or more accurately reality levels, from training to expert but knowing the trick for a scenario allows it to be won no matter what the level. This is not a serious problem as the campaign cannot be finished quickly, and the time to go from start to finish will give value for money.

The manual was originally written in German and translated into English, and the translation is not a very good one. Grammatically inaccurate in places and occasionally confusing this is the weakest part of the game, but the system is so easy to pick up that this turns out not to be a problem. Also included in the documentation are a reference card for installation which is clear and includes a troubleshooting section, and the most useful item: a weapons manual listing all the unit types with their weapons, movement rates and restrictions and other miscellaneous information. Inexperienced players should keep this to hand until they get to know the capabilities of the units, such as which have weapons available that can attack, or defend against, aircraft.

The game is not copy protected in any way, which is refreshing to see. In the CDROM version this could be expected, but it was surprising for the floppy version. I definitely dislike copy protection devices, tolerate the manual look-up type when starting, but can see why they exist to reduce piracy, their success is debatable.

For players familiar with the rest of the Battle Isle series, this is an improvement over the older games, but still retains all the good features. For those new to the series this could well be good enough to have you checking out the older titles. In my opinion though there are a couple of omissions that stand out. Firstly there is no way of playing multiple players apart from 'hotseating', a network or modem option would be good, but one suggestion that has been made would be for a method of sending moves by E-mail thus allowing play around the world. This would not be too difficult as already it is possible to do this by sending the entire saved game file, but a method of sending just the changes would make this easier. The other glaring omission is a scenario editor or creator, not so much for the campaign scenarios but for balancing the multiplayer ones to account for different abilities and to generate new multiplayer scenarios. Maybe this will appear as an add on, after an additional scenario pack or two have been created and sold. Games companies generally seem loathe to release editors in the fear that it would affect sales of add-on packs, but just maybe the extra interest from editing scenarios could generate extra sales of such packs.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Richard Abbott for Game Bytes Magazine. All rights reserved.