Review - Operation Europe: Path to Victory 1939-45 (DOS, 1994)

Game publishers and purchasers never seem to tire of the second world war. Your local software dealer can offer you two dozen ways to relive the Battle of the Bulge, or Rommel's maneuvers in North Africa. The variety of approaches to these conflicts brings into question the accuracy of ANY of them; often game-maps apparently representing the same battlefield bear no observable similarities, and the strategies to win at a game bear little relation to the strategies needed to win a battle.

Even amid the smoking field of world-war question-marks, though, there are stand-out simulations that capture the FEEL of the war, and a shadow of the tension and excitement that must have been felt by the Pattons and the Rommels that lived it. Koei's Operation Europe is very possibly the furthest thing from this, resembling in style something closer to a Super Mario game – without the friendly game-play.

That might be appropriate – Operation Europe was born as a cartridge game, and it hasn't matured much on its journey from SNES to PC . . . the real tragedy of it is that the game covers some genuinely fresh details, but those are lost under gameplay so muddy and unfriendly that it's nearly laughable. Operation Europe is a collection of ambitious concepts assembled with a shortsighted neglect that borders on malicious ignorance.

Operation Europe, like many of the newer wargames, includes both strategic and tactical play; when your forces come into contact with the enemy, you are given the option to move to a tactical screen to direct individual units of armor and infantry against one another. Unfortunately, this normally welcome feature bogs the game down painfully – a tactical battle can last dozens of turns, and the tactics here simply aren't interesting enough to justify fighting to the last unit and labeling it "fun."

The facet of Operation Europe that gathers the most sparkle is the list of available resources – including people. At the outset of each scenario, you assign commanders to both the operation in general and your troop divisions. Genuine historical figures are available – although you may also roll their attributes to get a more favorable combination for the tactics you have in mind. The act of choosing commanders might be the most entertaining part of Operation Europe – and it CERTAINLY requires more careful thought than actual gameplay.

Other nice details include landmine placement, cargo drops to supply your troops from the air, and the use of "special forces teams" to assassinate enemy commanders. Some of these I've seen in no other wargame, but they seem out of place here. And frankly, I find it infuriating when the game won't LET me try some tactics because my "advisors" don't like them. If they won't work, let me find that out for myself. Last time I checked, that was the entire point of strategy simulations. Apparently the designers disagree.

These details clash a bit with the map style, which is overly abstract and – like many of the game displays – cartoonish. Other efforts of the season, like Panzer General and even Iron Cross, are superior examples of how to make the scene of a battle LOOK like the scene of a battle – or at least pass for believable geography.

Even if the gameplay weren't slow and the interface not muddy, Operation Europe would still be unplayable solely on the grounds of style. Little cartoon Hitlers and sound-effects reminiscent of Q-Bert just don't fit. The blinding primary colors are assembled in a manner that achieves maximum irritation with NO assistance to visibility. The game is hard to look at and harder to listen to.

When Operation Europe: Path to Victory appeared on my desk, I was excited – the text promised real-war excitement complete with assassinations, bombing supply lines, and real historical figures. When I booted it up, I was excited again, but confused – the music and graphics promised simple and fun video-game play . . . The elements that Koei has tried to blend never succeed in finding common ground. The style clashes with the broken substance, and World War 2 has never been so trivialized and unnecessarily complicated. For wargamers seeking realistic battles with lots of detail, I would recommend Operation Crusader or the upcoming Pure Wargame over this release. For those seeking friendlier strategic fun, Panzer General or Battles in Time will make much more entertaining choices. I'm curious to know exactly who Koei thought they were making this game for – but not curious enough to keep playing it.