Talking the enemy to death.
Type: Single-player, Co-op
Genre: Strategy, Military, Gimmick
Developer: Foolish Mortals
Publisher: Foolish Mortals
Release date: 9 April, 2020
If you play strategy games much, you’re probably familiar with certain unrealities in the way that strategy games are designed, even when playing a game that tries to sell itself on its supposed realism. Though I date myself, when I was much younger, I played a game called Civil War Generals and its sequel, whose tagline was “so real you can smell the gunpowder”. They were simply referring to the fact that units had more stats than normal, however, and like most strategy games, it was a hex-based game where you have an eagle-eye view with absolute vision over everything that exists on the battlefield and not a single soldier moves without the “general”‘s direct order to do so. This winds up creating situations where the general is all-powerful and capable of turning even the most unruly forces into an intricately coordinated fighting force.
Actual militaries try performing wargames to simulate battles and train their officers, but when they do so, they tend to use a double-blind system where the commander is seated in a room outside the one that holds the board with the “real” positions of the units they command, and have to rely upon their “staff” (supplemental players) to roll the dice and report the status of what a given brigade or ship can see, and who play the battle out mostly by following what the much-less-informed commander gave out as orders to squadrons rather than individual units.
Radio General, then, tries to create a strategy game more in line with that kind of double-blind wargaming exercise. You don’t have an absolute overview of the map with up-to-the-frame updates on the actions of your units and the ability to reveal every part of the map within your unit’s detection radius, you have a chart prepared before the battle began and some tokens to slide around it. You don’t have synchronized updates of the status of your units, you have to radio your unit to ask them where they are and what’s happening. The status of your unit isn’t tracked, you just get lines said back to you when you ask for a status report like “we’re fresh and able” or “there’s been some casualties but we’re mostly alright” or “we’ve lost half our fighting strength” (which tends to actually mean lost 30%) or “We don’t have enough medical supplies for all the wounded”. You get no indication of the status of enemy companies until you get a report that they’ve been completely wiped out.
Radio General at its best is a game of head math, scribbling notes on the map, guesses and assumptions that leaves you feeling very much unsure of anything that’s happening, and occasionally blindsided when your units are wildly out of position or you’re being attacked from completely unexpected directions when an enemy that previously fled rallies and returns to attack behind your lines.
Radio General at its worst is basically just another real-time WW2 strategy game with little depth and a gimmick.
The Loyal Royal Princess Patricias
The Commonwealth forces tend to get left out in World War 2 games. Broadly, they’re just lumped in as just being a part of the United Kingdom as though it were a single organized government and fighting force. In Strategic Mind: The Pacific, the (Russian-developed) game labels the Australian forces defending New Guinea with American flags, much to the chagrin of Australian reviewers and players, seemingly just because the developer didn’t seem to want to add more flags or factions to the game.
Radio General centers around the heroic efforts of the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps, as mythologized by the propaganda newsreels of Canada at the time of the war. The game follows what is presumably supposed to be a single unit of the RCASC (although no single unit would be in as many theaters as strategy game campaigns portray) from the failed Dieppe Raid through the Sicilian and Italian Campaigns (Europe’s so-called “soft underbelly” that proved to actually have a lot of very hard mountain ranges, who knew besides geography professors), and then teleporting over so that you can also participate in D-Day, because of course you do.
I also mentioned this back in the Strategic Mind review, but even when the facts you are recounting are true, the mere act of what facts you leave in or leave out tends create a lie by omission. This is probably best demonstrated with the “Gustav Line” mission, AKA The Battle of Monte Cassino, where historically, it was a combined effort of British, American, Indian, New Zealander, Canadian, Polish, South African, and even Free French and (surrendered) Italian forces against the Germans. In this game, it’s referred to as an operation where Canadians are called in to be armor and artillery support to an Indian (British) army operation.
As a bonus, any time there’s a naval unit providing coastal bombardment, it always seems to be the HMCS Saskatchewan that does so…
Why yes, I did look it up, and they are a Canadian developer based in Saskatchewan Canada, how did you know?!
Beyond this, each unit has its own unique(ish) name. The naming scheme of these units tends to involve an awful lot of Royal something-or-others, or Princess Patricia or Princess Louise units, leading to somewhat amusing associations if you don’t consider pretty princess imagery to be fitting for rugged snipers who each have a hundred dead Nazis to their name. (I’ve seen some duplicates that are different types of units, however, such as both an infantry company and a sniper detachment named the “Princess Patricia Rifles”. Likewise, my choice of artillery was initially restricted to the Royal Canadian Artillery or the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery.)
If the naming scheme does bother you, however, you are able to rename the units to whatever you want. However, since the voice actors recorded lines stating they were the “Princess Patricia Infantry” (probably why there’s some reuse of that name), you’ll be missing out on some of the whole immersion thing the game is built around.
While this may just be a silly side-note to many of you, for the historical nerd in me, the absolute treasure trove of historical documents Foolish Mortals dug up and stuffed into this game to provide context for some of the actions is the best part of the game.
Before and after every mission, there is a post-it board filled with photographs, contemporaneous newspaper clippings reporting on the public’s perception of the battle, propaganda newsreel footage from the war, and even reproduced documents like radio operator manuals or comic books made during the war.
To add to the immersion factor, the game even has you write home letters of condolences to the families of soldiers who died under your command (and the game keeps track of not only how many died, but gives names and ranks for all of them for the entire course of the campaign).
Radio Surgeon General Simulator
Radio General is largely played on a table with freely movable objects that vaguely resemble the sort of “wacky disembodied hand” games like Jurassic Park: Trespasser, Surgeon Simulator, or Octodad. Not only do you need to move around your own tokens by left-click dragging them where they go (unless you turn on the menu option to do it for you), but you have pencils beside your map you can use to draw on the map whatever you like.
Beyond even this, there are stupider things to play with, like a lamp you can turn off to make the map not lit anymore, or a pipe to smoke or a glass of some kind of red wine to drink. Holding the drink up for more than a few seconds additionally makes the screen blurry.
Or you can sit down and play the friggin’ game like you’re supposed to, you doofus. A lot of these things are rather gimmicky (which is fairly appropriate in a game that’s mostly based on a gimmick), as there’s no reason you’d ever turn off your lamp to play in the dark, and you’ll mostly be just dumping the clipboards over on the side immediately.
Although most people don’t, I consider “Gimmick Games” to be their own special genre of games. I don’t mean it (necessarily) disparagingly, but there are genre games, and then there are games that try to do something that step outside of a genre and be unique in some way, yet often do so in a way where it lacks the depth and polish of a game trying to one-up other members of its established genre. As a result, gimmick games tend to be short and focused upon getting the most play out of their gimmick as they can before the novelty wears off. (I.E. Portal is a gimmick game about portals, and the first game was mostly tutorial. The second game had to invent goo and use light bending puzzles just to pad out playtime.)
Radio General is a World War 2 strategy game that has the shallowest elements of a World War 2 strategy game, but otherwise is purely relying upon the novelty of its radio gimmick to sell itself.
There are only a few unit types, although these do get modified by veterancy and commander bonuses. You, however, cannot really see those in play. For the most part, combat consists of simply moving at least two units up against one of theirs. Enemies can entrench in towns to get defensive bonuses, but the only basic mechanic you need to win every battle is that all defense bonuses evaporate if you have more than one unit to provide “flanking”, so even fortifications on top of a mountain are nothing, even if you’re attacking infantry with an infantry and an engineer unit that is supposed to be less powerful than normal infantry.
Adding to this, the AI is dumb as bricks. There are two AI types, “Static AI”, which means “stands still waiting for you to swarm them and negate any defensive bonus they have for trying to wait in ambush all mission”, and “Dynamic AI”, which means “vaguely move between mission objective locations whenever they feel like it, and maybe only actually amass for a combined unit assault to outnumber defenders like the player always does if they get lucky and more than one unit randomly feels like moving to the same location at the same time.” Unless the map’s designer is very specific, players can easily fend off enemy forces several times the size of their own.
The only two major exceptions to this are that (1) your units love roads, and will rush over to stand on them in the middle of a battle even though they provide no bonus to combat and will negate your flanking bonus (making you take much more casualties) by not standing out to the sides to negate enemy defense, and (2) artillery and AT guns (that are treated almost exactly like artillery for some reason) are absolutely devastating in this game, and have a wide area of effect. Letting your units get shelled by enemy artillery is basically the only way you can lose outside of being horrifically outnumbered or deliberately screwing up.
Artillery in real life is wildly inaccurate, but very effective at “suppressing” enemies. A bombardment for an hour can make most soldiers, even/especially ones sitting safe in a bunker so numb and desensitized that they don’t even bother to fight when the infantry rushes in to take the position when the shelling stops. Hence, even if bombardment isn’t effective at killing people (at least, on a per-shell basis – enough randomly-fired shells eventually racks up horrendous casualties), it’s very effective at winning battles. In this game, artillery just butchers people. It’s very hard to actually eliminate enemy units in this game with infantry or tanks because enemies just retreat all the time, but artillery (especially naval artillery) are just “I win” buttons.
Enemy units that are routed without having every last man killed (as is normally the case without artillery) will suddenly get a massive defensive bonus and run at several times their normal speed (sometimes even through your own units or even through obstacles like rivers) so that they can rally elsewhere. Frequently, missions consist of just chasing down the same fleeing unit over and over. In fact, I can have units that chase down routing enemies have to retreat because their morale breaks fighting a routed enemy!
In the game’s media clippings, they have propaganda talking about how hundreds of Italian soldiers were surrendering and being detained by a dozen or so Canadian troops, but there is no surrender in this game, you either kill them all or just sit and wait out the enemy constantly rallying their troops and trying to attack again. I’d reeeeaaally like a surrender mechanic, here.
Because they get such defensive bonuses for being routed, it’s actually really advantageous to be in retreat, and I’ve even learned how to exploit the retreat function just to reposition my units behind enemy lines to set up even more powerful attacks.
Another big pair of factors in your gameplay are the Commander Bonus and the Veterancy Bonus.
Commander bonuses are specific to different units, and exist to differentiate units beyond just their name and voice actor. These aren’t really “balanced” and it means a “Zealous” commander will give his troops more much morale, while a “Conservative” commander gives a slight bonus to morale while making the unit move slower, while a “Reliable” commander has no bonus or penalty, while a “Wily” commander moves at 2/3rds normal speed, and a “Timid” commander has only 70% normal morale. If you’re wondering why you’d use the ones that have penalties, the answer is because you don’t get enough to make much of a choice. You will always use a Zealous commander because why wouldn’t you, but you’re going to be forced to choose between taking a “Wily” or “Timid”, basically choosing between too slow to reach the fight with everyone else or likely to break and run in that fight. Pick your poison. You eventually get more to choose from, but by then, you’re choosing between veterancy bonuses or better base stats.
Beyond that, you have Veterancy Bonus, which is gained when you level up your units, RPG-style. Due to limited numbers of missions (and the fact that units are “exhausted” and have massive penalties if you take them into successive missions), this can be a precious resource for key units. Different units have different balance for how much experience they gain, with infantry and tanks gaining XP for direct combat, while scouts gain it for movement and reporting, and artillery for providing shelling, so you have a secondary objective in every mission to keep your units only moderately damaged (lest they be “Understrength” next time) and to perform whatever activities give them the most XP. (I managed to get a scout unit up three levels in a single mission by running it around constantly.)
With your veterancy bonus, you can gain different bonuses depending upon the type of unit they are. These often conflict directly with the commander bonuses or penalties, with a speed up 15% bonus not even making up for a “Wily” commander’s -33% move speed penalty.
A problem with veterancy bonuses and commander bonuses, however, is that you have no real indicator which units are the ones with specializations in specific roles, and you don’t really have the luxury of having specialists in a messy battlefield, anyway. When it’s time for a massed assault, all your units better be in the assault, or you’re not going to win, even if they’re defensive units that gave up speed for defense while on landmarks. If they fall behind while on assault, then other units are going to die for their lack of speed, and that’s it.
Gimmick vs. Gameplay
As I’ll cover in the bugs section, I had some technical issues that forced me to replay some missions because I didn’t complete them before a crash made me restart a mission. (There is no mid-mission saving, so a crash wipes out all progress.)
Having to replay missions (and wanting to get through missions as fast as possible in hopes of getting a mission complete before a random crash) started to seriously alter the way in which I looked at the game from being something I was just messing around in to trying to focus upon efficiency, and as soon as I started thinking in that way, the more that everything the game is built to try to do kind of fell apart in favor of being a relatively shallow RTS.
Voice commands take a while to give, even if they are perfectly understood. Just clicking on a unit then hitting “R” to get a status report is much more efficient. Right-click the speech box to shut them up faster. There’s even a button on your radio that asks for status reports from all your units at once.
This is a big deal because that whole “not knowing where your units are” thing? Well, there’s an option in the menu that you can check to update unit location for you after getting a status report, and it makes the game vastly easier to just set that on and jackhammer the “R” button for constant status reports on fast-moving units like scouts and snipers. You can right-click enemy units and get their status reports as well. (Thanks to a developer oversight, even if an enemy unit is beyond current vision range, it gets updated to an accurate location if you have the update location for you on status report thing checked.)
There’s a end-of mission “tell us what units you faced” questionnaire that gives you more experience for accurately tracking the strength of the enemy, but because your units always give perfectly accurate reports and can always tell what unit was Alligator and what was Cheetah even if they’d never seen that unit before, personally, there’s never any mystery there.
A better version of this game would have a box with enemy tokens in it that you would have to bring out and label yourself so that you might make mistakes with it. Rather than having all units universally know that a certain enemy infantry company is Dingo company when only Able has spotted them, have each unit just say they see a unit they haven’t seen before, and maybe add in some descriptors of its contents so that savvy players might be able to piece together it was a unit that previously fled.
The same problem exists for movement. I could struggle with voice recognition calling out units and then telling them to go to “Echo 4”, which is a square kilometer patch of ground… or I could get pixel-perfect accuracy just clicking, hitting the “move to” hotkey, and then clicking again exactly where I want them.
This sets up an insurmountable core tension in the gameplay, where I can either play well, and avoid all those casualties I have to write letters home about by using all the tools I have at my disposal efficiently, or I can play the game for the reason it exists and use the silly, inefficient voice commands and ask for status reports sparingly. This game was designed so that its mechanics are at odds with its core premise.
A better version of this game would have a cooldown timer on status reports and/or include a movement speed or combat effectiveness penalty caused by distracting unit commanders by asking for status reports, so that there’s an in-game mechanical reason for you not to spam constant status reports.
Unlike most strategy games, where multiplayer is strictly adversarial, in Radio General, multiplayer is strictly cooperative.
While having co-op play is interesting and amusing, especially since this is a game that can be played mostly hands-off by using voice commands for one player, anyway. (You can play “local co-op” in single-player if one person has the mouse to drag tokens around the table while the other gives the orders verbally.)
That said, I find a potential core premise of the game’s appeal missing if you don’t have a second human opponent that can act unpredictably to challenge other human players. The AI in this game is just too dumb to be that interesting, and potentially limiting the ability to pause would make the game more challenging in its own right.
As I reviewed this game alone, however, I cannot give my own impressions of co-op.
DIY World War
In contrast to in-person challenges, you can however create your own maps and throw them on the Steam Workshop to challenge other players. Considering as the lack of procedural content means that a campaign is
Of course, the recurrent problem and/or benefit with community content is that it becomes a game in and of itself to sort the wheat from the chaff of user contributions. There are some maps that users have created that try to recreate historical battles or “what if” scenarios, but as of writing this, the Steam Workshop map that is being put out as the advertisement for Steam Workshop content is “Battle of St. Yeet”, where you need to take “Le Yeet” and “Le Airfield” from the Germans. Any time user content missions are available, there will be some that are random objects thrown together in a “my first map” with hardly any challenge to Kaizo Mario-level challenges that require using a highly specific exploit to maximum effect with pixel-perfect accuracy.
First, I should say that Foolish Mortals has been very responsive to bugs, and has been putting out patches basically daily, so hopefully, most of the problems I had will be gone soon.
That said, I encountered some unexpected crashes that put a pretty massive crimp in my ability to enjoy the game.
Radio General has no ability to save mid-mission, and missions are 25 minutes long even before you count time spent paused or on pre- and post-mission content like the historical documents or propaganda newsreels before you can actually get to the saving part. (There is as of this writing no way to end a mission faster besides the fast-forward button even if you have killed every last enemy soldier with 15 minutes left to go in the mission, and since the fast forward only goes five times faster, that’s still three minutes of dead time just waiting for a mission to finish.) If a crash happens while you’re doing the fast forward waiting for a finished mission to accept you have already won, it is excruciating to say the least. I try to make manual backups of saves just to protect against save corruption if a new game has crashes (especially since Sky Cannoneers had that problem), but if there are no mid-mission saves, there’s no way to protect mission progress from a crash.
What makes things worse, however, is that there are no procedural (or random) elements to the mission. The first time you play a mission, it’s an unexplored and threatening unknown that fills you with tension. By the third time you play a mission because the game crashed, the only tension is if you can get the chore of playing this mission over with before another crash wipes your progress.
This points to a larger problem of a lack of replayability outside of user-created missions, as the game really has nothing to offer you once you know where all the tokens are. The game becomes just a chore to finish off the map with minimal casualties and the most experience points on the units you want to level, and basically all the magic of the game’s premise is gone.
Beyond that, there are more minor bugs like odd physics jank with clipboards bouncing off each other or flying sideways occasionally, having multiple speech boxes bounce rapidly back and forth (possibly fast enough to cause seizures in those prone to them) when they fight for who gets to be in what location, or problems with units being duplicated if you unassign them from a specific slot. (Although the last one is being worked upon, and may not be an issue by the time a reader is seeing this.)
The voice acting is of superlative quality, if you hold the radio static crackles as adding to the experience. There’s an impressively wide library of words that the voice actors deliver, although they at times make it clear where one sound file begins or ends. (Especially when listing off coordinates in the “enemy panzers spotted at… echo… four!” format.)
Different units also use different voices, and not just in a “infantry have one voice actor, tanks have another” setup that most games use. The 48th Highlander infantry company has a deep-voiced and gruff voice actor, while the Princess Patricia Infantry has a voice actor that sounds like a younger man. (They also announce their unit when arriving on the map by name, which is a neat feature.)
Beyond the voices, the music is a little on the generic side. The expected WW2 strategy game vaguely military-themed drums and trumpets play, although they either didn’t bother to get anything licensed and famous. (Or I just don’t recognize what the Canadian war anthems are.) It plays one or two songs for while you have units directly in combat, while the rest of the time, it’s basically the same song all the time, and you’ll get tired of it.
That said, I wouldn’t play my music during this game, as the game deliberately mutes its music while delivering voiced orders to make you clearer.
Not so much.
You’re mostly playing with a table with a map, some tokens, and a few props like clipboards lying around. When tokens are in the right positions and they are in combat, there are flying bullet or explosion animations, but mostly this is a game that plays in your head. It’s pretty much what it needs to be (well, actually, they could stand to tone the explosions down a bit, they get in the way of the map), but it’s also not something to really recommend the game on. That is to say, the game’s selling point lies elsewhere.
First off, I have to congratulate Foolish Mortals for being the first of the games I’ve reviewed in several months to actually have rebindable keys like all PC games should have by default before I even lobbied to have them added. Radio General also has an eclectic default control scheme that makes you pause by pressing “P” when you need to use the mouse and WASD, so that’s a mighty difficult key to hit without stopping, looking down, and taking your hand off the keyboard when you presumably wanted to pause the game because you didn’t want time to pass when you were distracted, so a closer key like space or “Z” makes more sense? That said, look at how just being able to rebind the keys completely bypasses this problem, and allows for greater accessibility options for players who don’t have QWERTY keyboards or can’t use certain keys or fingers for some reason, other indie developers!
Beyond that, if we’re talking about Interface, the game mostly relies upon either left-clicking to move things or right-clicking to interact with them, alongside camera panning keys and hotkeys for functions that you hypothetically should be using voice commands for.
Voice commands, however, are the star of the interface show, and while they technically work, the more I just wanted to get through a mission, the less I wound up actually using them. Voice commands are just plain less time efficient and accurate than mouse commands, as is basically always the case with any kind of voice recognition software.
Putting aside the problems created by making using hotkeys and clicking more effective than voice commands, there are also problems in general with the voice recognition software. Thanks to a button the developer added that lets you send in recordings of your own voice while playing so as to help make the voice recognition more accurate, I can actually go back to the recorded files and see what it was the computer thought I was saying when it wasn’t understanding me. This includes problems like how, if I say “Baker move to Kilo 3”, it will interpret that as “Lima 3” or “Zulu 3” for some bizarre reason. One time, I said “Juliette”, and it interprets that as “thirteen”.
Beyond this, there are many words that the game just does not seem to recognize/have in its library at all. Locations like “Hill 2″/”Location 2” will be referred to by the voice actors as “Hill 2” but the game does not recognize the word “hill”, and you have to use the word “Location”, instead.
I have a fairly clear voice with a neutral accent on a microphone that is picking me up pretty clearly, so there are very likely many people out there who will have much harder times with this than I do.
Additionally, this is likely not a problem if you’re reading this on an English website, but the game only accepts English voice commands. There are versions of the game in a wide array of other languages, but you can’t use the whole main reason why you’d play the game in any language other than English. (Not even French, which is pretty unusual for a Canadian…)
Radio General is a game with a brilliant premise that fails to stick the landing. I recommend it more on novelty than its pure merit, as maybe if enough copies sell, a sequel can patch up the structural flaws in the gameplay. For it to have worked, the game would need to make breaking its core premise a less mechanically attractive proposition.
As it stands, this game is more fun the more you treat it as a goofy toy, and less like a regular game you’re trying to win.