Hot on the heels of a visual novel it looks like I’m recommending a piece of another genre from which I normally steer clear. This time it’s a wargame.
Unity of Command has actually been getting a bit of attention from places like Kotaku this week as it makes its debut on Steam (it originally came out last November on other services), but I thought I’d go ahead and add to the endorsement. After checking out the demo I decided to hop on the sale and was pleasantly surprised at how accessible it was for someone who has been scared off by wargames several times in the past. Fans of Advance Wars shouldn’t find this game too hard to get into.
The last time I tried to peek into the demo of a wargame, I took one look at the starting screen of the first mission and immediately uninstalled the game and forgot what it was even called. It’s just this whole other sphere of gaming that’s almost never appeared prominently in my console past except in the case of whatever Nintendo Intelligent Systems put out.
Unity has a lot of big differences from those games sure, but the basic controls and movement systems are very similar. That up-front simplicity makes it an ideal entry point for someone interested in traditional PC and tabletop wargames, but who maybe has never been able to get the hang of one.
Most importantly, the game manages to be addictive for the same reasons as Advance Wars. After learning the controls pretty quickly I kept wanting to do better on each mission and gain a better understanding of how the deeper mechanics work. That’s what’s made me lose track of time while playing, even on the initial missions.
The main thing that seems to separate Unity from even a lot of other hardcore wargames is that it tries to illustrate the effect of supply lines on the battlefield. Leave your troops too far away from supply sources and they become less effective, eventually losing the ability to attack, so you have to plan all your movements around supply lines. That fundamentally changes things – railways become a keystone to how both you and the enemy move, and cutting off enemy supply lines becomes a major objective in the game.
I don’t know about you, but Unity also presents a rare case of a game where I got something extra out of it due to a bit of knowledge on the subject matter. The game covers the Stalingrad campaign of World War II, on which I read the authoritative book a while ago by Antony Beevor. Recognizing particular scenarios and places, as well as how each side fights gives the game an extra air of authenticity. Noticing little things like how the presence of NKVD personnel affects gameplay also reveals how 2×2 games incorporated history into the mechanics.
Lastly, Unity is a very slick package. The graphics are all basic 2D icons but look very clean and vibrant. It’s the ultimate in art-over-tech, even for a recent strategy game in my opinion, since Unity will run on basically anything with a 2GHz processor and a couple gigs of RAM, even on integrated graphics cards.
I’ve always found many of the best games to be ones that successfully balance accessibility with depth. Unity of Command manages to do this to what for a long time has looked like one of the most impenetrable genres in video games.