I must admit, I do have a big soft-spot for third person action titles, even though pretty much all of them are flawed to some degree. By sheer coincidence, around the time I FINALLY acquired a Gamecube for myself (thanks again Mitchy :D) an interesting third person game was announced for the cube. That game was, of course, Battalion Wars.
After viewing a few preview shots and the odd bit of footage, I was intrigued for sure. It had a great looking style which anyone who has played any of the Advance Wars titles for Nintendo's handheld systems should be instantly familiar with, and an interesting hook in that you didn't control just one guy for the period of the campaign. It got bumped straight into my number #1 'Must buy-spot for the cube (mostly since I had already bought both Metroid Prime games).
However, due to a combination of being totally broke for the most part and my post-Black & White vow to never pay more than £30 for a game ever again, I never got around to getting it until now.
So how does it play? Well, it plays great for the most part but like a fat person's convention, there are a few big buts and they ain't pretty.
We'll start off with the good stuff first. Combat for the guy/unit you control works really well, and how this is carried out depends on what you're controlling. For the basic Rifle grunt it amounts to locking on, firing like crazy and doing a combat roll when you run out of ammo and have to reload. Other classes such as Bazooka troops and Mortar troops have weapons which you charge by holding down fire, so combat is usually dashing in, unleashing a fully charged blast and backing off until your next shot is ready. The most interesting of all the troopers I found was the Machinegun trooper. These guys carry a powerful machinegun that fires faster depending on how long you hold down the fire button, but the twist is that if you hold it down too long it overheats and you have to wait a brief period while it cools down. The game encourages you to keep the 'overheat-meter at around about 90% or so by tapping fire to achieve maximum damage output, it's a simple system that works really well and can be both rewarding and challenging when combat gets hectic.
Vehicles are usually a bit more basic, tanks usually involve locking on to your target and circling it while blasting it until it goes down. The enormous Battlestation requires manual aiming for the main cannon which can be a bit tricky at times, but it sure does pack a punch. Aircraft handle quite nicely and are obviously some of the most powerful units in the game, capable of destroying pretty much everything at breakneck speed. The light Recon units you'll hardly ever use though.
Each of your trooper types and vehicles have obvious strengths and weakness which give the game a bit of a tactical edge. There's little point in sending rifle grunts against enemy tanks and likewise you won't get far sending bazooka troops up against enemy flamethrowers. Air power is fantastic but easily taken away from you if you get careless around enemy Anti-Air units.
Graphically the game isn't particularly stunning in terms of raw rendering techniques, but it has a great sense of style. Each of the main armies take obvious inspiration from their real-world counterparts at various points of the 20th century, however each is given a good twist of exaggeration and a cutesy cartoon feel. Troops are well animated and tanks are nice and bulky, the whole thing gels really well into a style that's hard not to love. Sound effects fit well and the music works but neither offer anything spectacular, they do a good job but don't take things further than that. Voice acting is a bit 'bleh- but given the quality of the script and how utterly one-dimensional the characters are I doubt they could be substantially improved anyway.
Now onto the bad stuff. First off, and like an awful lot of third person games, it is too short. I finished the entirety of the campaign with under 5 hours of playtime as reported by the main login screen. Now, there is some replayability offered in the way of achieving S-Rank on the various levels (your performance is measured in Speed, Power and Technique just like in the original Advance Wars games) with each of the game's 4 sub-campaigns offering a bonus level should your average score for that campaign be sufficient. These bonus missions are interesting in that they put you in the shoes of a different army for a change (in the main campaign, you play as the Western Frontier for the entirety), but these levels re-use earlier maps and are often just the original scenario played in reverse which dulls the effect somewhat. Achieving S-Ranks ranges anywhere from extremely easy to near impossible, I still have a few missions left to get S-Rank on but the process is becoming more annoying than challenging for reasons I'll move onto shortly.
Unfortunately the shortness of the game affects other things to. Certain units like the Strato Destroyer and Artillery get so little face time it's puzzling why they bothered to include them at all. Only one mission gives you control of a Strato Destroyer and this comes off as a real shame as it is a highly enjoyable unit to fly around, mostly because it's so shamelessly overpowered. Likewise only 2 missions give you access to artillery, but it's only of real use in one of those.
The next thing on my list of bad stuff is that the control system isn't quite as good as it could be. First issue: Locking onto a target. Seriously the lockon button will lockon to just about anything EXCEPT the unit you want it to. It's not uncommon, for example, to quickly select a unit, tell your troopers to attack and then see them all dashing off in front of you as the game has selected the rifle trooper in the base behind the one you're in instead of that bloody great big heavy tank that's only 20 yards in front of you.
Actually selecting what troops you want to perform attacks and stuff is a bit fiddly and frankly in the middle of a big fire fight you're often unable to adequately select the appropriate troops and assign them to the appropriate targets. Ultimately you'll just have your entire battalion selected and will just tell them all to attack one target at a time, regardless of how pointless it is to send 8 flamethrower guys charging towards a tank. When things get a bit more tricky you'll probably find yourself leaving your batallion behind and soloing these parts of the level until it's 'safe-to call in the rest of your forces.
Unit control for the most part is ok but the two Recon units are absolutely nightmarish to drive and will go just about anywhere except where you want it to go. It's a real shame, they pretty obviously (in my opinion at least) tried to copy Halo with the design of them, too bad they control so bad otherwise I'd have loved taking them for a spin. Oh, and did I mention that in one of the levels you have to race to the end in one in under 6 minutes? Oh yeah, have fun with THAT one.
Now the third, final point: your troops are as thick as pigshit and are often incapable of defending themselves adequately even if you leave them in guard mode. It's not uncommon to be off soloing somewhere and start seeing your anti-air troopers dropping like flies only to run back and see that 2 enemy rifle troops are responsible for the slaughter. Likewise don't be surprised when a lone heavy tank takes out half your battalion (including 3 of your own heavy tanks) unless you're there to take care of it yourself. The ONLY time they will make an effort to shoot stuff is if they're ordered to.
Unfortunately, when you're busy in a tank duel selecting your Anti-Air troopers then targeting the enemy bomber overhead and finally ordering them to attack it gets severely overwhelming and fiddly at times. Without doubt these sort of scenarios quickly becomes frustrating, particularly in later levels where the enemy has a seemingly infinite supply of said bombers. These last issues become quite irritating when you're trying to get S-Ranked and end up with your troops dropping like flies because they can't take the initiative.
Ultimately it's a good game marred by a slightly fiddly control system and incompetent friendly AI. However I should state that both of those aspects are overall pretty minor flaws and are not quite as bad as just how short it is. It's a hugely enjoyable game even with these problems but its brevity will leave you attempting S-Ranks not because you really want to but because you simply want more of the game to enjoy. It desperately needed at LEAST another 10 levels to get through, as it stands it's a great budget buy if you have a fondness for dumb but cute third person action games but if you spend any decent amount of cash on it you're likely to feel short changed.