Review by Star_Gem
"Turn-based Strategy, with a hint of Simulation, which isn't necessarily a bad thing"
101 Airborne is a typical Strategy game which, as most of you should know, is the genre that gave birth to RPGs, although most people wouldn't know that thanks to the increasing amount of Action games that try to pass by as RPGs. Sadly, the newer generations of gamers have no way to know any better and are helping to kill a genre, unknowingly. Regardless, that's not something to be discussed here, so let's move into my review. I called your attention to this important historical fact because, in a way, 101 almost feels like a RPG, not only for its turn-based nature, but also for the level of customization that you can give to your units, and the freedom you have on how to achieve your goals in the field of battle. Still, one or two RPG elements do not a RPG make, so the Strategy genre definition is the most appropriate here.
The first thing you'll notice when you start a new game are the Graphics and Sound. While the former is relatively impressive, especially with the amount of details, the later is a bit on the disappointing side. Granted, the Strategy genre is not famous for its ominous soundtracks and witty soldier one-liners (at least at this point in time), but the feeling of "chaos" that the game is trying to recreate loses something in this department. I'd expect, at least, a few groans and screams when a soldier is shot or hit by a grenade.
Once you get past the looks and sounds of the game, you get into what will keep you staring at the screen for hours, or looking frantically for the "quit" function. If you're a patient player, who enjoys spending hours fine tuning every aspect of the game, then I'm sure there's something here for you. On the other hand, if you're the kind of player who gets frustrated quickly and wants to get on with the action, I can't recommend it.
Specifically, the game starts when you're still looking at your team's camp. Each building will lead you to an area that will allow you to choose and fit your team of soldiers. You might be tempted to take your best men and your best equipment, but keep in mind that some of your soldiers will most likely die before they can even fire a single shot. You see, when your soldiers land on the battlefield, their location is randomly chosen by the CPU and, very often, some of your men will fall right in the middle of the enemy with no chance to fight back.
After you've decided who to take, you have to select their equipment. There are two building for this, one with general commodities, like water canteens and rations, and the other which holds weapons and their respective ammunition. Now, don't go into battle just yet! You still have to go to the assembly area and equip each soldier individually... or you can use the auto-equip function if you want to speed things up a bit, but make sure you browse the CPU choices before proceeding.
Finally, you can drop into battle - literally. Here you'll notice the amount of detail and realism in the game. It actually feels like a Simulation. For instance, you can't do anything when you land except looking around for enemy movement, and getting out of your parachute (which takes two turns). If you're alive after that, you can then start to move and attack but, beware, rushing to your enemies will only get you killed faster. You need to get your bearings, choose your goals carefully, and what route to take to get there. Look at the terrain, and calculate how many turns you'll need to get there. Consider the pros and cons of each move - a single man is easier to kill but has a better chance to hide too. A group of soldiers means more firepower, but also a sweet target for an enemy grenade. You'll literally spend hours on each scenario and you'll be sweating to get most of your men alive at the end, but that's the whole point of the game - survive, and give hell to your opponents whenever possible. If that's the kind of game you're looking for, then the value of 101 Airborne will impress you.
Speaking of value, if you like the single player experience, try asking a friend to play with you on Multiplayer. I must admit, though, that 101 Airborne does not need it. The random nature of soldier distribution, at the start of the scenarios, changes the battle conditions greatly, and it's really exciting because instead of memorizing enemy positions, you have to learn how to react in the field each and every time.
The game is not without its problems, however. I can't be sure if this is a bug, or just a frustrating feature of the "Hide" mode, so here's some background on the situation. It happened when I was down to three men and the enemy was down to one. One of my men was in panic, the second surrendered, and my third was wounded to the point he couldn't move more than two spaces per turn at running speed, and he couldn't climb tall terrain at all. In great effort I used this last man to try and calm my panicked soldier which was on the other side of the field at this point! Yes, it took me almost half an hour just to get my wounded officer to the other side but, anyway. after calming the panicked soldier (hence regaining his control), I used him to heal my wounded hero. No problems so far, right? But here's where it gets ugly. I used my two fully healed - and reassured - soldiers to go back to the area where the last German soldier was and... he wasn't there! Actually, he was, but the soldier sprite simply failed to appear on screen for some reason. After walking and crawling around for several turns, I lost patience and bombed the German's last known position with grenades. True enough, I got the congratulations screen soon after. A feature of the game? A bug? You be the judge.
Another problem is how slow the game is. I'm talking about computing time here. Early in a scenario, when there are still many enemy units moving around, you have to wait several seconds, sometimes over a minute, before you get control of one of your units. A game which is slow in gameplay is ok, and some players enjoy it, but a game which is slow due to poor loading times is always bad.
Finally, a note on controls and interface. Usually, I like to test how intuitive a game is by not looking at the manual and just dive into it to have a test drive. I suggest you don't do that with 101 Airborne because it will only make the game much slower than it already is. Most icons in the game are self-explanatory, like the flashing parachute when you're removing it, but there's little information besides the fact that it concerns your parachute. There are many other examples I could give you, but that's one you'll face right at the beginning, so you know what I'm talking about.
I can't say I dislike the game. I guess I'm the patient type, but I know people who wouldn't endure a single scenario here. My suggestion is for you to download the demo of this game (it's quite good as it gives a good feel for the overall game), and try it out yourself.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/19/06
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