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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Strategy

 

Publisher

Strategy First

 

Developer

Muzzy Lane

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

March 2007

 

 

- Attractive interface

- Lots and lots of choices

 

 

- Lots and lots of choices

- Gameplay is difficult without being immersive or engaging

 

 

Review: Blitzkrieg II: Fall of the Reich (PC)

Review: War Front: Turning Point (PC)

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Making History: The Calm and the Storm

Score: 6.5 / 10

 

Of course, the big question facing the developer of any historical strategy game is how much deviation to allow from what actually happened, from historical fact.  And the big problem with making this decision is that consumers choose such games for widely different reasons.  Some gamers prefer to slavishly recreate the past, down to the last cannon shot and coronation.  Others get more of a kick out of turning history upside down.  This presents something of a no win situation for game designers.  Stick too closely to history and get criticized by one unhappy group – allow too much latitude and hear it from another set of disgruntled players.

 

calm and the storm    calm and the storm    calm and the storm

 

Muzzy Lane ’s turn-based WWII strategy game, Making History: The Calm and the Storm seems, on first look, to err on the historical fidelity side.  The world stage is accurately set at the game’s different starting points.  Historical events occur as they did in reality.  It’s only after playing for a while that you figure out that this is all a smokescreen, and that Making History is really about what its title suggest – creating history – and it allows the player to act with few constraints other than the limits of geography and a nation’s treasury.  In theory, that should be fun.  In practice... not so much.   

 

Interestingly, besides being a WWII strategy game, Making History also presents itself as a teaching aid.  While I do worry about the pedagogical implications of using such a game in the classroom without careful supervision (“Look, Mr.

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Koslowski, my Reich army has annihilated Europe and is moving on those racial mongrels in North America!  Hitler rules!”) I do think it presents interesting possibilities, a game that could actually illustrate the history of WWII, the actual decision making behind the conflict and the complexity of multiple perspectives, better than any number of dreary textbooks, filmstrips and handouts.  

 

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Yeah, it’s all good in theory.  Even the attractive, boardgame-esque interface seems to shout “history is fun!”  The execution is where the problems start.  Beneath the attractively simple interface lurks complications galore.  Not because anything is particularly hard to do – just because there are so many choices.  Lots and lots of choices.  And unlike other games (ie. Paradox’s Hearts of Iron series) that have attempted something like this, most of the choices have unknown or unmeasurable effects and consequences. 

 

Take trade, for example.  While resources are limited to a few crucial ones, when you enter the trade interface you’re faced with a list of potential trading partners which includes every nation in the world and no information other than that.  So all you can do (I guess) is go through each one and guess who might be the best partner or benefactor or sucker.  There’s no wheeling and dealing, no evocation of a complex market tied to politics and diplomacy.  And choices ultimately feel more arbitrary than anything and no different than just selling on the open market.  So my questions is, if it’s not important, then why make it so complicated?  I started to crave the ingeniously simplified / complex systems in games such as Paradox Games Europa Universalis III.   

 

Similarly, Making History’s multi-turn combat system is not nearly as complex as that in Hearts of Iron II, but gives a constant sense that you’re missing crucial information, mismanaging somehow.  Battles that seem like easy walkovers turn out to be struggles.  What look like difficult campaigns become routs with no clear reasons why.

 

And over all of this, once the game begins, it’s never clear what exactly to do next.  The text-only tutorials explain the gameplay basics – the what’s and how’s -- but give no indications on strategy or suggested tactics, goals.  Decisions to focus on trade, on researching one technology over another, on building infrastructure, don’t seem to make an appreciable difference.  Watching other nations doesn’t help.  They mind their own business, attack when they should historically attack, defend when they should.  In my first game, I ended up blundering along, getting increasingly frustrated and bored, finally looking to see what ridiculousness I could get away from.  In the 1936 scenario, playing as France , I first attacked Nationalist Spain, just to see what would happen.  Nothing really did.  I then turned on my Republican Spain ally.  Again, no significant fallout.  There seemed to be no immediate consequences to any of these bizarre and definitely ahistorical actions on France ’s part.  Quelle drag. 

 

Paradox, arguably the king of such games with great titles like the Hearts of Iron, Victoria and Europa Universalis series, often gives players the feeling of surfing historical currents, which is as fun as it sounds.  Despite the steady stream of real historical events, Making History seems strangely outside of history, inhabiting some alternate universe where nations go through the motions, behave erratically or simply do nothing at all.   It’s hard to feel immersed in such a situation.  And it’s hard to really care.

 

- John Tait

(May 11, 2007)

 

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