The Great War concept art of soldiers in the trenches

The Great War: The Western Front Review

The Great War: The Western Front Review

need to know

what is it? A slow-paced real-time strategy game set in the horrific conflagration of the Western Front in World War I.

Expect to pay: £29.99/$34.99

release date: come out now

Developer: petroglyph game

Publisher: Frontier Foundry

commented on: Windows 10, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super, Intel Core i7-9700 @ 3.00GHz, 16GB RAM

multiplayer game? Yes

Association: Official Website(opens in a new tab)

The Great War: Western Front is not an RTS game for perfectionists. World War I was a notoriously attrition war that claimed the lives of 40 million civilians and soldiers. So when you blow the whistle and send your lads over the top, dozens of them will be shot in the hellish muck of no man’s land, machine gun emplacements capable of wiping out entire companies at will in seconds.

This makes the game stand out from its grimer counterparts. Veterans of the Company of Heroes relish the effortless satisfaction of expert counterattacks, and there are few things more pleasurable in StarCraft than a Mutalisk rout. But in great wars, every victory comes with a brutal death toll. The horrors of 1914 heat up, and, frankly, they might make you hesitate to stay too long.

(Image credit: Petroglyph Games)

As the title suggests, The Great War: Western Front takes place entirely within the fortifications of the 1910s across Belgium and France. During the campaign, players are greeted by a grand tabletop tactical board where they can command Allied or Confederate armies on the front lines. These gaps are spent allocating research points, beefing up munitions, and breaking ground on new facilities that make the horrors of mechanized warfare slightly more acceptable—medical facilities, makeshift bars, and more.

Victory outweighed

But the Commander can only beat around the bush for so long. Finally it’s time to act and send your troops into enemy territory for marginal gains and brutal carnage. Here, “Western Front” becomes a sad, Total War-esque elegy for a battlefield filled with dug trenches and makeshift choke points to better take down enemy troops. Any successful engagement requires a solid line of heavy artillery, which inhibits advance and demoralizes. But most importantly, you’ll need to marshal the entire war machine of Europe; a bunch of flesh and blood. The Western Front doesn’t involve squads or special operations. Instead, waves of humanity pounded the opposing earthworks until they finally surrendered.

All those offal were impressive. Compared to games that evoke the spirit of 1914 (Battlefield 1, Isonzo, Beyond The Wire), the Western Front plays an active role, frustrating all our paper generals with a lot of rough decisions. Victory in the Great War is achieved by capturing and controlling a series of control points, and the easiest way to determine this is to fire a mortar round, briefly disable the gunner’s lair, and then send waves of soldiers into the vast The battlefield – open, uncovered dirt and snow. Dozens of them will be annihilated before reaching their objective, and those who do will need to clear enemy headquarters, sandbag by sandbag, before finally vying for authority in the arena. As a strategist, it was often difficult to know if I was doing well on the Western Front. Yes, there are acres of land flying under the Confederate flag now, but the veritable mountain of tumbling corpses behind me does look blank.

(Image credit: Petroglyph Games)

As you progress through the tech tree on the Western Front, more combat wrinkles appear, modestly enhancing your actions on the battlefield. You could take advantage of the era’s rudimentary air force and send in AI-controlled bombers and interceptors to conquer the gray skies above. As you delve deeper into the battle, barrages of more advanced artillery loom on the horizon; I particularly like a punishing rolling bombardment that slowly encroaches on enemy positions while leaving a long trail of smoke in its wake, covering the your own progress. Armored divisions are also strong, if only because a single tank can effectively punch through the best reinforcements.

If the bombs go off at the wrong time, and the enemy lines aren’t suppressed when your troops come into view, you can reasonably expect to be wiped out.

Despite all these fun ingredients, The Western Front’s delivery method is surprisingly rote. Cannonballs fire, battalions charge, and you hope not to be outwitted or outflanked by your opponents. In fact, I’d say most of the game’s decisions come down to pure timing. If the bombs go off at the wrong time, and the enemy lines aren’t suppressed when your troops come into view, you can reasonably expect to be wiped out. Few strategy games are more willing to punish your mistakes.

This wouldn’t be an issue if Western Front had more fidelity in its controls. Soldiers moved at a Napoleonic, clumsy pace, and they often got stuck in some weird mouse-click blur despite my relatively simple aim. For example, if a conquered trench already contained the maximum two battalions it could hold, my other company would occasionally wander outside of that safe haven, ready to be shot down to Earth by a gunpowder payload. Yes, you could blame it on my inefficiency as a manager – I should have directed them to another trench sooner – but how many units are on screen and how they keep getting mixed up in the same real estate The nature of the tight spaces of World War I made it difficult to stop a single regiment in need of guidance.

(Image credit: Petroglyph Games)

But there are other cases where the chain of command breaks for reasons completely outside my purview. These intricate, serpentine grooves confuse both me and the software. I had sent my troops to attack a group of soldiers on the other side of the network, only to watch as the two passed each other like ships sailing at night. For all of Western Front’s commitment to historical flavor, the scale of the war conjures up some classic video games right from the source code.

straight to business

The Western Front’s aesthetic isn’t steeped in any overarching cinematic narrative. You can choose which year you want the campaign to start–and which side to requisition–which will obviously determine when certain inevitable events in the timeline occur, such as when the Americans join the fray. But don’t expect any sweet cutscenes or character moments. After finishing a round, you’ll likely encounter some sort of episodic dossier event–recruitment shortages, low morale, etc.–but these are limited to titles and a few numerical modifiers that color the action. In most cases, you’ll be staring at the border over and over, bickering over the same few meters of territory. The actual Western Front barely moved during the war. History always repeats itself.

(Image credit: Petroglyph Games)

I think this is the main problem with eating in the great war.For all its pomp and circumstance—the limbs bouncing from mortars, the planning from the macro to the micro, the gratuitous mourning of the subject—there isn’t much to say. Do here. Other games have proven that World War I has more flavor, perhaps more palatability, than its archival records. Consider the troika of Isonzo, Verdun, and Tannenberg eagerly displaying the grandeur, if death, of this conflict. How this powder keg literally consumed the entire continent. Western Front, on the other hand, is much more conservative in its storytelling latitude. It’s trench warfare at its bleakest and most uncompromising, which is to say it captures some of World War I’s most heartrending moments. Victory, and even a few control points, can only be achieved through massive human sacrifices. I don’t think anyone should be particularly proud of the work they’ve done after a meeting while away from their PC.

In this sense, The Great Western Front is an excellent teaching tool. It showcases the various innovations of the turn of the century and how they effortlessly transformed European warriors into delicate beige-pink pulp. But when I consider the many options for satisfying a strategist’s cravings, I find myself preferring the dark plots of Crusader Kings, or the multifaceted conflicts of Age of Empires. These games pose many interesting problems that can inspire countless unconventional solutions. On the Western Front, however, only one answer was acceptable: a vicious, relentless advance. That, my friends, was World War I. Get out before you can.

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Bart Thompson
Bart is's List Writer . He is from Houston, Texas, and is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in creative writing, majoring in non-fiction writing. He likes to play The Elder Scrolls Online and learn everything about The Elder Scrolls series.