"Well, if SSI can do it with their Panzer General games, so can we!", Blue Byte must have thought. What they did here was simply porting their successful Battle Isle 2 engine to Windows, made new missions and bam – new release! Guaranteed hit! Well, not quite.
They did have the decency to spin a new plot around it. Ben Haris, son of the 'great strategist' Val (the player's alter ego in the previous game), has become a big shot in politics. Also he's an asshole. He humiliates Caro, the embassador/emissary/administrator (they keep changing her title) of the Kai people who have lived under the rule of the Drull for a long time now, in a public meeting of the parliament. Caro, being a neurotic asshole, takes this personally. She gets into an accident with her ship and meets the ghost of the 'old emperor' (asshole!) who offers her the power of his elite Pretorian units which, in spite of being hundreds of years old, are still superior to the Drull's current technology. She agrees to get back at Benny-boy and lets herself be physically and mentally brainwashed (by an obviously evil, hooded hologram).
Why any sane player would want to play the role of this Caro who is obviously being used as a puppet by evil incarnate? No idea. Not that the stupid plot about a human savior being kidnapped from earth to win a war against evil machine armies was anything to write home about (Yes, I know they published this as a novella. Embarassing enough!), but even from there, this is a step downwards!
It doesn't exactly help that this incredibly stupid plot is illustrated in incredibly stupid video clips with 'actors' obviously standing around in front of a bluescreen in incredibly stupid costumes. All of them are obviously dubbed, even in the original German version, with only semi-appropriate voices. Voices which say incredibly stupid lines, each alternate one ending in 'Factum!' (an incredibly stupid 'ancient battle cry of determination'; also known as the designers' failed attempt to create an interesting, futuristic language).
Luckily, it is simple enough to ignore this embarassing part of the game and play it just for the tactical challenge. This is where we get back to this being very close to the previous game, of course. Even down to the graphics. The only change in the maps, where all the action happens, is the increased colour depth and giving the player the choice between three different zoom levels. Though the middle one, equivalent to Battle Isle 2, is clearly the best one, so who cares? The unit sprites are the same old ones, the 3D rendered versions shown on the unit info screen are the same as found on theCD version and even the vector graphics in the battle scenes are as blocky as ever – they just glued some new textures onto the old models.
Blue Byte tried to innovate by using a truly windowed interface. The tactical map, the overview map, the info pop-ups etc. can all be freely placed and kept open at the same time. Not so bad, becausewas never very good at providing essential information (such as the remaining strength of a unit) right on the map. So we finally now have a workaround for an issue which other games never even had.
Noticed how I mentioned the unit sprites being the same old ones? Well, that is because all the units are the still the old ones. No, wait, that's not true. There is one new unit: the emperor's special ones which cannot be built, but only be repaired.
Alright, that's finally a good idea which does introduce a new angle into the tactical depth. Which wasn't all that shabby to begin with. Features like submarines and some aircrafts being able to change their operating height, units having different weapons, some of which can target different kinds of enemies (or at least have a different effectiveness against those), the complex resource model etc. again make things quite fascinating for the advanced tactician.
It also helps that the campaign mode now received at least a slightly stronger link through the ability to take units with you from battle to battle. Though, likely in an attempt not to break balance, this is not done completely freely. Rather, if one of the surviving unit types will also be present in the next mission, the already battle-hardened one will be taken instead of a default one.
This makes it more appealing to play carefully. It is also very convenient, because these new missions are tough! Unfortunately, it is not because of an improved artificial intelligence. The computer still relies on vastly superior numbers and resources instead of cunning (or at least solid) planning. Surviving the first attack waves is usually tricky, but after that, it is mainly a question of patience to win (unless a scripted event kicks in unexpectedly).
The missions shine in that Blue Byte completely embraced the multi-faction style of scenarios. There isn't a single one with only two colours in the battle. Unfortunately, they are never really multi-polar, as all sides are organised in two alliances. Nevertheless, this makes for some additional, welcome complexity again.
Overall, there are 20 scenarios. Which does not equal 20 maps, however, as some appear more than once. Admittedly, this makes sense: which war is a long, endless push forward? So we get some scenarios like defending against a counterattack, which also provides some change concerning the very nature of the mission. Still, feels somewhat cheap.
You should have understood by now thatis quite a mixed bag. There are some improvements, but they are rather minor. The levels are generally well designed, but their number is low. They account for the weaknesses of the artificial intelligence, but this doesn't make said AI any better (just more effective). The windowing system helps keep essential information in view, but only if your system at least supports a resolution of 1024x768 (800x600, as shown on the screenshots, is somewhat bearable).
Nevertheless, rating this game lower than its predecessor would be unfair, because the qualities in engine, rules and ease of use are still all there. The only possible reasons could be the videos (better forgotten) or some sort of principle that evolution is mandatory. This is The Good Old Days. We don't subscribe to anything along this line