In addition to being a new real-time strategy game, Axis & Allies is a cult classic board game that pits the Axis powers against the Allied powers at the height of World War II. The new computer game is not the game of old, however. Developer TimeGate Studios, which recently produced the great Kohan II: Kings of War, has put a different spin on the concept so that battles are resolved in real-time skirmishes rather than with rolls of dice. Unfortunately, this different spin doesn't equate to a refreshing change. Incompetent artificial intelligence and some weak gameplay mechanics hamper what could have been an interesting take on the popular board game.
A huge Japanese army can't seem to take China.
Axis & Allies uses the Kohan II engine, so it plays very similarly to the fantasy strategy game released a little more than a month ago. You don't harvest resources in Axis & Allies; instead, you have a constant income of money, ammo, and oil. Ammo and oil are not hoarded. Rather, you have a positive or negative flow of these resources. You gain an increased rate of income by building ammo and oil depots, while a negative inflow of these two resources penalizes your money income. Meanwhile, money accumulates if you have a positive income, and you'll use this money to construct buildings, research technologies, and build military units. When you have no money and a negative income, then your units will begin to lose health until you overcome the deficit. All this actually makes it worthwhile to strike at your opponent's resource buildings to simultaneously cripple his or her economy and army.
Your military is also handled similarly to Kohan II. Instead of recruiting individual units, you'll recruit companies. Companies comprise squads of multiple units that act as single units. Injured companies are replenished automatically in supply zones generated by both your buildings and cities. As in Kohan II, this helps minimize the need for micromanaging a bunch of little infantrymen, tanks, and other units. In Axis & Allies, a company must be attached to a headquarters to be supplied. So if you build three armor companies from an infantry headquarters, those units will be supplied as long as the headquarters survives.
There are four modes of play in Axis & Allies: World War II, campaign, skirmish, and multiplayer over LAN or Internet. World War II mode is the one that's most similar to the board game. You pick one of the five world powers (Great Britain, Germany, Russia, Japan, or the USA) and then choose a general for that faction. This turn-based mode is played on a world map divided into territories that are each worth a given amount of income. You'll use cash on your turn to research technologies and purchase armies, which are used to attack and capture territories under enemy control. The goal of both the Axis and the Allies is to capture two opposing capitals.
This is where the similarities to the board game end. Your three army types--infantry, mechanized, and armor--can only move one space (there are no mechanized units in the board game, and armor could move two spaces). There are no naval or air units, and you can't build factories, so moving new armies from your capital one space at a time can be tedious. The most interesting and potentially fun aspect of this mode is how conflicts are resolved. Instead of rolling dice, you can fight battles in the RTS mode. Armies on the map determine which types of buildings you can make in the RTS mode and how much money you start with. For example, a mechanized army means you can build infantry and mechanized units in the battle, but you can't build armor units. Unfortunately, the potential for fun is lost, because the computer AI simply isn't very good. So if you're a reasonably experienced RTS player, you'll be able to pull off victories even against overwhelming odds. You can also have the computer automatically resolve conflicts, but that's a simulation of bad AI versus bad AI, so you probably won't like the results...unless the odds are heavily in your favor.
The computer will attack the town, but it doesn't know how to hold it.
The strategic AI on the world map isn't very bright either. It will spend too much money on technologies early on rather than spending this money on armies. As the US, we were able to push back Japan with only infantry, yet Japan spent its money on antitank technology rather than recruiting armies to stop us. The AI also can't comprehend that you can pull off miracle victories (thanks to the stupidity of the AI in RTS battles). It would continue attempting to take our territories (calculating, say, that it had an 86 percent chance to win), even though we'd just keep repelling the AI's attack every turn. There are also fundamental flaws in how the map is set up, such as how Germany is able to take Russia's capital in two turns with ease. You can beat the World War II mode in only a few hours, even with multiple RTS battles. The flawed AI and broken map make this mode a disappointment.
The two campaigns in Axis & Allies follow each side's road to victory. The Allied campaign features some of the most well-known battles in World War II, including Kursk, D-Day, and Iwo Jima. The Axis campaign is more of a what-if scenario. For example, when you defeat Montgomery at El Alamein, Rommel takes the Suez Canal and meets with German forces at Stalingrad. There isn't much cohesion between missions. In fact, the ordering of the missions is confusing, at first. The Allied campaign starts with a cutscene in Russia, yet the first and second missions take place in El Alamein and Guadalcanal, respectively, without any sort of bridge to connect the missions. Only those knowledgeable in WWII history will realize that the missions take place chronologically, since nowhere in the campaign are you given any actual context for when they take place. The hodgepodge assortment of missions doesn't do much to make you care for any particular side, faction, unit, or leader. And, as mentioned, the artificial intelligence isn't going to put up much of a fight.
In all three modes in which you battle the computer AI, you'll probably be severely disappointed at how poorly it plays the game. The computer does a good job of directing its forces to attack different locations, but when it comes down to strategy, the computer fails miserably. You can tell that it has rigid build orders and attack priorities. For example, you can have a single infantry group attack an enemy base from one direction. This draws the entire defending force to attack that one group, even if the defending force had just been fighting a huge force on the other side of its base not too long ago. The computer should know that you have a massive force ready to pounce, yet it leaves you to demolish its base. As a result, matches don't even have to last that long. In the World War II battles and skirmishes, you can rush the enemy with a handful of infantry and come away with a victory pretty much every time, because the computer doesn't build defenses right away.