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Posted on Jun 10, 2011 in Games PR

Strategy and Simulation Games at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo

By Peter Suciu

The era of the great strategy games has passed us by it seems. In years past at the Electronic Entertainment Expo—long passed, sadly—there would be a multitude of historical simulations, real-time strategy games and the like. E3 was the place to see the future of what games would be keeping us up into the wee hours of the night.

Fortunately in the midst of all the sci-fi shooters, Mario style games and racing simulations there was still something for the grognard (slang for war gamer) out there.

World of Tanks (Wargaming.net for PC)
The name says it all. This game is about the “world of tanks,” and features historically accurate fighting vehicles from the pre-WWII days to the early Cold War, with an emphasis of course on World War II. World of Tanks includes fighting vehicles from the United States, Germany and the Soviet Union.

The game was actually released this past April, but Wargaming.net still wanted to make a big splash at E3 and held daily tournaments with the 3D team-based multiplayer online game. As an equal mix of simulation and strategy game World of Tanks, which is a PC-only title, offers realism but not at the sake of fun. It is also about tank on tank action, so while infantry is the real world nemesis of armored fighting vehicles, this game instead relies just on the metal beasts.

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The developers also offered that the next game in the series would be the World of Planes, and would focus on 1930s to 1950 military aircraft.

ArmA III (Bohemia Interactive, PC)
This tactical military first- and third-person shooter is no mere shooter, and hence is included here in the strategy and simulation round-up rather than the shooter round-up. The game, which is a quasi-sequel to the Operation Flashpoint series – Codemasters retains the Operation Flashpoint name, while Bohemia Interactive continued to develop its own alternate history strategy game.

The new ArmA features a single-player campaign that will let players rank up from lone soldier to military commander in an open-ended yet story-driven campaign. Where ArmA III is no mere shooter is in that it allows players to take direct control of aircraft, vehicles and ships—and unlike similar fare such as Battlefield 3, which still remains a shooter, this game offers a more simulation-styled gameplay thanks to its physical simulation engine.

The playable demo offered a glimpse of the intense action, as well as the stunningly realistic graphics. This one won’t be running on that old computer in the basement however, so would-be commanders might want to consider a system upgrade for the full effect.

ArmA III also promises to be extremely customizable, not only in allowing players to choose uniforms and create a custom weapon kit and load out, but also in that it extensible and moddable—the latter meaning that players can use the mission editor to create their own unique scenarios.

The battle will continue next year when ArmA III storms into action.

Birds of Steel (Konami, Xbox 360/PS3)
While we didn’t get to see World of Planes at E3, we did get to take flight with Konami’s upcoming Birds of Steel, the new WWII dogfighting game from IL-2 developer Gaijin Entertainment. The game is not part of the IL-2 Sturmovik series however, and interestingly this one will only be released for the consoles—Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

This combat flight simulator will recreate famous battles including Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guadalcanal and Coral Sea, as well as European action in the Mediterranean and over the German Ruhr Valley. It will feature historic as well as fictional missions and with plenty of real world planes. Birds of Steel will include a single-player campaign, as well as a team-based multiplayer campaign, plus co-op missions and, of course, intense aerial dogfighting.

We don’t know when this one is taking flight, but we can’t wait.

Ace Combat: Assault Horizon (Namco Bandai Games, Xbox 360/PS3)
Yet another flight game that sees the United States squaring off against the Russians with current state of the art aircraft, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon brings out a variety of rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft including the AH-64D Apache Longbow gunship, the UH-60 Black Hawk as well as the F-22 and A-10.

What makes this one stand out is that flight simulations all too often pay so much attention to the planes that the ground only looks good from the wild blue yonder. At E3 this week we were able to fly low to the hard deck, dodgin—which often was how the experience ended for me. While some of the missions are less dogfighting, such as attacking ships with the A-10 or strafing guns from the Black Hawk, the core of the game is still about being an ace and that means high-speed dogfighting action. What more could you want?

About the only thing we’d like more is if we didn’t have to wait until October, and if this one weren’t limited to the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Crusader Kings II (Paradox Interactive, PC)
Now we’re talking. Crusader Kings II is an old school historic strategy game worthy of beer and pretzels, in which you build armies and structures and plot the destruction of your rivals. Set in Late Medieval Europe (1066 to 1452), this sequel to the 2004 sleeper hit builds on the original game with courtly intrigue and a streamlined interface that makes it easier to control the action.

It is good to be the king, until you realize you have a kingdom to run—and in this game, much like many of Paradox Interactive’s grand strategy games—kingdoms don’t run themselves but rather just run into the ground. There looks to be a multitude to do, but fortunately computer advisors can help you manage the kingdom, so you can focus on conflicts and the big picture without having to micromanage absolutely every detail.

Crusader Kings II will feature a variety of campaigns, with plenty of options from unifying all of Europe (something no one ever did) to freeing the Holy Land from the Infidels (something done with mixed results at best). The Old World is yours to conquer, or at least will be early next year.

Game of Thrones: Genesis (Cyanide Studio, PC)
The HBO series is winding down, and you won’t have to wait until next year to get your fill of George R.R. Martin’s best-selling fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire. While you wait for the second season you can take part in Game of Thrones: Genesis, a grand strategy game that chronicles 1,000 years that led to the founding of the Kingdom of Westeros—the Seven Kingdoms.

And while the books and series begin after the era of Aegon the Conqueror and the War of the Usurper, these are playable in the PC game due out this summer. The single-player campaign was actually written with supervision and guidance from Martin. The game also features an 8-player multiplayer mode as well.

The game is not a traditional real time strategy (RTS) game however, so there is no base building and no development of technologies nor mass production of units. The game is set around four unique facets, which are economic, military, diplomacy and underhand – if you’ve seen the show or read the books you’ll understand immediately. The key to the game is also alliance building, because as the books/show tells there are only so many men that can be recruited and working with partners is key to victory.

The graphics are decent but unfortunately have a different look—and thus a different feel—from the HBO show. It also isn’t the most advanced graphics, but it still works well enough to make for seemingly addictive gameplay. Just remember when you play the game of thrones, you either win … or you die. You’ll get your chance later this summer.

Other notable strategy and simulation games from E3:

Tropico 3 (Kalypso Media, PC) – Fidel Castro knew when to step down—will you, when you take the role of “El Presidente” and play the game’s 20-mission campaign?

Defenders of Ardania (Paradox Interactive, PC) – If you like a bit of fantasy in your strategy games, this one set in the world of Majesty offers light RTS gameplay with three playable races for the PC. Due next year.

Where are the shooter games? Check out part 1 of Peter Suciu’s E3 report.

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