Historyline 1914-1918 logo

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and enter the horror of WW1 with Paul Roundell.

"Basing a game of strategy on the terrible First World War is a daring Enterprise," claims the instruction manual proudly. Quite a strange statement I thought, not personally being able to depict any particular evidence of derring-do in simply cashing in on one of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen.

Then I realised where developers Blue Byte hail from, and was able to appreciate that a WW1 strategy game by a German company is indeed a risky venture.

The USA is well known for its stout refusal to accept that the Vietnam War was anything but a complete shambles, earning the country nothing more than tens of thousands of pensionable teenagers and world-wide humiliation, and my initial reaction to Historyline was that it was a similar refute from the natives of the Fatherland, intent on justifying their failure in combat as a successful contribution to the great patriotic cause.

But apparently not - it's made perfectly clear right from the start that the game is precisely that, a game, and that no attempt has been made to gloss over the realities of what actually took place.

So what did take place then? Basically, two opposing parties spent the best part of four years killing each other in any manner they saw fit. Great, sounds good - plenty of scope here to integrate a few grisly scenes of carnage, one would have thought. But again, no.

Blue Byte believe - and not unreasonably so - that of utmost importance in an affair such as this is tactical planning and, above all, enjoyment. It is to this end that they have devised Historyline in such a way as to be instantly accessible, rewarding and educational.

Dwelling not so much on the war, but on the gaming aspect as it does, none of the campaigns in Historyline are exact recreations of what actually took place, although the basic aim obviously remains the same. After a gorgeously presented but lengthy intro which seems to narrate virtually every event leading up to the war, and having decided as to whether you wish to pit your wits against a friend or the ever-willing computer (and which side you wish to represent), the game screen finally arrives, and it is here where a pleasant surprise occurs.

Unlike most games of this ilk, where the only control option consists of a combination of mouse clicks and keyboard controls, HL can be operated safely by a single joystick, proving Blue Byte's claim regarding its ease of use.

Two multi-scrolling maps make up the game screen - one yours and one your opponent's - which in turn combine to form a larger, overall map of the battle area. On every map each side has its own stronghold, the idea being to take up occupancy inside the enemy walls to emerge as victor. Of course you can if you wish don your Norman Schwartzkopf hat and run amok destroying everything in sight it provides the same end result if executed properly, although losses of artillery and troops tend to be heavier.

On the subject of artillery, your army is quite limited at first, since the game closely follows the technological advancements of the war; let me explain...
There are 24 battlegrounds in all, and game lore has it that a period of two months elapses between each of the 24 individual battles (totalling four years - the length of the war).

Towards the end of the conflict you will be controlling such mechanical pioneers as the legendary Fokker biplanes. Spad fighters and British Mark IV tanks, but initially your weapons will be a more basic nature, such as mobile cannon, cavalry, and disease-ridden ground troops. Your controlling cursor is in the form of a hexagon, which when your army is in Movement Mode dictates the positioning of your troops and it really is very simple to operate.

The range of movement will obviously depend on what unit is involved, and against what kind of artillery you are fighting. The whole scene becomes darkened, leaving only a few light hexagons into which you can move, the process being repeated for every controllable unit.

Since the game spans the entire length of the war, the weather varies with the changing seasons, and your troops will find themselves coping with snow, ice and other conditions, all of which affect their effectiveness. Although the individual battle maps are quite small, range of movement is extremely limited early on, and it takes many minutes before the game begins to take shape. When the opposing sides finally meet an animated sequence accompanies each head-on battle, all of which are well drawn, and are accompanied by realistic sound effects.

At first these seem like a nice addition, but as the game progress I found them to be increasingly more tiresome, particularly for those with single drive machines, which is the vast majority.

The problem is that when in extended battle mode - that is fighting out the whole war - a huge amount of disk swapping is required, and even on an A1200, which is what I used for the most part of the review, a single animated sequence can take three or four minutes to complete.

Not only that, but as the game progresses, a few individual battles may be taking place at once, meaning several minutes of nothing but disk swapping.

The animation can be skipped, once loaded, but there is no option to toggle them off, and the resulting tedium detracts from the game in a big way. On some of the battlefields there are factories, in which you can rebuild or repair vehicles and weaponry. Depots can also be built, which on completion become an extra stronghold that doesn't need to be captured.

The depth in, and thought behind Historline is undeniable, and it is presented in such a way as to bear out the programmers' claim that it is one of the most accessible games of its type. It can virtually serve as a history lesson in its own right thanks to the massive intro and occasional in-game snippets. Throughout its course the game concentrates heavily on strategy and tactics and steers purposely away from the bloodshed of the conflict.

A brave step - commendable too, since there are any number of games on the shelves which can easily quench our thirst for gore. Much of this gore is unnecessary though, whereas one bloody scenes in Historyline would simply serve as a stark reminder of reality, and leave the game minus an element with their exclusion.

This is not to say what we have here is a half-hearted product, far from it. The level of information and depth of gameplay, topped off by excellent graphics and atmospheric tunes make for a real value-for-money package.

Due to its slow progression and tedious loading processes though, what could so easily have been an outstanding product instead finds itself standing shoulder to shoulder with the rest.



Historyline 1914-1918 logo

War in Europe is what everybody fears most, and making a game of it could be considered tasteless. But Blue Byte add a bit of history to make their Great War a real thought-provoker.

The last people on earth you'd expect to be doing a game about the First World Warare, let's face it, Germans. But those brave guys at Blue Byte, the small but perfectly-formed software house from Dusseldorf, have done just that. They've taken the bare bones of their earlier, much-acclaimed Battle Isle, added a vast amount of historical background and detailed WWI tactics, and produced what is probably the best strategy wargame we've ever seen.

HistoryLine 1914-1918 begins with an impressive 'from-the-trenches' animation of a night battle, and then moves on to a longer even more detailed animation of the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian thone. This was the flame which set alight the tinder-dry tempers of Europe. A detailed account of the many treaties, war preparations and pacts which led up to this moment follows in another animated sequences. The end result, as our grandfathers knew to their cost, was four years of the bloodiest war this world has ever seen.

Once you've made it past the enthralling intro sequence and the hairs on the back of your neck have relaxed again, you find yourself at the main menu. This is where HistoryLine can be altered according to taste. You can opt for one-player battles against the computer (you choose whether to control the Germans or the French) or two-player head-to-head battles.

You can set the game so that individual battles are resolved using animations, or just a quick calculation and a result. This is ideal if you're running the game from floppy and the disk-access is too much - but it's worth checking over the battles at least once or twice. Better still, install HistoryLine to hard drive.

HistoryLine is very intuitive and very, very playable. Battle Isle owners will already be familiar with the way HistoryLine works, and newcomers will find it just as satisfying. HistoryLine uses a view very similar to the one featured in Battle Isle, and many of the controls are the same.

The main difference is in the graphics and tactics, both of which are much-improved and even more detailed. The game takes place in two phaes: movement and fire. While player one is moving, player two (or the computer) is firing or using units, and when each player has finished, any battles and conflicts are resolved using the battle animations. When that's done, the players swap actions, and the whole thing repeats.

All actions can be controlled using either joystick, mouse or keys, depending on the way you set up the main menu, though joystick control is probably the easiest. To move units or examine them, you move the cursor over their position, hold down fire, and move the joystick in one of four directions. This changes the cursor into a different icon, depending on the direction and the current turn phase.

You can examine units in detail to find out their movement rates, fire-range and armour strength. This display also shows a small digitised photo of the original WWI unit in action, which really sets the atmosphere. Gone are the fantasy sci-fi craft of Battle Isle. Instead you're dealing with real history, real technology, and real, fragile people.


It'll make you think, curse and swear, and breathe plenty of sighs of relief, all in one sitting

A map of the playing area can be called up in the same way. It shows the main depots, factories and headquarters of each of the warring sides. You can check out the overall status of the current campaign and use it to zoom in a specific area of interest.

Moving units around is easy - you just select the icon shaped like a cross, and this highlights all the spaces where your current unit may move to. Next you position the cursor on the space of your choice, and hit the button again. This highlights the route your unit will take, giving you the chance to reject it if, for example, it would take you intro range of an enemy gun.

When you've decided on your movement, you just click again, and the unit trundles along to the chosen space. You do this with all the units you wish to move, and then select the swap icon. As soon as your opponent has finished his firing phase, he'll select the same icon, and then you just press the F1 function key to switch over.

On the fire phase, things are even simpler. You can go through each unit, using the fist icon to check whether there are any targets in range. Most units can only fire when they are directly adjacent to an enemy units, but there are some pretty deadly artillery batteries which have a range of up to seven spaces. Other functions can also be carried out daring the fire phase, depending on the unit type.

Pioneers can be made to dig trenches, and bases can be made to repair damaged units or build new ones, providing you have the energy available.

The core of the game lies in the way you play it - choosing your strategies, blocking your opponents and trying hard to win battles without destroying all your units in the process. The more they fight, the better they get, and you really get to appreciate what it's like to lose good men in an appalling battle.

HistoryLine 1914-1918 is a stunner of a wargame, and nothing like the 'specialist interest' sort of affair we normally associate with wargames. It's got masses of appeal, and it should appeal to the masses, even though it's about a particularly miserable portion of 20th century history.

It'll make you think, curse and swear, and breathe plenty of sighs of relief, in one sitting. With first-class animations and wonderfully detailed accounts adding plenty of atmosphere and flavour, you may find you learn a few things. Even if you don't, it's still an unmissable game that's destined to become a classic.


DON'T MENTION THE WAR

Blue Byte's head man, ex-programmer Thomas Hertzler, was the visionary behind the HistoryLine 1914-18 project. He's quick to point out that the point of the game is not to glorify war, but to present the important facts about why they start.

According to Thomas, Germans especially don't like talking about the giant conflicts they've managed to get themselves into - and you'd be considered a bit militaristic if you were overhead discussing the Somme in the local Bierkeller. The constant suppression of the past and the denial of the facts was something Thomas felt was unhealthy, and potentially dangerous.

"If everyone tries so hard to deny that what happened, happened, we'll be too slow to realise if it looks like happening again. The healthy way is to talk about it, accept it and perhaps understand it a bit more. Maybe then we'll all be a lot safer." Sound sentiments, and ones which have resulted in one of the most well-polished, beautifully presented and playable games this year.


Historyline 1914-1918 logo Amiga Joker Hit

Wa ein echter Stratege ist, der wartet seit unserem Preview in der April-Ausgabe sehnsüchtig auf Blue Bytes neuen Geniestreich - immerhin schlägt das Game in die gleiche Kerbe wie der Mega-Hit "Battle Isle"!

Daß es sich hier trotz aller Ähnlichkeiten nicht um den offiziellen Nachfolger der Kampfinsel handelt, ist kein Grund zur Traurigkeit: "Battle Isle II" ist gerade in Arbeit, und mit der historischen Version des Spielprinzips läßt sich die Zeit bis zum Verkaufsstart Ende nächsten Jahres astrein überbrücken...

Marschieren wir also frohen Mutes in den Ersten Weltkrieg, wo wir zunächst feststellen, daß sich hinsichtlich des Gameplays gegenüber der Guturo-Schlachten nichts Grundsätzliches geändert hat. Einmal mehr dürfen zwei Feldherren vor dem Splitscreen Platz nehmen, wobei abwechselnd der eine Angriffe und Strategien ausknobelt, während der Kontrahent seine Order eingibt.

Ausgeführt werden dann sämtliche Befehle gleichzeitig, der Compi berechnet eventuelle Kampfergebnisse und stellt sie in einer Animationssequenz dar. Während 12 der insgesamt 36 Schlachtfelder diesem Duo-Modus vorbehalten sind, dürfen sich Solo-Krieger auf den restlichen 24 austoben. Hüben wie drüben steigt dabei der Schwierigkeitsgad sehr moderat an, stets wird der historisch korrekte Ablauf verbürgt.

Im Klartext stehen somit vier kämpferische Jahre an, welche sich in Szenarien à zwei Monate aufgliedern. Panzer können aufgrund der real existierenden Geschichte z.B. erst ab 1916 eingesetzt werden; dafür helfen diesmal Pioniertruppen beim Ausheben von Schützengräben.

Durch die aus "Battle Isle" bekannte und geradezu sprichwörtlich komfortable Sticksteuerung mit dem Multifunktions-Cursor (wahlweise zieht auch die Maus in den Kampf) hat man derlei Neuerungen blitzartig im Griff und kann sich sorgenfrei an den übrigen Novitäten ergötzen.

So sind die kargen Scharmützel von einst nun zu screenfüllenden Animations-Wundern mutiert; Da donnern Flieger über Kanonenstellungen, werden stufenlos vergrößert und drehen elegant wieder ab, sobald sie ihre Bomben los sind - wirklich beeindruckend!

Aber auch das ergreifende Intro und die hübschen Zwischengrafiken samt geschichtlichen Infos sollte man nicht unterschlagen, genau wie die detaillierten Waben-Schlachtfelder optisch nochmal zugelegt haben. Im Vergleich mit der PC-Version sind kaum Unterschiede zur 256-Farben-Grafik auszumachen, die 3D-Sequenzen laufen am Amiga zwar nicht ganz so glatt, aber dafür ein wenig flotter ab.

Musik und FX sind gelungen, ein weiteres Lob geht an das Handbuch: Dicke Wälzer findet man allenthalben, doch so viele sorgfältig recherchierte und lesbar aufbereitete Hintergrundinformationen eigentlich nur hier.

Mag also der Unterschied zu "Battle Isle" auch nicht ganz so gewaltig sein, wie sich das der eine oder andere vielleicht erhofft hätte, so ist den Mühlheimern doch erneut ein großer Wurf gelungen. Man darf gespannt sein, was die kommenden Folgen der Historyline noch an Überraschungen bereithalten... (jn/pb)



Historyline 1914-1918 logo

Can a game based around the horror of the First World War really be entertaining?

Wargames. A much maligned game genre, and most of the time criticism has been perfectly fair. After all, who wants to squint at realms of statistics for the supposed joy of destroying yet another statistic. Noone in their right mind, that's who. But here's a game that's set to change all that. It's a game about World War I, and what do you know, it's programmed by German developers Blue Byte. Before you say "Well it's bound to be a biased pile of old crap," read the rest of the review.

Unlike most wargames, History Line is remarkably simple to play. The units can be directed with keyboard or mouse, and a slick control system makes it easy to move and attack. When you're moving a unit, the hexagons which you can't move onto are shaded, so you just select which one you do want. And when you're attacking, the units which you can attack are highlighted - you just have to choose the one you want. It's simple, it takes a minute to master, and it's amazing how quickly you become engrossed in the game because of it.

When units engage in battle, you're shown an animation of the conflict, with beautifully drawn graphics depicting the infantry, artillery, armoured cars or trains in action. The outcome of the battle obviously depends on the units involved, and the type of terrain they are on.

There are a few nervous moments as you wait to see who loses the most units, but when you're a seasoned pro, you should be able to predict who wins what. But not everything's predictable in History Line. As you proceed through the war, new units such as tanks and planes are introduced, and it takes a few turns before you've worked out how best to use them. And as an added interest in the gameplay, you're given a pool of power points which can be used to produce new units - provided you've got your hands on a factory that is.


A sexy accessible wargame that's fun to play

There are plenty of people who believe computer games shouldn't tackle such thorny issues as a real war. On the one hand there are the pseudo intellectuals who believe computers in general, and games in particular, can't transmit the amount of historical information you need to cover a subject in depth. Games are too frivolous, too juvenile, too lightweight to breach any serious subjects

And then there are the know-all psychologists who are convinced that computer games glorify war, and that games turn clean-living boy-next-door types into homicidal maniacs who would like nothing better than for there to be a third world war so they can pit in with Uzis blaring.

And then there are some computer gamers themselves who believe that computer games shouldn't touch serious issues because games, after all, are supposed to be fun, and how can a game about World War I be fun at all?

When they're up against these sorts of arguments, and these sorts of people, it seems that Blue Byte are on to a loser from the word go. But against all the odds, History Line 1914-1918 proves them all wrong. What Blue Byte has produced is a sexy, accessible war game that's fun and incredibly engrossing to play.

But at the same time it has treated the subject matter with the gravity it deserves. The history is covered in such detail that there's bound to be something in there that you never knew. And as for turning people into war-loving psychopaths, when you repeatedly see your own and the enemy's infantry pounded into submission by enemy artillery, you soon start to think long and hard about whether war is such a good idea after all.

The game does its best to separate you from the worst of the war by not actually recreating specific battles, but you certainly get more than a flavour of how the whole affair progressed.

History Line is many things, not least a cracking computer game that should be in everybody's collection. You'll struggle if you haven't got a hard disk, and even twin floppies is a bit of a pain, but by now there should be enough excuses for you to get one, or even to upgrade to an A1200 to play it. (On an A1200 this really flies)>

We've often said that war and strategy games don't need to be the dull, tedious, difficult-to-control games that they often are, and History Line proves it. There's so much excitement and absorbing entertainment in here that you can expect to lose yourself in the furore of the First World War for quite some time. It's got class, it's got style, it's got sense, and it's brilliant in two-player mode. What more do you need?



Historyline 1914-1918 logo CU Amiga Screen Star

The gross stupidity of trench warfare in the First World War comes under examination in Blue Bytes latest wargame. Steve Prizeman digs in for victory.

TACTICAL WITHDRAWAL
The First World War is not usually noted for its strategy - there wasn't any! Hard pressed soldiers facing each other across a devastated No Man's Land only a few hundred yards wide, languishing in mud filled trenches and being slaughtered by the hundred thousand in wave after wave of infantry attacks and artillery barrages are the indelible picture of the war. Could you have conducted it better? That is the enormous challenge posed in this new strategy game from Blue Byte.

Though noted for its static trench warfare, WW1 actually witnessed an enormous amount of innovation in the nature of the weaponry hurled from side to side. Tanks were invented, the standard of aircraft improved greatly as the potential of aerial combat was recognised. German zeppelin airships and Gotha bombers conducted the first air raids against London and south-eastern England, and submarines became deadly predators stalking merchant shipping.

In Historyline, each of the opposing armies receives new equipment as the war progresses. An interval of approximately two months is presumed to have elapsed between each of the 24 battlegrounds, or Maps, upon which the fighting takes place. The green fields and open spaces of the earlier stages, upon which large numbers of cavalry pieces originally appear, are gradually replaced by landscapes scarred with trenches and bunkers whilst cavalry and infantry troops become progressively less effective as the number of tanks, artillery and aeroplanes increases.

Although the technological advantage therefore swings back and forth between the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary) and the Allied Powers (dominated by Britain, France and Russia), this does not mean walkovers occur as a superficially less impressive range of units may still win a battle if deployed with skill.

LOOKS FAMILIAR
In terms of its appearance and the way it is controlled, Historyline follows the format of Battle Isle very closely. One player may fight against an army directed by the computer, or two-players may compete against each other. Players may choose which power bloc they wish to control, represented on-screen by Germany and France. Two maps appear side by side on the screen, each forming part of the larger Map which forms the whole area of the current battlefield.

The Map is divided into hexagons into which the players position the units under their command. Pieces are moved, and various instructions accessed, by joystick wiggling, keyboard tapping, or the mouse (my experience is that the joystick undoubtedly represents the easiest of the available control methods, although a little re-setting is required to have two working at once). Movement and action phases alternate between the two players.

The objective is simple enough: each army has a headquarters building on every map, occupy the enemy's and you will win.

Alternatively, just annihilate every unit he controls and a brutal but decisive victory will be yours. The game does not offer the opportunity of re-writing history, however. As its name suggests, Historyline takes the player through a period in the past; each Map represents a fictitious engagement, and though some of the different landscapes and geographical features are based on real battlefields they are not intended to simulate actual battles. Even if the player controlling the Central Powers wins every Map, the Allies will remain victorious in the war as a whole.

Informing players about the causes and conduct of the war is one of the aims of the game. Historyline begins with a brief animation depicting the Western Front in 1916, followed by a smoothly animated sequence showing the assassination of Arch-Duke Frank Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was shot dead by a Bosnian terrorist during a visit to Sarajevo in June 1918 - the event which triggered the war.

During the game, text and illustrations taken from contemporary newspapers appear. They keep players up to date with key events in the course of the real war, and provide nuggets of interesting domestic news from the countries involved - sporting events, for example. Animations are also shown, depicting notable incidents, such as a zeppelin flying above London Bridge during a bombing raid. The animations are drawn well, though with what seems to be a comparatively limited palette, and help the atmosphere of the game.

THE REAL WORLD
The standard of presentation is, overall, very good. Digitised contemporary photographs illustrate the information panels explaining the specifications of each military unit, and battle scenes illustrate each phase of the game in which enemy pieces exchange fire. It has to be said that the standard of background drawing in these sequences is generally superior to that of the sprites superimposed upon them who blast away each other.

The combat itself is not particularly lively to watch and necessitates a large amount of disk swapping if you have only got a hard disk. One of the reasons why the combat looks less bloodthirsty than might have been expected is that Blue Byte, as a German company, developed Historyline to meet the restrictions of the depiction of violence in computer games which exist in that country.

Paradoxically, the lack of scenes of carnage lessens the impact of the game, rather than saving it from the accusation of tastelessness that their inclusion might have caused. The WW1-based television comedy series Blackadder Goes Fourth, for example, ended poignantly despite its outrageous and tasteless humour precisely because it never understated the hardship of life in the trenches, or belittled the suffering of the men in them; they went 'over the top' as duty dictated regardless of their desire not to.

The 'long battle' mode may be switched off, however, in favour of the 'short battle' option that doesn't require disk swapping. In the latter, combat takes place swiftly with symbols for the belligerent units simply being placed side by side and those that get destroyed disappearing from the screen. Once you get into the game this is actually more exciting to follow, the battle scenes becoming merely a distraction.

The sound effects are good, and during battle scenes vehicle and weapon noises are clear and appropriate. While players decide their movements and actions on their maps tense music plays in the background; during the introductory sequence the tune is suitably mournful.

Historyline 1914-1918 is an intelligent and enjoyable game of strategy, and represents an interesting development of the genre. It deserves to be a great success.


DISCRETION AND VALOUR

For any software company, and especially a German one, to launch a high quality game closely based upon the First World War is a potentially controversial undertaking. The Blue Byte team tackle the issue head-one, explaining the philosophy of the game in the instruction manual. After declaring their opposition to violence and warfare, they state that 'Never before has entertainment software been so consciously designed to present knowledge and facts to the player in a graphic manner'.

In writing the on-screen text to accompany the game, the team avoided any interpretation of the war, relying on bare facts to allow players to decide for themselves where blame lies, and identify the longer-term legacy of the war. As any historian will tell you, of course, even if concentrating on 'bare facts', the choice of which to include and which to omit represents a judgement which can weight interpretation one way or the other - but let's not get into the theory of writing history or we'll be here all day.

One thing which Blue Byte is clear about is that a Historyline dealing with the Second World War will not be produced, The somewhat unpredictable political atmosphere in Germany at the moment makes that just too hot a subject to touch, in their opinion. Further Historyline's dealing with the Roman and Medieval eras are distinct possibilities, however, and even one set in Napoleonatic times may be considered. No doubt any further development will depend upon the success of the current game: constructive criticism regarding its concept and design is invited by the company.