HEADQUARTERS WORLD WAR 2 REVIEW: AN ENGAGING WAR GAME,Unlike more immediate genres such as shooters or platformers, strategic games are sometimes characterized by a less easy learning curve. However, there are exceptions in this sense, let’s think of Headquarters World War II , which managed to stand out in terms of accessibility . The title from Starni Games, the collective behind the Strategic Mind series, manages to offer an experience that involves the player from the first minutes.

We faced the three single player campaigns , experiencing the Normandy landings on both the Allied and German fronts, appreciating the attention to detail of what turned out to be a complex title, which under an apparent simplicity conceals ingenious and effective mechanics, although not free from some critical issues (regarding the titles with publisher Slitherine Software, here is the review of Terminator Dark Fate Defiance ).

War dynamics

Without a doubt, among historical strategic games, Headquarters World War II stands out for a peculiarity, with the development team having avoided the RTS formula to embrace the turn-based one of XCOM . Each unit has a limited number of movement points, which varies based on the type of unit and the surrounding terrain, and for example machine gunners or heavy tanks will be able to move less easily over rough areas.

The distinction in action and reaction points is not at all negligible, since it clearly influences the gameplay dynamics, allowing us to make the most of the mobility of our units without compromising their firepower (thanks to the specific points it is possible to respond to the offensive enemy without wasting action points, which are fundamental for our assaults).

This tactical reserve proves crucial in the confrontation with the opposing side and requires the user to be exploited properly in every phase of the battle. It is in this context that the player’s true strategic ability emerges: Headquarters rewards those who are able to predict moves with cunning, those who move prudently and position troops intelligently . To achieve success in the field it is not always necessary to field the most powerful units. It is enough (so to speak) to gain a favorable position and maintain a clear line of fire on the enemy, while minimizing possible retaliation.

You have to constantly adapt to the unexpected events that arise during the battle and it is not uncommon to suddenly discover entire armored platoons hidden in villages . To counter these threats, the player has several tools at his disposal, such as aerial scouting and aerial, naval and artillery bombing in the rear (available depending on where the mission takes place). Furthermore, it is possible to hide troops inside buildings, although their safety is temporary due to the high degree of environmental destructibility : a safe shelter can quickly turn into a death trap with the first cannon shot. Barricades and destroyed vehicles can also provide temporary cover, but positioning is crucial, especially when facing tanks. The game features a large fleet of tanks, with a focus on the German side. In addition to detailed 3D models there is a directional armor system that precisely simulates the damage suffered by the vehicles based on the affected area and the crew members involved. Directional armor also takes into account differences in vehicle armor and the impact of each shot depends on the angle of attack, the elevation of the starting point and the armor value of the vehicle hit . Something the development team can be proud of.

Forged by battles

Through the 27 missions of the single player mode , distributed equally between the three playable factions, Headquarters transports us to the crucial moments of the Battle of Normandy, on a journey lasting approximately 30 hours . From the epic landing on Omaha Beach to the ferocious capture of Caen, we will relive the salient events of the arrival of the Allies on French territory in ’44. At the beginning of each mission there will be primary objectives that are essential to complete the task, and other secondary ones that will often allow us to obtain extra resources , such as troops temporarily at our service during the mission.

By minimizing losses, inflicting significant damage on our enemies and conquering as many objectives as possible, we will accumulate points: we consider the limit of 40 turns per mission a severe handicap given the caution that the title requires, also considering that this score not only indicates our performance, but it is a useful currency to acquire more powerful units or diversify our platoon with artillery and armor.

In fact, between one assignment and another, we will be able to use the skill points assigned to our avatar to unlock passive command perks from a special tree , and make use of the experience of our troops to promote them, improving their statistics such as morale and aiming and providing them with unique skills based on the department. It is important to note that no unit, even at maximum level, will become invincible. They will all maintain the same health points and fragility , including changes in morale based on losses suffered, which will have a significant impact on the battlefield.

Therefore, carefully planning the moves will be essential and we will not have to get too attached to the troops. This aspect is what we appreciated the most, as it maintains a constant level of immersion and authentically conveys the brutality of war and the essence of conflict . After a couple of missions we will be able to assign to any of our troops a war hero , a decorated soldier who will significantly increase the statistics of the unit he joins. This soldier is able to level up and in turn unlock special abilities independent of those of the reference unit. And here the problems begin: although secondary, this mechanic seemed capable of unbalancing the entire battle system of a title that is based on orders to be given with cunning and caution . During our games, groups with war heroes have become infallible killing machines. Initially we assigned one to some snipers and in a short time they proved to be lethal in every situation , continuously hitting with great ease. This has flattened the challenge in several situations (we will even be able to move the hero by unit between one mission and another without penalty). The idea behind the mechanics is not bad, of course, and is inspired by historical examples of the Second World War, but it calls into question the excellent work of the team in giving the player tools to carefully plan each move and evaluate the possible outcomes .

Having entire menus at our disposal that inform us about the consequences of our actions proves superfluous when we have real terminators at our disposal : at various times it was enough for us to advance our super soldier to sweep away every obstacle on the field.

The multiplayer

In addition to the three campaigns, it is possible to take part in skirmishes against the CPU and multiplayer games with up to 4 players . The additional modes enrich the overall experience, as we will be able to decide between several alternative victory conditions to the complete destruction of the enemy forces. We then point out some features that are difficult to find in products of this kind: the good number of settings for the matches allows a vast range of conflicts and a high level of customization (it is possible to modify various aspects of the match, such as the number of turns, the skills our disposal and their recovery times for example).

However, we noticed less responsiveness of the AI ​​compared to single player campaigns , because it maintains a decidedly more staid pace compared to historical campaigns. The real gem in our opinion is the map editor, which allows you to create your own ideal battlefield, adding it to the 6 predefined ones provided by the developers: thanks to this tool it is possible to create a wide variety of battlegrounds , adapting the gaming experience to your preferences (it is quite simple to create infernal maps for our motorized troops, such as preferring field scenarios where armored vehicles are the masters).

In general, the waiting times for online matchmaking are reasonable : a few days after the title was published, we easily found several opponents to challenge, without running into any noteworthy problems. Finally, we cannot fail to point out the opportunity to participate in multiplayer games in hotseat mode, which allows you to set up 1v1 matches, sharing the same device and taking turns at the controls.

This feature increasingly reinforces the idea of ​​a title created taking classic tabletop wargames as an example , where players clash by alternating the movement of their pieces. The choice to include this dimension is very appropriate, it undoubtedly adds a distinctive touch to the overall experience, especially considering the turn-based system of the title.

A visually well-curated wargame

On the visual front, Headquarters is a well-edited historical wargame. The details of the maps and the elegance of the scenographic elements invite you to explore the battlefield, and give the effect of a gaming table with models positioned above it .

Each vehicle is crafted with great care and even the terrain, environment and buildings are full of minutiae. Unfortunately, however, the animations of the infantry, rigid and unnatural , do not reach the same levels of effectiveness and our men look more like plastic soldiers. It’s a shame, given the excellent direction of the game’s action sequences.

In terms of performance, our test went rather well, net of some stuttering phenomena during rapid camera movements to follow the enemy’s turn and/or occasional oddities in close-up shots of the units. The distinctive element of Headquarters: World War II is certainly the close-ups on the game actions, which add a cinematic touch to the fights. Every crucial move is emphasized by these kinematics, benefiting user involvement . This is particularly evident during battles between tanks, in fact watching the duel between two tanks can keep us in suspense.