First things first – the title we are reviewing here is, for the most part, Battalion: Ghosts, albeit the online chapter of this strategy title is the aforementioned Battalion: Arena. After prepping for a writeup on Ghosts, and having spent a bit of time playing it and assessing its strengths and weaknesses for you lovely OSG1’ers, the online Ghosts community seemed to have been begging for an online addition up until it was released. Urban Squall’s Battalion series has been a crowd pleaser since it was released in 2008, and the release of its Arena system only improved (and in the time I’ve spent with the title, I can whole heartedly recommend continuing with it). In keeping with our journalistic brilliance (and humility), we have combined the best from our Ghosts review and added on the Arena info for a wholesome, well-rounded insider’s perspective of Battalion: Ghosts + Arena.
Battalion: Ghosts picks up right where Battalion: Nemesis left off. Nemesis was a favorite of mine back (and probably yours) in my high school days – Player was thrown right in the shit, controlling every aspect of the military Armed Response units headed by gnarly Sergeant Tucker who took on Enemy of The State No. 1, the Mullen in 10 campaign chapters. The game was over in about a week (depending on your geek level) but it was addictive due to its immersive combat engine and hilarious backstory. Ghost picks up here, where the fight against the dastardly Akadians continues and the story keeps up the quasi-corny/fiercely-cool narration humor as in the previous game. After creating my online account I was thrown into the boots of Lieutenant Hayne, master commander and strategist of the blue Akadians, as he wages war against the fascist red North Federation. I’m a fan of tutorials – as strategy games have become progressively more detailed and complex, to the average Joe Sixpack, a tutorial can spell the difference between a fun and useful introduction and a baffling puzzle (first hour with Civilization V without any prior Civ experience – calculus, anyone?). Ghost’s tutorial takes center stage when creating an account and lasts throughout the single-player portion and before you can brave the multiplayer campaigns, getting your real strategy on in Arena.
All commandos and artillery are at your disposal – at any given time I had about 2-5 opponents I was facing off with simultaneously, each with their own fighting forces in typical turn-based combat, which Player can learn about and devise strategy against during the aforementioned tutorial period. Use it wisely. Player takes turns moving military units on a grid (sort of like checkers) armed with grenades, machine guns and bazookas, taking to various advantage-specific terrain like forests and mountains (forests offer brilliant defensive cover, whilst mountainous terrain gives you an excellent sniper-like stage for launching bazookas and SAMs), allowing you to leverage your strengths against the weaknesses of your foes. Intelligent long-range units like rocket trucks and land torpedoes are other powerful tools for taking out enemy vehicles and bunkers – but they’ll get you annihilated you in close-range combat faster than a roadrunner on cocaine. Flak cannons became my favorite efficient offensive weapon for taking out aircraft as well as smaller tanks, but the Flak can be destroyed by the larger tanks. Anything standing in the way of larger tanks, in fact, will be definitively ended.
As mentioned, tactical turn-based strategy combat is what Ghosts is built around, and Arena takes this online. Gameplay will be familiar to players who’ve had a run with Nemesis or practically any other turn-based strategy title, online or otherwise. If you’re into AI opponents, there is a CPU mode which allows Player to choose to experiment and learn but even the smartest of Urban Squall’s artificial generals are mostly pathetic and do very little to prep you for real battle. I found single skirmishes without a storyline to be uninteresting and not terribly useful – but it’s your choice, and I appreciate the option. This is a game to be played against other people. Right off the bat, Ghosts looks vastly crisper and more detailed than Nemesis ever did – and my Retina Macbook Pro screen is pretty unforgiving. Environments are more detailed, graphics are far sharper, menu text and buttons have been given a much-needed resolution bump and animations play out much smoother. This is impressive, as Arena is a web-based title, but don’t get me wrong, the graphical elements of Arena won’t touch most standalone PC strategy titles. This is a very basic grid-style system that has been tried-and-true,Blizzard status.
Overall, Arena is a sorely-needed and solid upgrade / expansion to the Battalion series, and although the game is simple and not exceedingly difficult, it fills a niche for old school strategy gamers who want a fun to play, solidly designed tactical strategy game that integrates online multiplayer modes seamlessly, especially with co-op maps. The graphics elements are great, in my opinion. Seriously, I’ve said this before, but the maps remind me of being back in my dad’s living room bonding with him over the original Warcraft, eating hot dogs and mac’n’cheese. It’s nostalgic, but sharp and vivid nostalgic. For an online iteration of the Battalion series, it holds up well to this geek’s graphically-discerning eye. Audio elements are essentially nonexistent, but who cares. Arena requires very little time investment, and if the first few campaigns don’t bother you in their simplicity / ease of completion, you’ll have a great time with this Ghosts expansion. Simplicity has its place. Arena comes highly recommended.