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Review

Written by Nic Barkdull | Edited by John Gerritzen

Disquiet on the Western Front

The premise of Radio General is essentially a real time strategy game where, instead of the computer updating the location of the units on the battlefield, you have to do it by hand. My first thought was, “That sounds a little inconvenient,” especially when your squads are yelling the instructions at you over a noisy WWII era radio.

On the other hand, I thought this could be an interesting idea. The game follows Canada (of all countries) and their missions in World War II. The idea of being immersed in a WWII setting as a general commanding Canadian troops from afar is great material – potentially.

Radio General lands somewhere between these two feelings. It’s a little fun, and it’s a little annoying.

You have a radio, and you are a general.

Radio General honestly strives to be exactly what it says: You are a general in charge of Canadian troops during World War II, but you aren’t actually present on the battlefield. All communication must happen through your radio while you follow along with the aid of a map, some figurines, and a tobacco pipe.

Where the concept went from fun to cumbersome was in the execution. RG took the path of showing old films, propaganda materials, and photos from the war to try to immerse you. Only, old war propaganda films get a bit samey and boring, unless you’re the type that’s into that kind of thing.

And World War II enthusiasts do seem to be the target audience of this game, in a similar way Kingdom Come: Deliverance’srealistically awkward combat is aimed at history purists. But there’s not quite enough substance for history buffs, either. There are some mechanics that attempt to immerse you in your role, like being asked to write telegrams to the mothers of your fallen officers, but a lot of mothers out there are getting “asdf” from yours truly – which shows how immersed I was (not very).

In other words, Radio General asks you to shoulder part of the burden of telling its story. You need to act the part, watch the films and view the documents and literally voice act the part of the general. It’s maybe why the game comes with so many map making and co-op features. It’s also why the game actually has voice commands to move your troops around the map via radio. But in all these things, the experience doesn’t quite offer enough of a payoff to make an investment like that.

There’s a fine line between a challenge and a nuisance.

I used the voice commands maybe twice, because it’s just inconvenient to try to get a computer to parse your words while there’s panicked chatter from your troops flying in left and right. But in these times of chaos, you can’t do a lot to help your troops anyway – the movement and rules aren’t nuanced enough to really maneuver troops around once they’re engaged, so it seems like you’re just requesting constant updates and wondering when you should call a retreat (probably too late).

There is strategy involved, but at times it either seems too simple or too hard, with the special abilities of units not getting as much play as I’d like. It all just feels, well, like playing blindfolded. And that’s a strange feeling, because it’s what they were going for. It’s literally the whole point. But instead of feeling fun, it just feels like an inconvenience. 

There are other examples of this, like when I accidentally discovered an option three quarters of the way through the game to automatically move the figurines according to radio updates. I turned it on without a second thought, and it immediately made the game better. It should have been the default to begin with.

Show us what we can't see.

It seems RG set out to tackle a classic problem in a creative way – given that animating battlefields in real time is tricky, they decided to show just the map and figurines to represent soldiers. It’s a method we see all the time in board games and video games alike, and this title decided to hang it on the narrative reasoning of using radio to communicate. It’s an effective method in theory because our imaginations are easily able to plunge us into the worlds of games.

But achieving that requires talented worldbuilding to allow our minds to show our eyes what we can’t see, and on top of that worldbuilding, a polished interface through which to manipulate the world. WWII comes with its own worldbuilding, so Radio General simply needed to connect me to that world of Nazis and D-Day and panzer divisions, and I would have been enthralled by it. That didn’t quite happen for me.

The map was hard to read, the controls unintuitive, and there were typos in some of the documents – documents that serve as your primary window into the happenings of the war. The maps weren’t very detailed at all. They showed terrain and city names that were difficult to make out, and I rarely felt that novelty of “Oh, I know where that is!” from seeing a familiar European landmark. Historical figures basically played no role, and there was no strong plot thread to follow. It was just a collection of major battles that the Canadian army was in, represented by a handful of figurines on a military-grade map.

The interface could have been so much juicier. The vast 2-Dimensional canvas of the map was hardly used to serve gameplay. For example, having hand-drawn pen marks show up to mark the path of a unit after you give them orders would have been interesting, but there are very few visual frills of this sort. RG instead goes the route of having you draw on the map yourself with the aid of an awkward mouse. Yes, it’s more realistic, but is it more fun?

Finally, there’s not much to say about the campaign. It’s short and, while it’s not annoying to play through, it’s also just pretty bland. It ends abruptly and without ceremony, unless you count the melancholy march of the names of your fallen across your screen. 

Overall, I just feel like this game could have been so fun, but if you’re not into World War II and roleplaying tactics over the radio, there aren’t many reasons to pick up Radio General. It wasn’t a bad experience, but there’s a lot of missed potential.

5

The Verdict: Fair

Radio General doesn’t bring the novel concept of commanding troops via radio to its best conclusion. Instead of a challenging sense of achievement, this title has you wondering what’s actually happening on the battlefield as you run out the clock and wait for slow engagements to develop.

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