I’ve played neither Great Little War Game nor its sequel, Great Big War Game, so I went into Great Little War Game 2 with no expectations beyond the positive reviews for its predecessors. But that was enough to make it a letdown. I’m not sure if I’m missing something or if the third entry in the franchise has just lost its mojo, but either way I lost interest in the whole thing very quickly.
Great Little War Game 2 initially looks very promising. It’s a turn-based strategy game played on a hexagonal board, which will make it happily familiar to even lightly-seasoned wargaming fans, and while the graphics are hardly cutting-edge – based on the trailers, it looks and sounds virtually identical to Great Big War Game – they’re more than adequate for the task at hand. The interface is wonderfully simple as well. Tap a unit, then tap where you want it to move, or on the enemy unit you want it to attack; dragging moves the map, and pinching zooms it.
Terrain elevation offers attacking units a range advantage but it’s represented in a very simple fashion (the map is essentially a series of stacked platforms with ledges units can jump onto and off of) and in case there’s any question as to how “seriously” the game addresses the weighty topic of war, each unit quips a random, goofy phrase with every action it performs: “Another win for the Second Amendment!” or “I don’t know what’s going on, because I work at Rubicon!” It’s not exactly cute – the body count pretty much precludes that, although it’s not graphic by any measure – but it is lighthearted, and very accessible.
Which isn’t to say there’s not a lot to do. Units come in a variety of flavors on the ground, in the air and at sea, ranging from simple grunts and cheap tanks to mighty cruisers, flame tanks and helicopter bombers. Each has particular strengths and weaknesses – the Sniper is murder against other infantry, for instance, but can’t fire against directly adjacent units – giving the game a kind of Rock-Paper-Scissors angle. Basic units are introduced at a slow but steady pace, ensuring you’ll have time to adjust to their workings, while more powerful pieces must be unlocked by spending “Battle Points.” It sounds like a free-to-play mechanic and it works in the basically the same way, but Battle Points can only be earned in combat – there’s no buying your way to the top here.
But the system for acquiring new units is the first sign of trouble. Units can only be unlocked from the “Upgrade” menu, but that menu doesn’t tell you anything about what they do. The Commando, for instance, is one of the most expensive units in the game, double the cost of a battle tank, but why? What makes him such a hit in combat? The only way to find out is to begin a mission, go to the infantry screen and then select the Commando, which brings up a basic breakdown of his abilities. But to unlock him, I had to exit the game, go back into the Upgrade menu and do it from there. It’s so unnecessarily clumsy that I’m kind of amazed nobody on the design team considered it a problem, and making it even worse, information about hit points, movement ranges or even just how they improve as they’re upgraded through five levels (which also costs Battle Points) is nowhere to be found. It’s just not there.
In gameplay terms, Great Little War Game 2 has far more in common with the original Great Little War Game (again, based on the review and trailers) than Great Big War Game. There are no cut scenes and no multiplayer, and that’s a real problem because the game’s AI is nothing short of disastrous. I didn’t notice at first, but as I got deeper into the campaign and ran into more complex scenarios, the utter incompetence of the computer-controlled opponent became impossible to overlook. In one scenario, the computer responded to my onrushing armored column by creating three bazooka soldiers – deadly to tanks – and then sending them in the opposite direction to stand watch over an unoccupied coastline; in another, it completely ignored my amphibious assault and then, after I’d stopped playing in the water for a few turns, it spent the resources to build a destroyer and blew my idle, empty transports to pieces.
Those two incidents stuck in my mind but there were many times where the computer failed to build, move or attack, when it obviously could and should have done so. It would sometimes seem to simply pass its turn, determined to let me win – and as much as I like winning, I could enjoy no feeling of victory here because my enemy was so hopelessly stupid. It was like a Mad Max movie where the bad guys are a driver’s education class. (And for the record, I could find no way to adjust the difficulty. The “Settings” menu controls volume levels for music, voice and effects, and nothing more.)
A part of me thinks that I’m expecting too much, because Great Little War Game 2 is for players who want to blow stuff up without worrying about things like terrain types or unit ranks. But another, bigger part suspects that it’s a half-baked cash-in on a popular franchise name, or, perhaps, that it was rushed out the door in an incomplete state to meet some arbitrary deadline. Either way, I’m really not impressed. “Great,” this game is not.