World War II Online
World War II Online Box Art
System: PC
Dev: Cornered Rat Software Studios
Pub: Strategy First
Release: June 6, 2001
Players: MMO
Screen Resolution: N/A Blood, Violence
Axis vs. Allies vs. MMO
by Sean Engemann

There is a strong community that feels 2004 was the spiritual birth of massively multiplayer gaming, when World of Warcraft took the online experience by storm. Everquest fans shunned that notion, with their masterpiece a half a decade older. But in between these two, a new war sparked—well, actually an old war—when World War II Online entered the fray in 2001.

Still up and running after ten years, WWII Online has maintained itself by appealing to a very particular audience and by controlling that market without any shred of opposition. Its blend of simulation and first-person shooter gameplay has spawned many unique features, with a success system based on teamwork, strategic planning, and patience. (This type of system is typically a recipe for disaster in any other game.) The firm command structure, ability to play both sides, and support for the ground, naval, and air combat give every interested player the freedom to serve as their soldier of choice.

World War II Online Screenshot

Initially, World War II Online launched on June 6th, the anniversary of D-Day, and was originally titled Blitzkrieg. Developer Cornered Rat Software thought the release was premature and hoped for a longer open beta period, but financial demands pushed the game forward. Consequently, it was inundated with technical problems, causing a major backlash in the form of game returns and customer complaints. It took several months to iron out the issues and get the server running smoothly, but many had already given up. The game has steadily rebuilt its base ever since, providing three to four major patch updates a year, all adding new gameplay elements as well as technical improvements.

Some may be skeptical of the game's single-server format, but the playable area trumps any other MMO on the market. It may only encompass a few key European countries during the war, but the 1/2 scale used allows players to traverse roughly 135,000 miles of land.

Most of the action takes place on the front lines, which the game's homepage updates every five minutes. Pushing your forces forward requires controlling key areas for a certain amount of time, much like a game of capture-the-flag. These areas, called Offices, are located in cities which can be liberated from the enemy. After ousting the defenders and maintaining control of the Office, your side can then capture the town's associated Army and Air Bunkers, as well as Docks and Factories, which allow you to spawn and mobilize troops closer to enemy territory.

World War II Online Screenshot

The command of each side is monitored by high-ranking players who become the High Command and have the supreme authority to plan the battle strategy and place mission targets. The opposing force is made aware of the attack and can plan a solid defense against the impending strike. Players are part of their force's brigade, but can also create or join a specific squad (comparable to a clan or guild). Since success is strongly associated with teamwork, many squads require significant proof of credentials in order to become a member. This is readily available, since World War II Online has an extensive statistics list, displaying everything from kills and damage dealt to time spent on missions and depots captured.

Currently, you can only play as the Allied Forces (British and French) or the Axis (Germans), but, as mentioned earlier, you can alternate between the two sides. With game updates come new vehicles, all accurately modeled, as well as new soldier classes, such as mortar infantry, and new weapons with authentic real-world bullet physics. Every addition has made the learning curve for the game even steeper, a problem which the relatively new tutorial server has alleviated. Environmental factors have also been tweaked with new patches, such as turning "hard forests" into navigatable ones, increasing damage effects on building, improving the cover system, and making the world visually more real with upgraded polygons and weather variations.

World War II Online Screenshot

Although the graphics have come a long way since 2001's pixelated presentation, the game still looks rough around most edges. However, much of this is due to the sheer size of the playable area, and extensive geographical research has ensured that the topography and elevations are all true to the real-world locations. Customizable detailing and the historical makeup of the vehicles are great ways to showcase both style and authenticity. Great care has also been taken to make sure damage is dealt accurately, with explosions creating spall and shrapnel, causing additional damage, and leaving the proper markings on the different surfaces that are hit.

The fan base for World War II Online may be miniscule compared to many of the fantasy games in the same field, but the members are probably the most dedicated you will find. These are people who are comfortable partaking in history rather than impatiently awaiting the newest game or expansion to hit the market. WWII Online has made significant strides since its debut in 2001, and the developers are always looking to improve the experience. The recent news of the addition of American troops is enough to have all the game's subscribers applaud the relentless work of Cornered Rat Software. It is this pursuit toward greatness that has allowed World War II Online to continue to thrive a decade later, enlisting it into the annals of best World War video games.

By Sean Engemann
CCC Contributing Writer

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