Friday, October 09, 2009

Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich Review

Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich, developed by 2by3 Games and published by Matrix Games.
The Good: A unique component of World War II, opposing sides offer distinctly different gameplay, many scenarios of varied lengths and victory conditions, high level of historical detail, optional AI planning, great for play by e-mail
The Not So Good: Terribly outdated and tedious interface, exceedingly long turn resolution, no in-game tutorial
What say you? A pleasingly different approach for a wargame is ruined by its amazingly inept interface: 5/8

MY POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
Gary Grigsby is the Tyler Perry of computer games, his name ubiquitously placed on game after game after game after game after game (though the last two are less explicit about it). With Matrix Games’s acquiring of the entire line of Talonsoft software, the ubiquitousness has only gotten more ubiquitous (ubiquitously). This time around, it’s two games in one, covering the air campaign during (surprise!) World War II. Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich, also known as Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to the Bombing of the Reich, also known as Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing of the Reich, offers up a unique strategic package by focusing solely on the strategic decisions made with air units during the Battle of Britain and the Allied attack on Germany. This is my first crack at the titles, refurbished by Matrix Games with more betterness like improved AI and more comprehensive units. Let’s take to the skies and check out this strategy title!

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
It’s pretty clear that Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich did not receive hardly any graphical enhancements from its original state ten years ago. The map of Western Europe still looks great, but everything else is extremely outdated, such as the pixilated icons. The game is fixed at a resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels, but you can stick it in a window by putting a -w switch in the game shortcut. The interface is by far the worst aspect of the game, receiving no needed overhauls from its original lacking structure. Nothing is easy to do in the game: there are tons of sub-menus to wade through, and things that should be linked (like locations to bombing runs) are not. It’s simply too tedious to get things done, requiring too many clicks to do simple tasks, like selecting targets and plotting routes. In addition, the game puts information at the top and the bottom of the screen, requiring constant shifting of focus during gameplay. Who does that? You also cannot use your mouse wheel to zoom the map, and the mini-map is disabled while you are in a sub-menu. You also can’t easily back out to the main menu easily, as you must “exit screen” four times to switch between menus. It’s supremely frustrating. Ten years of time should have produced a usable, slick interface that is prevalent among contemporary strategy titles, but Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich received no such changes. This is why people don't become interested in wargames. There were significant shortcomings with the interface when the original games came out ten years ago, and its only exacerbated now. As for the sound, I didn’t notice anything other than a jarring selection indicator.

ET AL.
Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich is a re-release of two ten-year-old games: Battle of Britain and 12 O’Clock High: Bombing the Reich. Together, the package includes a satisfying amount of content: twenty-one campaigns spanning from a single day all the way up to 700. The full scenario is too long time-wise for mere mortals to complete (I estimate playing twenty-four hours a day for two straight months), but the smaller scenario sizes break up the action into digestible chunks. The shorter scenarios offer more simplified objectives (destroying enemy planes), while victory in the longer scenarios involve maintaining air superiority, industrial damage, and terror (urban bombing) as you support the ground invasion or really make the British angry (and burnt). Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich offers no in-game tutorial (boo!), but I thought the manual was informative and well-written, and it contains a two read-along single turn scenarios. The structure of Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich really lends itself for multiplayer play by e-mail; instead of being a tacked-on feature, it seems like the game was designed specifically for it, so those of us with actual human friends will enjoy the ability to incessantly bomb the British over the Internet.

As the attacker (the Germans in Eagle Day, and the Allies for Bombing the Reich), your objective is to blow the crap out of the enemy by sending bombing missions and support squads through the air to drop their payload of righteousness. Everything is done in the planning phase, where you are given an unlimited amount of time to hammer out your missions. Most of the time you will be developing bombing missions by selecting a primary target (by clicking on the map), a secondary target, the four component flight path (inbound, initial point, exit point, and outbound), the altitude, launch time, lead plane, and add additional bombers and escorts. You are free to make your paths anywhere on the map, so there is a great degree of freedom involved here, and you can easily create fake or decoy flight plans to deceive the enemy. You can also design flight paths to go over targets of opportunity on the way back to base, and if bombers have any payload left, they will attempt to make some craters on their return. You will also need to develop recon missions to access damage (five photos are taken per flight) and fighter sweeps for early interdiction against enemy airfields. The game automatically filters out planes you can’t use based on the targets you select, which makes planning slightly more straightforward. If all of these options are overwhelming (and they might be, considering you’ll can easily make a hundred missions for a single day), you can have your AI subordinate officers plan some or all of the missions; this is a useful feature for the less interesting recon and sweep missions that you might not feel like doing manually. You will have to pay attention to cloud cover and the level of daylight, as both can adversely affect your bomber’s performance. Although it should be easier to design missions without all that clicking, I do like the freedom and underlying strategy of the attacking force.

Defending is a completely different animal (most likely a squirrel). Here, you respond in real-time during the turn resolution to incoming raids that are detected by your radar and patrols. Before the turn begins, you can move some anti-aircraft guns and planes to the places you think the enemy will attempt to raid. For each squadron, you can decide on the alert level, which makes the unit respond more quickly but also fatigue faster, and tactics (direct or bounce). Once a raid is detected, it will show up on the map, and you click on it and send a squad (or five) to intercept them. Information is poor on the actual composition of a raid until it is quite close to the mainland, unless it is detected by a patrol you have set up beforehand. The problem is that using planes for patrols takes them away from countering raids, so there is an interesting strategic balance to meet. It is also impossible to respond to every raid, so you must guess where they are headed and how important the target might be. This is where the “chess match” of Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich becomes quite interesting, as the attacker and defender each try to outsmart their opponent.

Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich has an impressive level of historical detail, from ratings for each squad (experience, morale) to stats for all the planes (climing rate, gun range, maneuverability) and individual pilots (name, fatigue) flying them. The strategy pedigree of the game is quite strong, with the attacker feigning forces and attempting to cause the defender to make a wrong move. This game is not for the feint of heart, however, as it can quite literally take a couple of hours to plan a raid and resolve a single day of action. The game can also be quite overwhelming in the amount of options you have: the basics are straightforward (send out raids), but the choices you are granted can become tremendously tedious. Your AI opponent seems to be quite competitive, sending out varied raids, escorts, and interceptions that keep you on your toes. After a number of games the computer can become more predictable, but the AI takes good control of the strategic freedom that Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich has to offer.

IN CLOSING
Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich is an interesting and unique strategy title marred by its worthless interface. The game does stand out as (still) highlighting a distinctive aspect of World War II, letting you direct squads of planes as they attack or defend strategically important locations across Europe. Both sides play quite differently, as the aggressor will set up his flight patterns for the day and sit back and watch the action while the defender scrambles to send up defending flights to counter the incoming onslaught. It’s a very intriguing chess match of fake moves and counter-moves in the skies. Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich works great using play by e-mail, since only one side is actively doing something each turn. The turns can take a while to resolve, especially if you are defending and having to respond to incoming threats. The game comes with lots of scenarios for different lengths, and introduces varied victory conditions for each. The level of historical detail is high and impressive, containing seemingly accurate pilot lists in every scenario for both sides. The game can be overwhelming, since you are directing a large number of squadrons and the level of detail for planning your attacks and defenses is high. The lack of an in-game tutorial doesn’t help matters, but the AI can do some of the planning for you. Unfortunately, while the core of the game is fine, the interface needs a serious overhaul. It’s a serious limitation in the game, as doing even the simplest actions require many clicks of the trusty mouse. Important information and actions are buried within the obtuse menu system; interacting with Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich is a truly gigantic pain. The game is complicated enough as it is without having a confusing and tedious interface to deal with. Gary Grigsby's Eagle Day to Bombing the Reich is a nice re-release of a fascinating game that could have greatly benefited from an interface renovation.