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Strategy? On the Xbox?
Consoles have long overtaken the PC as the most popular gaming platform, but the PC still has a stranglehold on some notable genres. The largest is the strategy genre. Although attempts have been made in games like Halo Wars to bring strategy gaming to the console, those attempts so far seem to have simply reinforced the notion that strategy games just can't be executed well without a keyboard and mouse.
Enter Panzer General Allied Assault for the Xbox 360. I wouldn't be surprised if you haven't heard of it. This turn-based war game debuted with little fan-fare and never gained much popularity. That is a shame, because Panzer General Allied Assault is one of the best console strategy games available on the Xbox 360.
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The core of Panzer General Allied Assault in its single-player campaign. The missions are the standard war-gaming fare, loosely based on a series of battles which start at D-day and proceed through the Allied defeat of Germany on the western front. No matter what mission you're playing, you'll find yourself on a small grid-based map which looks very much like a board game.
The map has various types of terrain on it, and units can move on the map once each turn. Alternatively, a unit can attack an opponent (armored units can both move and attack in the same turn). This opens up the combat sequence which involves a number of steps, with the attacker going first and the defender going second, although that is reversed in some situations. There are bonuses based on terrain, unit types, and other variables.
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In other words, its all the usual war-gaming stuff. But Allied Assault adds a little spice by including cards. Yes, I know the idea of cards in a strategy game is becoming rather cliche, but it works well in this implementation. Each player can have up to ten cards, and those cards can be used in various ways. It is the flexibility of the cards which makes them brilliant. They can be used for their stated purpose, but players also can "sacrifice" them during the combat phase to boost the defense or attack value of a unit. To make things more complex, each card has a resource cost associated to it. The way cards are used will win or lose the game. Those who like to sit back and plan their moves will love this.
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While the mechanics of Allied Assault are very sound, the pacing of the game becomes problematic. Completing actions just seems to take too long. For example, each combat phase can consist of four or five different actions, none of which happen at break-neck speed. As a result, a single combat can take four or five minutes. This may not sound bad, but believe me, it becomes extremely tiresome. Worse, it isn't all about the actual gameplay. The game simply seems slow to move from task to task. For example, if the player doesn't have any cards to play in a combat, the text "No Combat Cards Available" will show on the screen. This lasts for about five seconds. Then, the message "America Plays No Combat Card" follows it, and it lasts another five seconds. The two message are completely redundant, and after an hour with the game you won't even need to see them, but they'll still be there.
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On the other hand, Allied Assault does benefit from a great deal of transparency. Strategy games, particularly war games, have a reputation for being hard to understand. Allied Assault isn't. All the rolls and stats which are used to determine the outcome of the game could only be more obvious if the game wrote them on the inside of your eye-lids. This makes Allied Assault very easy to play casually, two things which normally can't be said about war games no matter what platform they're on.
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Graphics and Sound
Allied Assault is an Xbox 360 arcade title, and it looks and sounds like one. The game's graphics benefit from a great deal of stylization which prevent the low resolution textures and low polygon models from looking too terrible. Everything looks like a board game which someone might have laid out on a table rather than a strategy game being played on a television. Some more animations would have been nice, however - I find the way that infantry units go down on one knee when they're shot at to be annoying.
In terms of sound, well, there isn't much to be said. Allied Assault is a very quite game for the most part, with only the most generic of explosions available. It doesn't detract from the experience, but it doesn't add anything either.
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Allied Assault isn't a perfect game, but the mechanics are solid. Make no mistake - this is still a pure-breed strategy game despite its console location, and those with the inclination to twitch should stay far, far away. Strategy gamers, on the other and, would be woe to pass this up. The ability to sit down on a couch and play an entire mission in a turn-based strategy game within an hour is unique and soothing, a nice break from PC strategy games which are continually becoming more complex.