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Posted on Jan 12, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Battles in Italy – Game Review (PC)

By Jim Cobb

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The Allied campaigns in Sicily and Italy are studies in mistakes, frustrations and missed opportunities. Historians such as Carlo D’Este take a very negative view of the operations and suggest the only positive aspects were the continuing attrition of Axis resources and geopolitical position. Russell Hart and Rick Atkinson would put a more positive spin on things by suggesting these battles were necessary steps in teaching the Allies how to defeat the Wehrmacht. Using the latest iteration of the Decisive Battles of World War II engine, SSG has given players the opportunity to see if the negative results were inevitable with Battles in Italy.

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Battles in Italy is a regiment level turn-based game with 2.5 kilometer hexes and one-day turns. Scenarios coming with the original games are the invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky), the Salerno landings (Operation Sledgehammer) and the Anzio landing (Operation Shingle). If these choices seem sparse, never fear: scenarios are already out for Patton’s original Sicily plan, Crete and a monster scenario for the entire Italian campaign. No less than ten scenarios and variants can be found at http://www.ssg.com.au/.

Although the base engine is similar to its predecessors, enough changes have been made in Battles in Italy to make it more than just the same game with different terrain. Some changes, such as the improved AI, are global, while others like surrender and political considerations are theater specific. Patch 1.02 provides a bug-free environment.

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Supported by the navy, British forces gain ground in Sicily. The highlighted units are small, one-step batteries as shown in the lower right.

A Lot to See and Hear

The most impressive aspect of Battles in Italy’s graphics is their omnipresence: everything is shown in very accessible formats. Although making for a "busy" display, such lavish use of screens makes for easy play when gamers catch the rhythm of action. Unit icons show both NATO and icon symbols for the unit type as well as its divisional patch. The resolution makes it hard to see these things on the map but the undocumented ALT magnifying function brings everything up close. Once a unit is selected, the on-map information and much more are duplicated in the unit display.

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Using the ALT key makes on-map features much easier to see.

Battles in Italy is information driven. Players have so much data and so many choices that "info overload" could be a dilemma. The game avoids this problem by using "nested" screens. Right clicking on a hex brings up the battlefield popup that has information on both units and terrain. Units present are shown on a vertical axis and terrain properties on the horizontal. Moving a cursor onto a unit at this screen brings up another screen displaying the values, strengths – depicted in steps – and abilities of the unit including quality, number of troops presented by icons, supply status and special features such as digging in. This data is mimicked in the unit and divisional display panels. Terrain features include victory points, movement and supply values, defense benefits and the possibility of releasing units. Information about all terrain in both dry and mud conditions is instantly shown on tables in the Control Panel. The same table has tabs showing combat values, terrain effects and other data. This system of clickable panels and display areas works for interdiction, transport, weather, reinforcements and other aspects of the game. The combat screen is a graphic representation of the old Combat Results Tables where tapping on units and assets changes the odds column automatically and allows players to call off high-risk, low-gain attacks. Supply nets can be seen in a vivid overlay. This myriad of detailed screens is explained in detail with a nine-lesson, 34-page PDF tutorial, almost exactly like its Battles in Normandy counterpart but without the helpful illustrations. The 54-page manual is very thorough but, once again, leaves out the ALT magnifying feature so useful in viewing units and terrain on the battle map.

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(left)This screen shows a hex is occupied by a British supply unit, is worth 100 VPs and costs twenty Operation Points to move through in good weather. (right) Many screens are chock full of data. This one shows movement and combat shifts for British troops and information about an American drop zone.

Easy Directions

Map and mouse visual cues create a very friendly interface. Brightened hexes along with mouse shapes and colors illustrate where selected units can move, why they can’t move elsewhere and what they can do at the end of their journey. Special functions such as extended movement, digging in and detaching pickets are accomplished by clicking on the appropriate icons in the unit display. Placing air, partisan and mine interdictions is accomplished in the same manner. Selection of reinforcements or transportation modes and searches for unit types work similarly; pick a type of unit and then a small arrow to scroll through possibilities. Adding units and assets to combat is also a simple function of clicking on appropriate units and icons. Given the complexity of the game, the interface relieves players of a great deal of work.

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