Windows – 2000
Description of Battle Isle: The Andosia War
Battle Isle: The Andosia War, fifth in the long-running Blue Byte series (Incubation being the last incarnation), attempts to make some innovative moves in the strategy genre with a combination of turn-based and real-time play. Can it succeed? In terms of storyline, the game’s setting is much the same as that shared by the previous Battle Isle and Incubation games, which is mainly a rehash of rather boring sci-fi tropes. There’s a planet with a bunch of islands on it and two sides are fighting it out due to political differences. The established military force led by General Bratt is squared off against a revolutionary cult called the Children of Haris. Playing stand-alone skirmish missions or either of the two campaign games, the player engages in activities that have defined the RTS genre since Dune: resource-gathering, base-building, and combat. In the campaign game, both sides have an “Economy Island,” where they build up their infrastructure of mines, factories, and research facilities, transporting units from there to the “Mission Island,” where they fight it out over the scenario-defined objectives at hand. There are a total of ten skirmish maps, but no random map generator or editor – in skirmish games, each player tries to conquer the other(s) from his own island. I found one mention of the fact that the cult side is engaged in “the production of Andosia, a mysterious secretion,” but generally, the sides had little to tell them apart, especially considering that the buildings and units of two sides are identical, differentiated in game terms only by the insignia appearing on certain units. Revolutionary While this latest Battle Isle game sports an interesting game system, its implementation is not really as revolutionary as the publisher touts. The system is both real-time and turn-based: Real-time in that time is always passing, and players can always build infrastructure whenever they want, sending out little flying construction units from an initial headquarters building to assemble structures for harvesting or processing each of the game’s six resources (water, iron ore, aldinium, energy, steel, and high-grade steel) or other buildings. Each building must have a connection to an energy source and be linked to the transport tube network so resources can move freely between facilities that need them. All building-related orders, be it to manufacture a new tank or research a new technology, are likewise carried out in real-time. I found the transport tube system buggy, as on a couple of occasions, all of my facilites would cease to function without explanation. Turn-based in that a player can only move his units if it is his “tactical turn.” This switches back and forth between players as per a turn-based game, and has a time limit determined by the number of units in the player’s control, varying between two and twenty minutes. So, for instance, you may have six minutes in which to make all of the unit moves you can, at the end of which the turn switches to your opponent for six minutes, and so on. The important thing to remember here is that whether it’s your tactical turn or not, you can always give building related orders, which are carried out in real-time. In theory, this system is meant to combine the thrill and flow of a real-time game with the strategizing and suspense of a turn-based game. In practice, this isn’t quite the case. While the developers should be commended for trying to implement what the promo material calls “a new game genre,” the results here are less than inspiring. After an initial base setup period, the required attention to infrastructure is minimal, which leaves you to focus your attention on what will transpire during your tactical turn. Once your turn begins and the timer starts ticking down, you must quickly make decisions and prioritize engagements so that the most important actions are taken before the time runs out. This is not bad in itself, and games in the past have shown that a timed-turn system can heighten a game’s tension level. Its positive aspects are lessened somewhat by Battle Isle’s camera system, which sometimes left me disoriented and staring at an expanse of ocean if I moved the mouse a bit too fast, and its method of unit selection, which was “fuzzy” enough for me to accidentally send unarmed units to their death on occasion. The frustration is compounded when you’re trying to take into account delicate factors like staying out of the enemy’s firing range and the facing of your units. The real drawback to the system, though, is that when you’ve got your base built up and it’s not your turn, you just have six to ten minutes to kill while the AI takes its turn. I found myself reading the paper, watching TV, and even going out for coffee a few times. And when my tactical turn rolled around, I had no trouble trouncing the AI. As a result, the game takes longer to play and is less exciting than a lot of turn-based games. It was odd for me to feel this way, since, preferring turn-based games over real-time ones, I had expected to dislike the game’s real-time aspect. A familiar tune with more feedback The units available run the usual RTS gamut, including scout vehicles, infantry (light, heavy, grenadier, sniper, and commander), tanks, artillery, sea, air, and stationary units. There is nothing unexpected in the unit/building mix — again, identical for both sides — and each is named generically (the “Magpie” is a salvage unit, the “Alligator” a sea transport). In all, the units and their interaction reminded me a great deal of those in the old game M.A.X., which I consider a good thing. M.A.X., however, had greater variety in its unit mix and a stronger differentiation between sides. Another of many features Battle Isle: The Andosia War shares with M.A.X. is an interesting model for battlefield supply. You have to erect a chain of Energy Relay Posts on the battle island which provide your repair/supply units, called “Ants,” with the energy they need to keep your army in fighting shape. This makes both ERPs and their attendant Ants priority targets, as crippling the enemy’s supply capability will severely limit his effectiveness in combat. Each unit in the game is rated for action points, movement, sighting range, firing range, attack value (vs. infantry, tanks, aircraft, ships, submarines, and stationary targets), and armor. In a welcome touch, units have an armor value for each facing, which encourages adroit maneuvering on the field. Units can be loaded into transports, and one of the game’s small pleasures is moving a transport in to deposit an infantry assault team on the front lines. Moving and firing with a unit uses up its action points. You have to maneuver your force carefully, considering the firing range of it and the opposition, and being careful to save action points for shooting or opportunity fire. This is a facet of Battle Isle that really shines. Cauldron, the developer, also produced a game called Spellcross, (our review here) which was noteworthy for excellent unit feedback; with Battle Isle, this aspect of the design becomes one of their hallmarks. When a unit is selected, the terrain around it becomes color-coded to indicate where it can and can’t move, and positioning the cursor over a possible destination tells the player the remaining number of shots, action points, and energy points the unit will have left if it moves there. Holding down the Alt key shows the unit’s sighting and firing ranges, and holding the cursor over an enemy unit with Alt depressed indicates the same for that enemy. There’s more feedback in Battle Isle than I’ve encountered in any other game since M.A.X., and it allows for quick and accurate decision making. Units can be grouped and moved as in other RTS games, by either “rubberbanding” or Control-clicking. There is none of the aforementioned feedback for groups of units, however, so group movement is best employed in non-combat situations. You have to switch into “Waypoint Mode” to plot waypoint paths and assign units or groups to the paths you create. Since waypoint orders are the only sort that can be issued to units during your opponent’s tactical turn, mastery of their use is essential to efficient management of your forces. The greatest lack in unit control is in order allocation; there is no order queueing, non-waypoint orders do not carry over from turn to turn, and direct unit orders cannot be given while the game is paused or during the opponent’s tactical turn. While Battle Isle seems to take some inspiration from the likes of Total Annihilation and M.A.X., its lack of unit order flexibility render it inferior to those games. That shore is purty The landscapes, lighting effects, and defiltered bifogging macguffination or whatever in Battle Isle are certainly very nice to look at and the camera even handles well. There are full day/night cycles and changing weather conditions, which are said to affect sighting ranges and movement capability, respectively. Unfortunately, nowhere in the game or documentation could I find a clear explication as to these effects, beyond a vague mention of infantry being better spotters at night. While the visuals are great, some of the more ambitious features can get in the way of gameplay. When a unit fires at a target, the camera swoops down to show the action from a couple of different angles, a much-touted feature intended to inject some drama into the proceedings. As often as not, however, the camera position gives you a close-up view of a cliff face in all of its texture-mapped beauty while the action occurs offscreen, or shows you a lovely panorama of the horizon and setting sun as you hear the sound of your target exploding. Fortunately, this feature can be toggled off in the options screen. Line of sight is one thing the 3D engine handles pretty well, for the most part. Dips and rises in the terrain can provide concealment for units, allowing for ambushes and defensive maneuvering. Vehicle wrecks, copses of trees, and structures can all be used effectively for cover. A unit on high ground gains clearer LoS, but no bonuses to sighting range, firing range, or combat ability. I have had a few strange LoS situations, where a unit mere yards from an enemy cannot fire on it. The thing I really like about the 3D terrain is that each map square is rated for steepness of slope, and certain vehicles can’t move across certain slope grades. this means that some hills can only be climbed by infantry, which gives them an added tactical value. Another plus is the sound effects, which are uniformly excellent. Coupled with the visual splendor of smoke-trailing missiles and pretty explosions, the game puts on a spectacular show. Conclusion Cauldron should be commended for implementing some good ideas (armor facing, excellent feedback, lighting and weather, battlefield supply), but reprimanded for leaving out some tried and true strategy game conventions (queueing orders, giving orders while paused, unit attitude settings) and failing to thoroughly test their game system for playability. Battle Isle: The Andosia War is disappointing in the same way as most of the new breed of 3D strategy games: it sets out to accomplish new and interesting things, but ultimately delivers more eye candy than gaming satisfaction. If you are a very patient strategy gamer, and particularly enjoyed games with similar attributes like M.A.X. or Cauldron’s own impressive debut offering Spellcross, then Andosia War may be worth your time.
Review By GamesDomain
Buy Battle Isle: The Andosia War
Battle Isle: The Andosia War is available for a small price on the following websites, and is no longer abandonware. You can read our online store guide.