Historyline 1914-18 (Second Review)

Title           Historyline 1914-1918 (Second Review)
Game Type       Strategy
Company         Blue Byte
Players         1 or 2
HD Installable  Yes (and WHDLoad Patch available)
Compatibillity  All (With WHDLoad Patch)
Submission 	Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

Historyline 1914-1918 is a descendant of Blue Byte's earlier Battle Isle
games, and like them it is essentially a hex-based strategy affair. What
make's the Blue Byte games stand out, however, is that they have polished
the basic idea and implementation of the genre to such a high degree that
even the most impatient shoot-em-up, blast-fest junkie might just be
tempted to give these games a try, and having done so, actually enjoy

Apart from the unusually attractive graphics (for a strategy game) and
above average sound then, what makes Historyline special? Well, for
starters, you can play most of the game by use of your joystick, yes, a
few keystrokes are necessary here and there, but these are simple to
remember and shouldn't pose a problem even for the aforementioned
blast-fest fans. The game is fairly educational, and you can choose
between running the gaem itself, or a fairly impressive and lengthy
introduction sequence that attempts to explain the root causes of the
First World War, and while its not above criticism, its quite a bold and
unusual attempt to educate games players. Back to the game itself,
Historyline takes the player through 24 levels, each set 2 months apart,
and therefore spanning the four years of the First World War. Between each
level a series of images with accompanying text are displayed, informing
the player of the war's course, technical developments and general news.
You also have the option to include a non-interactive animation of the two
units fighting it out during the combat sequences. I found this initially
entertaining, but after a while disabled it, as it slows down the gameplay
considerably, of what soon becomes pretty lengthy game sessions.

You can play either against the computer or a friend, as either the
German/Austro-Hungarian Central powers or the British, French, Russian
Allies. The method of play is rather clever: When you move, your opponent
makes his attack, then the computer processes the information, and
sometimes you'll find that your troop unit you had just pulled back for a
rest never actually made it, because your opponent wiped them out before
they left their original location with an artillery barage. Oh well, now
at least it is your turn to fire while your opponent moves - or tries to.

Things become more interesting still with the inclusion of the ability to
replenish damaged but highly experienced units, making them extremely
formidable. By careful management of your forces in this way, and a
certain ruthless streak in preventing your opponent's forces from leaving
the field of battle, to fight another day, you can often dominate a
situation by simply having more experienced units who will brush aside
less trained formations with ease. As well as this, you increase your
offensive power by having other units arrayed around an enemy unit's
hexagon. Reasonably enough, they don't also need to attack, simply being
there will make your first unit's attack that much more successful.

There are 3 types of buildings in Historyline. These are your HQ,
Factories, and Depots. Vehicles (and troops) can be produced and
replenished at Factories. Depots allow you to replenish but will not
produce new items, and this is also true of your HQ, but the loss of your
HQ loses you the game.

Each turn, depending on the number of buildings you own, you are awarded a
number of manufacturing points. In your Factories, each unit costs a
certain amount of these points to produce, and therefore carefully
considered decisions must be made about production. The points are also
used for repairing units.

Historyline (I imagine) conveys the grinding and mechanical prolonged
agony of industrialised trench warfare fairly accurately. You can usually
see what needs to be done in a scenario, and you know that it is going to
be a long and costly job achieving it. In a sense though, the player is
gifted with the unlikely ability to make blitzkrieg style combat, because
being able to see the entire battlefield, and enjoying "perfect
communication" with all your units enables you to combine them effectively
into a fluid and coherrent force. Along with this "communication" you have
early bombers and armoured vehicles, that while less efficient and slower
than their WWII counterparts, at least allow you to use the same
principles, albeit at a less dynamic, more laborious pace. Therefore,
there is nothing to stop you (except the enemy) making a powerful thrust
through his front, bypassing strongpoints, and playing havoc in the rear
areas. Just don't expect those troops that you avoided to suddenly lose
their offensive spirit and throw their hands in the air. In fact, victory
is only achieved by capturing the enemy HQ, or destroying all enemy units
in the scenario.

What am I saying? Well, I suppose that Historyline is not the ideal game
for people that want out-and-out realism. There is little of the
fog-of-war, and I'm sure even today, Army commanders would love to have
such a clear portrayal of what is happening on the battlefield, let alone
the commanders of 1914. Aircraft can be deployed and pretty much block a
land route indefinitely, without returning to base for fuel, because many
units have no anti-air capability. Having said all that, Historyline is
good fun, and it feels like a real and serious battle, so ultimately I
have no complaints in this regard.

I'm sure Bluebyte would deny it, but sometimes the game does feel a bit
dominated by references to the sacrifices and the heroic actions of
especially France and Germany. That isn't to say other countries are not
mentioned, but nevertheless I sometimes felt unsure as to whether the
British Empire played an active and meaningful part in the conflict. Did
Bluebyte beat Hollywood to the punch here? There are two manuals, the
instructions as well as a description of the units within the game.
These are quite well written but fail to answer some questions, for
example can you repair your naval units, and if so, how? I spent some time
trying to use the cranes and docks, which are graphically portrayed in the
game, but to no avail. There is also some text in the instruction manual,
"Philosophy of the Game" which seems to me to be solely designed to pacify
the German censors, claiming that everybody at Bluebyte abhors war,
and that Historyline in no way glorifies the horror of armed conflict but
rather should be seen as an example of tactical reasoning and
entertainment, as well as the foundation for computer games to be
perceived as art and education in the way that films and comics have done
in recent decades. Maybe I'm just cynical.

I'm perhaps being a bit nit-picky. Historyline is an excellent game, which
while certainly not the last word in terms of a religously accurate battle
simulation, is engrossing and entertaining. There is plenty of depth for
those interested in strategy, but its good looks, and well designed, and
no-nonsense interface will also appeal to those would not normally
approach a strategic war game.

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