By Eric T. Baker
Not every war is a hot one. East India Company for the PC from Paradox Interactive is a strategic trading game with tactical combat elements set during the high age of European sail and exploration. The time period is ad 1600 to 1750. There are three smaller campaigns and one grand campaign. There are eight different playable European nations. The map covers the world from Europe to India; the Americas and China are not included. This is not a game of national armies at war. It is a game of private interests battling with money and cannons.
In the manner of these games, you start with the home port of whichever nation (British, Dutch, French, Danish, Portuguese, Swedish, Spanish, or Holy Roman Empire) you choose and a few ships. There are no special abilities keyed to the nations, so which one you want to manage is mostly cosmetic. You send your ships out, exploring the world, finding ports that have raw goods. The goods are brought home, traded for crafted goods, and the ships go out again. In this manner, the world opens up and your empire expands.
Battles for the ports are done via strategic screens. Battles between ships can be done in a strategic quick resolve method as well, but the game punishes players who use this. Not only will your ships always take more damage with the computer in charge, but the ship’s captains don’t earn experience in the strategic battles. So you will almost always want to play the tactical battle system, which is also the part of the game that can be played in online multiplayer, although not as part of the campaigns.
What EIC does, it does competently, but it doesn’t have the polish that would be expected of a bigger budget game. For instance, the 3-D views of the harbors are beautiful, but they take long enough to load that you will probably switch to the 2-D summaries. The tactical ship battles look excellent and are easy to command, but they are a little too realistic in that they contain a lot of time spent just sailing into position or chasing a fleeing prize. Players who love the economics of this period and love fighting sail will enjoy this game, but it won’t woo new fans to the period or this genre of games.
ArmA II Ultimate Military Simulator for the PC from Bohemian Interactive is (largely) a first-person shooting game set in a fictional former Soviet state. Players take the role of one of the U.S. Marines brought in to support the Democratic government against Communist insurgents of various stripes. It breaks down into five different factions on the 86-square-mile game world, and that is just one of the ways that ArmA II is one of the most complex shooters ever created.
To understand ArmAa II, you have to envision a game like Call of Duty where nothing is scripted. The various units will fight regardless of your presence. The game really does let you solve the objectives however you like, and then is smart enough to change the game world based on what you did. Unfortunately, you have to also envision a game like CoD but with so many bugs that you will find yourself wondering how anyone in their right mind could have released it. ArmA II provides a better experience of modern combat than any other game on the market, but it requires far too much reloading and patience to be given the high marks that experience would otherwise deserve.
For a real-time strategy take on the modern era there is Combat Mission Shock Force which has just released its first expansion, British Forces. You will need the full game to play this expansion as it does not stand alone. It does, however, add a modern British fighting force to the hypothetical fight in Syria that was laid out in the main game. The soldiers come with their distinctive L85 rifles and travel in Warriors while being supported by L12A2 mortars and Harrier jump jets.
The main campaign that comes with this expansion follows the Highlanders Battle Group in its fight across Syria. It is a branching campaign that is hurt only by the objectives not being as clear as you might hope. Be prepared to do more exploring. Also, in the campaign, you cannot choose your exact forces. If you want to mix and match and try specific units against each other you will have to use the editor to create your own battles. If you already own CMSF, this expansion is worth the price. Players who don’t own CMSF should probably start with the basic game and see if this combat sim is for them.