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On Site Review: Air Assault Task Force

April 4th, 2007 by Troy Goodfellow · 2 Comments · Shrapnel

I’ve come to the conclusion that you either get absorbed in what the ProSim games try to do or you don’t because the games won’t let you. Pat Proctor and company have spent their energies developing very serious real time wargames, paying little attention to vagaries like UI or in game help, focusing instead on scenario design, terrain effects and unit response.

Even when they state that they intend to improve the UI, as they supposedly have for Air Assault Task Force, the result is not what you would expect from a UI rewrite. It’s more like they took all the commands that were in menus on top and turned them into buttons at the side instead. That’s not how it’s usually done, guys.

Now add that native unfriendliness to very punishing forms of warfare – airborne assaults and special ops. In an RTS, the airborne troops and commandos are the super guys who clean up the scrub units. Here, these brave men are told that because they are special, they get to fight in the crappiest locations. Jungle ambushes, mountain hideaways, urban death-traps. This combination of unfriendly interface and tough-guy scenario design should make AATF a frustrating failure.

You’ve read enough reviews to know by now that any time someone writes that, he/she’s setting you up for the “but it’s not.”

It’s not.

Like all the ProSim games, AATF is about flexible planning. Simply flying your guys to the location and shooting it out never works. (Except for the “Blackhawk Down” scenario, which I won in two minutes by doing just that.) You have to know your troops and their capabilities and recognize the importance (and limitations) of indirect artillery fire. Scouting can be difficult, firepower can be neutralized by terrain and Washington has only given you so many guys to work with. So you make a plan, watch it move forward and then pause to adjust once things get hairy.

One of my personal biases is towards smaller scenarios. Part of my love of Combat Mission, for example, is rooted in the fact that I can generate a small to mid-size battle and get the full effect of the game. Because of its subject matter, AATF is all small scenarios. You can fight, lose, re-fight, lose and then finally win a single scenario in relatively rapid succession. AATF isn’t really generous with the number of scenarios, even with the three settings (Vietnam, Somalia and Afghanistan) but there is very little repetition within them.

In a way, this makes AATF especially difficult. All gamers, including wargamers, like to find shortcut tactics that will work in a variety of situations. The ProSim games emphasize general combat doctrine over wargame tactics, so reading the manual and understanding what specific troops are for is paramount. It might be tempting to just put your Apaches in place banging up enemy trucks, but losing a single helicopter can make or break the entire mission. If you provide a tempting target, it will go down.

AATF is probably the tightest of the ProSim games, though I think I like Star and Crescent more. The MidEast War game had more scenarios, more elaborate (but not necessarily difficult) tactical problems and tanks. Never underestimate the appeal of tanks.

This is a very good game even without tanks, but it won’t make you like the ProSim games if you don’t already like them. In a way, they are the HPS of real time wargaming. If you sign on accepting the limitations, as I have, then you will find something to applaud. It is neither a pretty game, nor a friendly game. But the ProSim series is easily the number one modern wargame system on the market today. AATF is a pleasant reminder that warfare is an unpleasant business.


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